Children are impatient to get older, adolescents crave adulthood and adults seek success and happiness by propelling themselves to gallop faster, while older people pull the reigns back to achieve greater self-sufficiency and longevity. One of the emotional components of the aging process is the onset of anxiety and uncertainty.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” The key words are “without fear” yet, as we age, our anxiety and fears intensify modulating our conduct and hindering our pleasures.
In “The Influence of a Sense of Time on Human Development” Laura Carstensen of Stanford University states, “Gradually, time left becomes a better predictor than chronological age for a range of cognitive, emotional, and motivational variables.” Believing that one’s life is ending is detrimental to our health and wellbeing.
Older people report becoming more cautious, more time conscious, more fearful about losing their autonomy, their physical or mental capacities or becoming dependent upon others for their survival. These concerns about anticipated losses propel some elders to become fearful, reduce their former adventuresome curiosity and avoid participating in unfamiliar situations.
Amit Bhattacharjee of Dartmouth found differences between younger and older individuals’ sources of happiness, “Younger people, who view the future as extensive, gain more happiness from extraordinary experiences associated with high state of arousal: however, ordinary experiences associated with calm, peaceful and low state of arousal are increasingly associated with happiness as people get older.”
The title of the movie The Bucket List has become a common term older people use to label their yet unmet goals they hope to actualize before their demise. At the same time, anxiety and fears about existing or impending physical or mental deterioration may hinder seniors from venturing to actualize their life’s dreams.
Patricia, my elderly friend describes her worst fear as becoming a burden to her family and friends. The thought of inconveniencing others who may dutifully or even lovingly care for her causes her great distress. Her independence and self-sufficiency rank highly in her self-valuation.
Since mild to moderate anxiety is an inevitable part of aging, how can we learn to manage it in a healthy way that safeguards our self-esteem and dignity? First, we need to accept that the blessing of a longer life comes with the need to accept help from others. We should lift the emotion of shame about receiving assistance by accepting that life begins and ends in a semi-autonomous state. Also, remembering the satisfaction we felt from having helped our elders may ease our resistance to receiving care from younger helpers.
To reduce your anxieties about aging:
- Avoid conjuring in your mind the worst-case scenarios about your aging process.
- Reject the belief that needing assistance detracts from your competence or preciousness.
- Accept that seeking the help you need to feel safe and cared for is a wise, calming and empowering action.