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Advice from Dr. Ruth: Stay Positive to Get Through the Pandemic

7 ideas for staying mentally healthy as you navigate a return to "normal"

   

En español | Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the frank and funny sex therapist and prolific author, called us last month with a message. After 15 months in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Ruth, 92, who at 10 escaped Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport, thought it was time to promote positivity. Or, more to the point, it was time to navigate the pandemic with positivity. It's hard to say no to Dr. Ruth, and she makes a good case for finding the bright side given her own relentlessly optimistic outlook.


For the latest coronavirus news and advice go to AARP.org/coronavirus.


So, in service to all who need a shot of affirmation or a touch of joy, we said yes to Dr. Ruth and invited her conversation. As usual, we found her delightful, upbeat, a sage adviser. Here are excerpts from our topics of discussion:

1. Focus on the good

I know that it was difficult year. I know that everyone has to respect the first responders and everybody has to respect and remember the people who did not make it. But I want to tell people right now to take a deep breath and concentrate on the positive. Please, if you are talking to your family and friends, make an effort not to talk about the difficult times. If you're negative, they are going to be reluctant to pick up the phone [when you call] again. However, if you say, “How fortunate we have survived this very difficult time. Now let's make something positive out of it. ...” We can't change it, but we have the power to make the best of it.

2. Embrace nature

I went with my son and my daughter to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. We were there for about five hours. It was fabulous. Everybody should try to make a little excursion, depending on their mobility, to some place where you can see new life coming up, new blossoms coming to life. I felt so very fortunate to see that.

3. Teach your grandchildren positivity

I (wrote) a children's book, Crocodile, You're Beautiful. It says, “Crocodile, be glad about your bumps.” And little ants should be proud to be ants because if they cooperate they can build bridges. I also have a book called Roller-Coaster Grandma that talks about taking my grandchildren to the amusement park and they can go on the rides, but I'm too short.

4. Take small steps

Everybody should respect their anxiety. Do what you have to do to acclimate. Maybe take a walk around the block, maybe go to a bar — somewhere you have not been for over a year. Don't do anything dangerous. But do something every day that's a small step toward normalization.


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5. Get help if needed

If you realize that your feelings really overwhelm you, if you stop being interested in the usual things, if you can only think of gloom, then you should think about getting professional help. I am fortunate because I am so busy that there's no space for getting depressed, but when I get down, I call a professional and talk.

6. Tend your romantic relationships

Maybe you have been cooped up together during the pandemic [and don't feel very romantic]. You have to cultivate the relationship. Do something for the other person that you have not done in a long time — maybe cook them a favorite dish — even if you don't feel like it. Forget about what you feel like, just do it.

7. Fantasize to lift your mood

Because I like AARP, I'm going to share a fantasy of mine with you. It helps me. So, I can't ski anymore, but I fantasize about this: I put on my best ski outfit — it's like a red parka — and I get a good-looking ski instructor with a skimobile. I go up the mountain on the skimobile and hold on to him tight.

It might be a G-rated fantasy...

Then at the top of the mountain, I stay on the skimobile, and go down with the good-looking ski instructor. I don't get out of the skimobile.

...but there's nothing wrong with having sexy fantasies.

How fortunate that in your fantasies, you can make yourself the best lover on earth.

Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.

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