Doomsday Is Creeping Closer

We are closer to doomsday than ever before.

On the "Doomsday Clock," created by atomic scientists in 1947 to warn about the threat of nuclear weapons, humanity gets wiped out at midnight.

In 1947, the clock read 11:53 p.m. Today, it's 11:58:30. That means we're just 90 seconds from annihilation.

Now, I don't believe the world is about to end. But I do know that a stressful world has its toll on folks' health.

According to the American Psychological Association's "Stress in America 2023" report, more than a third of adults suffer from a diagnosed mental-health condition... two-thirds are struggling with a chronic illness... and nearly 75% of seniors are downplaying their stress (and don't ask for help) because they think others are worse off than them.

Tackling these major hurdles in life requires resilience...

Resilience is your ability to bounce back from the challenges and stressors that come your way. It applies to both physical and psychological abilities. And it's directly related to your health and happiness.

And while we can't control many of the challenges that come our way, we can prepare ourselves to respond in the best ways possible.

Become the water, flowing around and through the challenges you face.

As longtime subscribers know, I kick off each new year by sharing my list of the most important steps you can take to protect and improve your health. Being healthy – physically and mentally – is essential to developing resilience. It's hard to withstand turmoil and change if your mind and body break down at the first sign of trouble.

So this year, we've framed our annual tips for a healthy year around the idea of resilience. And today, I'm sharing three of those tips with you...

Tip No. 1: Meditate

Meditation is free, and you can do it anywhere. It teaches you how to get your emotions on an even keel and become more self-aware, letting you better manage stress and build resilience to it.

Just as strength-training exercises build muscles, meditation bulks up multiple parts of the brain to improve focus, self-confidence, emotional regulation, memory, and compassion. And as it shrinks the "fight or flight" part of the brain, it decreases anxiety.

By grounding yourself and focusing only on your breathing and the present moment, you can better understand – and accept – your emotions to better cope with stress. Every little bit helps, too...

A study published in December in Scientific Reports found that folks who practiced mindfulness meditation for 20 minutes daily for just three days before major dental surgery reduced their anxiety, heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.

One of my favorite ways to meditate is progressive muscle relaxation. It's just a fancy term for focusing on tensing and relaxing different muscles going down (or up) your body. And a recent study showed this technique even reduced fatigue and improved sleep quality in folks with rheumatoid arthritis, a condition marked by chronic pain.

Starting either from the head or toes, just take deep, regular breaths as you gently tense and hold (not to the point of pain, though) a group of muscles for a couple of seconds. Then let go and relax those muscles.

Tip No. 2: Make Music

It's one of my favorite mid-afternoon pick-me-ups, giving me a boost of energy without the need for caffeine...

Listening to your favorite tunes makes your cortisol levels drop and dopamine levels pop. And as a bonus, music also helps our bodies produce natural painkillers, or endorphins.

But you can up the ante by playing a musical instrument. It's a breath of fresh air for your senses and motor skills, forcing you to use them together in new ways.

Practicing has you fine-tuning your movements to lessen the number of mistakes you make. That's the idea behind sensorimotor adaptation, an important process for resilience during rehabilitation. For instance, studies have shown stroke victims regaining and improving motor function from piano lessons. Plus, figuring out how to play a new note, chord, or song floods you with a feeling of reward, which studies have shown enhances learning ability.

One of the easiest instruments to learn is the harmonica. As Rebecca Hof from music-education nonprofit Save the Music writes, "No matter what note you play, it will be in key, which means even complete beginners can sound good." Plus, a harmonica doesn't need tuning like a ukelele (another crowd favorite for a first instrument). And it'll probably annoy your spouse or neighbor way less than playing "Hot Cross Buns" over and over again on a recorder.

Along with giving my brain a dopamine hit, jamming on the harmonica gives my lungs a great resilience-boosting workout, just like breathing exercises do. In fact, a 2020 study showed that middle-aged and older chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD") patients who practiced up to 20 minutes a day for five days a week improved shortness of breath and lung capacity. You can find free lessons on YouTube like this video.

Tip No. 3: Get Social

Oxytocin is in the same "feel-good hormone" camp as dopamine. Nicknamed the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin generates feelings like love, trust, and empathy while reducing anxiety. It could even have healing properties – a 2022 study (using human and zebrafish cell cultures) found that oxytocin activated repair mechanisms to regenerate the human heart after a heart attack.

Doing the things I mentioned earlier – meditating and making music – can bump up those oxytocin levels naturally.

But you don't have to fly solo...

Whether it's hanging out with friends (and that includes pets) or being intimate with a loved one, getting out there and being social with others generates oxytocin, too. The resulting feelings of trust and compassion – plus the anti-anxiety effects that help you relax – strengthen those relationships. So you end up with a strong support network, one you can rely on in times of trouble to minimize the damaging effects of stress or boost resilience.

And if you want to take it a step further, lean into the power of touch with a partner...

Try giving your loved one a 10-minute foot massage to get that oxytocin flowing. My partner and I enjoy giving each other massages whenever possible in the evenings as we talk about how our days went – it helps us unwind and destress. If you prefer, gentle strokes also work for oxytocin release.

So despite the Doomsday Clock's gloomy forecast, know that you're well prepared to weather a challenging year. And you have these three tips to guide you.

And if you're not a Retirement Millionaire subscriber yet, sign up today to get all 12 of my top tips for resilience in 2024. Click here to learn more.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 27, 2024