Valentine Afterthoughts – Beating Valentine Blues

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Am I late for Valentine’s Day? I’ve prepared this post to follow the special day. If I had wanted to write about glowing hearts and flowers, I would have posted it earlier this month, instead of my ‘Yak Tracking blog. I avoided it purposefully.

Valentine’s Day, like many holidays, can make people feel more alone and isolated than usual. Especially so, if they don’t have that special someone with whom they can share those TV-advertised valentine moments.

I remember one such ad in which the woman removes her blindfold to find champagne and flowers as the couple lifts off into the blue waving from a hot-air balloon. [Most places seem too cold for this in February, right?] As outlandish and unrealistic as some of those myths are, they can still affect our psyche. Maybe make us feel left behind (‘left behind’ in the secular sense, not religious).

Before you read on, let me assure you that I am not giving advice on romance or about how to explore these adventures in life. We don’t need such extraordinary events to conquer the Valentine Blues. Frankly, it takes much less than imagined to create a healthy body and ‘soul.’

As I flipped my poster calendar this month, I found two penguins hugging in the shape of a heart and standing on a heart-shaped ice block. For them that was not a big adventure, although quite loving. They were indeed fortunate to have each other, but as we all have seen in movies and pictures, penguins thrive due to their community.

Most February references, whether on TV, calendars or social media ads are about sex, love or heart health. I have explored the heart portion during several previous years when Valentine’s Day approached. [See Heart Protection in 10 Seconds or 10 Tips to Make You SMILE about Blood Pressure. Fun & Easy -Part I.] I still like to remind people of healthy heart activities during this month. We can all benefit. But this post is a compromise – vigor of body, mind and connections.

Some folks are in a relationship and may still feel lonely (often this is a worse case). Conversely, others are single-travelers and quite content with their own company. None of us can judge what merits positive versus negative seclusion. Too many factors of our chemistry and personalities weigh unequally in the formula and it remains a mystery why in similar situations, one feels great and another destitute. Despite differences, we all profit physically from avoiding social isolation, and thus fortifying our immunity and mental health. We can learn to value and accept ourselves more. But what are the steps to actually move beyond lip-service?

I really like the approach of the National Association for Mental Health out of the UK. They published a booklet entitled How to Improve your Mental Well-being.

Mental wellbeing describes your mental state
how you are feeling and how well you can cope with day-to-day life….
[how you] cope with the ups and downs.

They point out that mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do. It’s dynamic; “capable of changing moment to moment, day to day, month to month, and year to year.” That’s why it’s not just about beating Valentine Blues, but instead setting up a homeostasis or stable equilibrium daily. And doing so without it seeming like just another “I ought to” chore.

Despite common societal suppositions of success, long lived happiness does not depend on them. It isn’t the host of honors, the books you have published, performances you were seen in, events you organized/spoke at, how many companies sought you out for employment or how much of a VIP you are/were considered to be in your community. No. They can be useful and fulfilling, but they don’t do the trick.

What does do “the trick” is a point you’ve read before. I have seen it repeatedly and I’ve probably mentioned it repeatedly too, but there is evidence. Based on a 75-year long Harvard Longevity study, the research determined that more than anything else, there is one secret.

The one secret for a happy fulfilling life? Having some good social relationships.

Does the internet count as a relationship?
Because I’m feeling a connection. 

In contrast to good social relationships, loneliness is lethal; possibly increasing the risk of an early death by 45 percent. I’ve heard it equated to smoking ½ pack of cigarettes a day, a comparison you may find difficult to believe. But it’s significant.  Ultimately, it takes its toll.

Loneliness can:

  • weaken immune system
  • raise blood pressure
  • increase risk of heart attack
  • increase risk of stroke

Loneliness may appear out of our control and simply the result of a situation in which we find ourselves. I’ve sometimes felt like I don’t have the energy to even tackle a depressed feeling. Yet there are some small, but effective, actions we can take. Reaching out can feel difficult to initiate by ourselves. Unfortunately, we can’t always depend on others to do it for us.

Sadly, without any action, loneliness can also quickly spiral into depression and stop you in your tracks. Pushing yourself just to take a ‘reach-out-baby-step’, whether you want to or not, whether your mind is ready or not, can usher in the changed feeling. Just by acting out the motions of such a baby-step can start the transformation.

No matter HOW you choose to make this happen in your life, it is clear that for Aging with Pizzazz, we need to combat loneliness and embrace social ties. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development states the importance clearly:

“Relationships are messy and they’re complicated…
the clearest message that we got from this 75-year study is this:
Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
Good life is built with good relationships.”

Make your plan to Age with Pizzazz – but hold someone’s hand (literally or figuratively) to make it last longer. It doesn’t take a whole gaggle of friends.

I’ve mentioned before that some of these “easy to say – hard to do” tips often sound like trite pop-psychology quiz answers. The authors of the UK booklet would probably agree. But you have to put your foot somewhere on the path to start out. More importantly, we need these reminders, periodically. I often share a favorite saying of my practice advisor from years ago:

Knowing the Way,
Is Not Going the Way

As the UK booklet points out, the more we are able to “do” the good side of mental wellness, the more apt we are to break some of the negative cycles. They have a 5-step program as seen in the video at the end of this post. Granted, they represent the “easy-to-say – hard to do” factors again, but they do aid us in concentrating on the “doing” side.  Thus, improving mental health. Consequentially, when our mental health is hale and hearty, it’s easier to consider more social ties.

For a little bit of inspiration, perhaps revisit these titles Finding Friends as an Older Adult Requires a Different Approach (Sixty&Me) or The Happiness Trap, How to Avoid the Snares.

Before the video, I am appropriating ideas from the UK booklet in less abstract terms. Below is a division of several good and bad trait evaluations. The points on each side of the ledger focus on behavior and reactions, specifically, what’s being done, or being felt.

Can you recognize which behaviors you demonstrate? Where you excel? Where you need to modify your behavior?

Good Well-being

1)     Can look after themselves.

2)     See themselves as valuable people.

3)     Judge themselves by reasonable standards (ex: their self-talk is not painfully irrational or mean).

4)     Cope with daily stress,
(worry is in moderation).

5)     Live and work productively.

6)     Connect with others.

Bad Well-being

1)     Feel frightened by rejection
(more than ‘normal’).

2)     Become trapped in a vicious circle of loneliness.

3)     Worry often about work and money.

4)     Sleep poorly.

5)     Are plagued by inactivity and lack of motivation.

6)     Keep others at a distance – participate
in little.


If you are thinking “blah, blah, blah – heard it all before.” I can’t disagree. We HAVE heard it before. But if you are like me, it doesn’t always stick. Let’s give it another try.

And BTW, if someone asks you next year whether you have a date for Valentine’s Day. The answer is “Yeah, of course, it’s February 14th.” That’s just a reminder that humor boosts our mental attitude as well – even if it’s corny. Bet you at least smiled (even if it was more of a grimace).

Reference: See the Harvard / Massachusetts Hospital Grant and Gluck study:

Title Picture from Creative Commons: Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

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