As if it isn’t bad enough that every other person you know is catching a bug, adding stress to the mix can make you even more susceptible to getting sick. Stress can actually weaken your immune system and increase chronic inflammation. (1)
Fortunately, yoga can help keep your immune system in tip-top shape. A review of 15 studies showed that yoga can boost immunity by both reducing stress and decreasing inflammation in the body. Yoga can also be beneficial to those who are already sick by reducing inflammatory markers in the body. (2)
Keeping a regular yoga practice is essential to maintaining consistent immune-boosting effects. Practice these yoga poses daily. To get started, grab a yoga mat and a bolster or a long pillow.
When you think of student loans, do you think of them as a young person’s problem?
Think again. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, more student debt is currently owed by people aged 35 and older than by those under 35. For many Americans the burden of student loan debt has lingered into middle age.
Consider this a modern definition of a mid-life crisis: juggling competing demands from your past and your future by trying to pay off student loans while also starting to think seriously about how to save enough for retirement.
The figures from the Department of Education show that over $800 billion in student loan debt outstanding is owed by people aged 35 or older. This includes over a quarter of a trillion dollars owed by people aged 50 and over. That’s righ — people old enough for AARP memberships are still tackling a problem generally associated with millennials.
By age 50, people are often grappling with how to send their kids to college. This has created the very realistic scenario where a family has two generations worth of student loans outstanding under the same roof. Is it any wonder that older Americans generally are behind on saving for retirement?
A few things have contributed to this problem:
Full or partial deferrals of student loan payments may make the burden easier on young adults, but with interest charges it can make for a greater debt load later on. During the Great Recession, many adults decided to go back to school to try to improve their career prospects, and with rapidly changing technology and business models, refreshing skills and credentials remains an ongoing career imperative. Parents and even grandparents may cosign loans for younger family members, and then find themselves stuck with the debt when the borrower defaults.
If you are concerned with student loan debt lingering long enough to interfere with your saving for retirement — or even with retirement itself — you need a plan for systematically attacking the problem and managing debt.
Here are eight tips for older Americans paying off student loans:
Take stock of your loans outstanding. Think of this as a kind of inventory so you know where you stand. Make a list of all your student loan balances, their monthly payments, interest rates and how long you have to go to repayment.
To forgive is divine… but being forgiven might be even better. If you have a federally-backed student loan, see if you qualify for a loan forgiveness program. For example, if you have been on an income-based repayment program and have been paying off your loan for 20 years or more, you may qualify to have the remaining balance forgiven. There are also special forgiveness programs for some teaching and public service jobs.
Triage your spending. Once you know the scope of the problem and whether any relief is available, look for extra room in your budget to pay down debt. Start by examining your spending. Distinguish between which expenses are actual necessities, and which are simply habits that you could break. Prioritize to find at least some expenses you could cut to make room for additional student loan payments.
Accelerating loan payments should save money in the long run. As an incentive for additional student loan payments, remember that making extra payments will not just pay your loan down sooner, but should also be cheaper in the long run because it reduces the total interest expense you incur.
Decide where student loans fit in your hierarchy of debt. While paying down student loans is important, they may be a relatively cheap form of debt compared to things like credit card debt. Put any extra debt repayments toward your most expensive sources of debt first.
Don’t let extra payments get in the way of qualifying for a 401(k) match. Deciding between student loan repayment and retirement saving is tough, especially as you move into middle age. One clear-cut choice is that if you can make 401(k) contributions that qualify for an employer match rather making than extra student loan repayments, chances are the value of that match may far exceed the interest saved from paying down your loan faster.
Evaluate refinancing options carefully. If you receive refinancing offers, evaluate them with a long-term view in mind. Refinancing options that reduce your immediate payments are likely to prolong your debt and increase your eventual interest expense.
Factor student loan repayments into your retirement planning. When you enter your retirement savings into a retirement calculator, be sure to subtract the amount of any debt you have outstanding. That debt is a drain on future income, so to some extent it may offset your retirement savings.
It’s okay to be nostalgic about your college days, but paying student loans well into middle age should not be part of reliving your past.
After three years at the University of Pennsylvania, Brielle Weiner has perfected the one-sentence introduction she gives in every new class: a 21-year-old senior majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Wellesley, Mass.
But this semester in a course called The Pursuit of Happiness, she was forced to try something new: an introductory anecdote that showed her at her best.
Weiner spoke about how caring for her 95-year-old grandmother, who came to live with their family eight years ago, forced her to grow as a person.
“It’s not often that I go into details about this story to anyone,” she said, “let alone a complete stranger.”
That’s the point of the assignment, said James Pawelski, professor of the course. It forces students to build deeper connections with each other, he said.
The course is the first large-scale class at Penn to focus on the practice of positive psychology, the scientific study of what goes well in life and how to cultivate more of it. Nearly 200 students are enrolled – double a typical lecture course.
It comes at a time when universities across the country are desperate for new ways to improve mental health on campus. A 2018 study found college students are reporting increasing levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts for the eighth year in a row. While many colleges, including Penn, have hired more counselors and increased counseling center hours, some are wondering if there’s more to be done. Can they stop the problem before it begins? Teach students to be more resilient, mentally healthier, maybe even happier?
