So, we’ve endured the longest night, we’ve negotiated Christmas and lurched into 2023. Now what?

It’s natural to want a new beginning with a new year, and to improve ourselves – though as we all know, traditional resolutions are often unrealistic and vague, and tend to fail. 

But I’ve been thinking about positive ageing, which of course is nothing new for me, and wondering what we could all do to help ourselves change in a way that might make a real difference. 

And I’ve decided I’m going to try to spend less time worrying about stuff that, in the greater scheme of things, doesn’t matter. Would you like to join me?

As we get older, most of us worry far more than we did as younger people. And our anxious meanderings can disturb our sleep, even though they’re not important.

A friend of mine spent several wakeful nights dwelling on whether or not to provide sausage meat stuffing in addition to other accompaniments for Christmas lunch. She knew this was ridiculous but somehow could not stop her inconsequential, spiralling thoughts.

I’m not an anxious person by nature but I do get quite tense about travel. Will the flight be rescheduled? 

What if there is a points failure on the railway? Might there be a traffic jam in Long Stratton when I’m driving to a meeting in Norwich? 

As for going to the theatre, which I love to do, I frequently trouble myself during the show with intrusive worries about whether I will get home, especially if my arrangements involve the last train from London.

Consciously, I know that whatever happens I won’t end up sleeping on a park bench, yet my thoughts interfere with my enjoyment of what I have gone to see or do.

I want to stamp this out. Quite apart from anything else, stress is seriously ageing. Let’s face it, if your features are contorted with anxiety, you’re never going to look your best, are you? More importantly than that, stress is bad for the body.

My late husband, Dr David Delvin, wrote a very useful book back in 2011 called How to Beat Worry and Stress. I’ve just been reading what he said about various stress hormones, including cortisol, and their impact on our physical health. Here’s a list of what he reckoned were direct consequences of having too much of it in our bloodstreams:

  • Raised blood pressure
  • Raised blood sugar
  • Increased stomach acid
  • Increase in fat deposits around our waists
  • Unhealthy craving for sugary and fatty foods

Many scientists also claim that stress contributes to chronic inflammation in the body, which is likely to clog up arteries and raise our risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as various cancers and diabetes.

So basically, if we want to look and be as young as possible for our age, the more we can reduce stress, the better. So, this year I plan to do what I can to worry less about my absurd ‘what ifs’.

Many experts claim that only 8% of everything we worry about is actually important. This is a useful statistic to keep at the front of our minds. And it really came home to me during Christmas when I was visiting my brother in Amsterdam.

Through him, I met a number of men and women who have sought refuge in the Netherlands having left their home countries. Many of them have arrived in the last year from Ukraine.

Now, we all know that this is happening and how terrible it is, but talking with individuals in the flesh, who had squeezed their family, and as many possessions as they could manage, into the family car, and set off for an unknown destination in order to escape the bombs, brought home to me how traumatic their lives have been.

And also, that even though they now feel safe, they’re plagued with anxiety about people left behind and feel rootless, because this time last year, they were living a normal life back home and now everything’s turned upside down.

This nightmare is beyond anything most of us can imagine. And I found myself feeling ashamed of the nonsensical worries I entertain compared with the life-changing anxieties they’re suffering.

So how can we learn to quash our unimportant anxious thoughts?

Obviously, gaining a different perspective, as I did over Christmas, is one way forward. But more long-term, it’s useful to identify a bunch of stress-busters that we can use. 

Mine would include walking, playing the piano and talking with friends. There are also quiet strategies, such as meditation or mindfulness. 

You can find lots of this material on the internet, including a video podcast I made a while back. Here’s a link if you fancy trying it:

I hope you’ll have a go at reducing unnecessary worries and stress. Good luck with that, and here’s to a happy and positive 2023!