Aging & Anxiety
“Don’t grow up…” “when you get to my age, you’ll understand…” “I can’t do it”
We have all heard it before whether it be passing by an elder inside a doctor’s office or visiting our grandparents. The challenges that arise through a person’s lifespan increase exponentially as a result of aging. Our society views aging as a negative event that we try to avoid at all costs. Advertisements for anti-aging serums, permanent dye to cover gray hair, IPL laser treatments to reduce wrinkles – demonstrates our tendency to hide the physical features that result from aging but this doesn’t necessarily explain the
What are we really trying to avoid?
Existentialist theory in psychology would argue that throughout life, as we age, we must shift our focus from one meaning of life to another. This is supported by the physical changes that our bodies experience. In childhood, growth and development are the primary meanings of our life – cognitively, we aim to learn everything we can about ourselves and the world we live in; behaviourally, we walk around to explore, touch
every object within reach to discover its purpose, and fall… lots… every parent can attest to their little one’s recovering quickly because they are still growing and developing.
Young adults are taught to enjoy independence while still beginning to make life choices. The idea of living life to the fullest at a young age stems from the perceived freedom that people that age possess. An ability to be free from commitments while physically healthy, to explore whatever they choose. While this seems joyful, unforeseen pressure is placed on this age group to decide their meaning of life; whether the primary focus be on career aspirations, raising a family, or travelling the world – it often seems out of reach due to the limited financial resources available. The search begins for the meaning of life!
In adulthood, the shift begins to take place. Things start to slow down, become more blurry, and you start to notice the little things that you used to be able to do easily become more difficult. The meaning of life typically in adulthood stems from family life, health, and prosperity. The demands that arise while caring for a family are endless – time, attention, and commitment. While wealth accumulates, creating a sense of
stability; health on the other hand moves into the forefront, making itself known. It is not until late adulthood that the physical changes become pressing concerns.
Usually, up until this age the meaning of life has never been resolved but by this time, enough experiences have occurred and knowledge acquired that the meaning of life becomes a well-acquainted idea. The research indicates that well-being and the presence of meaning in one’s life are similar until later life stages; deficits in a person’s well-being takes away from the meaning of life (Stegar et al., 2009). Essentially, this means that it is more difficult to find meaning in your life as you age due to the
challenges that arise both physically and mentally. In some capacity, this creates a difficult pathway to navigate even if someone appears to “age gracefully!”
Why do we face difficulties discussing aging?
Western cultures are known for an extensive history of ageism, undervaluing the older adult population (Weintrob, 2022). The difference in ideology when comparing this to Eastern cultures stems from the way people earned their value. It makes more sense understanding that the value system in Western cultures was created based on an individual’s capacity to do work as an active contributing member of society. Retirement not only allows the elderly to enjoy the benefits of the community but also shifts that
person to a passive member of society. It is important to understand this, because the negative view on aging affects our elderly populations self-perception, thoughts and behaviours, and their quality of life (Donizzetti, 2019). Our quality of life. We will notice this as we age ourselves.
What can we do to change the narrative? How do we view aging in a positive
Firstly, the passage of time is without a doubt inevitable. It will occur whether or not we are ready, at all moments, and does not slow down for anybody or any reason. A blessing and a curse. The former refers to the idea that we have time – time to enjoy with our families, friends and coworkers, time to make new memories that will turn into the time we spend telling our stories to others along our path. We may feel time moving quicker and quicker but that only indicates the amount of time we have spent getting more knowledgeable, attaining a better understanding of the world and ourselves, achieving milestones we never thought possible. The latter does tell us that the end draws nearer with each step we take, but finding meaning in our lives will draw us closer towards feeling gratitude for each day we are blessed with.
Can we accept ourselves for who we are and what we have experienced throughout our lifetime?
I ask this question to understand why we need to change our physical appearance. It is true that our bodies change over time. As we age, biologically the structures that support us, allow us to move, see, hear, start to fail us. But is that not a sign of a life well lived? Harvard (2022) concluded that according to the research, people tend to live healthier and longer lives if they held a more positive attitude towards aging. The thought behind it is that reduced stress and anxiety related to aging led to a lower risk and thus less diagnoses of serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Additionally, those who took a positive stance engaged in healthier habits involving sleep, diet, physical activity, and felt overall more optimistic towards a greater purpose in their life. There is a normal fear and feeling of anxiety when it comes to aging, that is certain. However, finding a sense of purpose and working towards self-acceptance helps the journey become a bit less scary and more enjoyable… you are not alone. Everyone is aging – many just won’t admit it. Taking each day as it is, staying mindful of your thoughts and feelings, and understanding that it is a normal process will aid in your ability to cope with the changes. Seeking help through a friend, family member or a professional can be therapeutic with the means to change your perspective too.
We can decrease anxiety around aging if we focus on the meaning of life during different stages of our lives; debunking the stigma around ageism and physical appearance; as well as focus on the connections and respect that we have for our members of society with the most wisdom. I, personally, can attest that I found an unlikely friendship in an elder that I met recently. She was the most caring soul that I had the pleasure of knowing, and I learned more about my worldview from her than I had before… simply by listening with an open empathetic heart!
Sending lots of peace, mindfulness, and thoughtfulness to you if you are struggling with age related anxiety! We are always here if you are ready to talk with one of our experienced clinical counsellors.
Donizzetti, A. R. (2019). Ageism in an Aging Society: The Role of Knowledge, Anxiety
about Aging, and Stereotypes in Young People and Adults. International journal of
environmental research and public health, 16(8), 1329.
Positive attitude about aging could boost health. Harvard News. (2022, August 24).
Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/positive-attitude-
Stegar, M. F., Oishi, S., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Meaning in life across the life span:
Levels and correlates of meaning in life from emerging adulthood to older adulthood.
The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, p. 43-52.
Weintrob, G. (2022, January 28). Aging around the world. Center for Healthy Aging.