“Happiness isn’t one size fits all. We can’t just dole it out to everybody.” Pawelski said. “Our goal in class is to explore the pursuit of happiness together.”
The course encourages students to try meditation or journaling, and teaches them to build stronger relationships, which are known to boost happiness.
The introduction that Weiner practiced with her classmates embodied two core concepts of positive psychology: emphasizing individual strengths and building human connections.
“It made me think, ‘I know who you are. I know something important to you,’ ” Weiner said. “Now if I pass you on campus, I’m definitely going to say hi.”
More than a decade of research has shown that teaching youth resilience and positive psychology can reduce and prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety, lower stress, and promote wellbeing. It can also improve grades.
Similar courses at Harvard and Yale drew more than 1,000 students each, becoming the most popular courses in each university’s history.
Other schools are trying similar initiatives, though on a smaller scale. Pennsylvania State University and Villanova University have been offering courses on positive psychology for more than 10 years, but they are focused more on the field than application, and are often aimed at psychology majors.
Temple University has created a Resiliency Resource Center with tools for students to use their own strengths to address depression, anxiety, and interpersonal conflict. Saint Joseph’s University offers weekly mindfulness sessions, and Drexel University is planning to add mindfulness training to freshmen orientation.
“It’s important that wellness not be thought of as something merely important for mentally ill students,” Pawelski said.
A LONG TIME COMING
Martin Seligman, known as “the father of positive psychology,” founded the Penn Positive Psychology Center in 2003. He and Pawelski started the Masters of Positive Psychology program the same year, the first graduate degree in the field. The center also conducts large-scale resilience training for the U.S. Army.
Yet Penn was years behind other schools in offering a large-scale positive psychology class for all undergraduates.
“Penn is where positive psych began, but in undergrad, at least, no one uses these resources,” said Armghan Ahmad, a senior economics major and currently in the Pursuit of Happiness class.
Headed into an investment banking job after graduation, Ahmad knows he will have long hours and lots of stress. “I want to learn the mindset and small habits I can commit myself to in a consistent manner to boost happiness,” he said.
Penn previously offered a smaller positive psychology course focused on theory, but the new course has a greater emphasis on application.
On the first day of class, students were asked to pretend they were meeting people while walking around New York City. First they introduced themselves to people who were not interested in meeting them. Then to powerful individuals, like CEOs. And finally to a friend they hadn’t seen in five years.
“Each time it got progressively more enjoyable to introduce yourself,” said Jake Singer, a sophomore business major.
The realization has prompted him to change his daily interactions. At a recent visit to the Apple Store, he made sure to look the salesperson in the eye and smile. He asked how their day was going.
“That felt nice instead of just going there for the purpose of getting my phone fixed and leaving,” Singer said.
BUILDING ON STUDENT STRENGTHS
Down the hall from Temple University’s counseling center is a room with dim lighting and soothing music. Colored mandalas and other art projects called “zen doodles” decorate the wall. iPods loaded with meditation apps are placed near massage chairs.
This is the Resiliency Resource Center (RRC), established seven years ago to complement individual and group therapy provided in the counseling center. It’s meant to help students take charge of their own mental health.
While it’s run through the counseling center, it’s not limited to students with mental illness.
“It can be as severe as PTSD and bipolar or just someone wanting to communicate better with their roommate,” said Brandon LaBarge, assistant coordinator of the RRC.
Up to 20 students come through on a given day, with nearly 800 students using the center last semester, LaBarge said.
Ilana Stern, a senior psychology major, first came to the RRC a few weeks into seeing a therapist for anxiety. She used the Muse meditation headband, one of the most popular items the center offers.
It measures brain waves and signals to students when their minds are calm, neutral, or active. The longer they stay calm, the app rewards them with points.
Stern found the experience empowering.
“Of course I do things my therapist tells me to,” she said, “But it was fulfilling and rewarding to know I can help myself too.”
That’s the idea behind a group LaBarge runs in the RRC. It’s called mindfulness-based strengths practice. Up to 10 students come together for eight weekly sessions to learn how they can use their own character strengths to cope with problems and increase happiness.
The program began in fall 2017, and has since grown to two eight-week sessions per semester to accommodate the demand.
Students take a character strength survey, which ranks them on 24 inner strengths that positive psychology says every individual possesses in varying degrees. The strengths range from creativity and honesty to gratitude and humor.
The sessions are then spent helping students find ways to use those strengths to improve their lives.
Zainab Nyazie, a senior psychology major who participated in a drop-in version of the group, was initially upset to learn one of her top character strengths was forgiveness.
“Does that mean I’m a pushover?” she said.
But through the program, Nyazie learned to use the strength to resolve roommate conflicts and also forgive herself.
“They start to learn they’re not their depression, they’re not their anxiety, they’re not their chemistry homework,” LaBarge said. “It brings perspective back to who the person is and how their character can help them deal with this.”