Self Improvement — 22 July 2006
Growing older isn’t as bad as you may think

People often find it disconcerting to experience changes in their bodies, pace, interests, emotions and priorities as they age. Are those changes worrisome or welcome?

The physical and mental transformation that occurs with age is usually gradual and slow. Many people do not notice their altering state until they reach their mid-fifties. Perhaps their age alerts them to the certainty that the future may be shorter than their past and thus they notice with alarm the signs and symptoms of aging.

Since our culture idolizes youth and abhors aging, most people resist accepting the natural changes in their bodies with every passing year. Many individuals seek to reverse the aging process by subjecting themselves to various treatments and even surgery. While they may alter their bodies, other transformations cannot be revised.

The first unavoidable change in mid-life is the reduction in energy. Older people notice their slower, more measured and less-hurried pace. They recall their former level of enthusiasm, commitment, self-sacrifice and high intensity that propelled them in younger years. They remember how hard they worked and how tolerant they had been of sleep deprivation and stress. They may be dismayed by their reduced energy but often admit to enjoying the privilege of working less hurriedly.

A shift in attitude also occurs in the mid-fifties even for those who have loved their work and cherished the satisfaction garnered from their achievements. Workers often recognize that they feel less stimulated and interested in what had been their life’s passion as they gravitate toward new or unexplored areas. Their fascination is now redirected to their hobbies, new or old interests and activities. Since most are still employed, they may feel some concern about their dwindling enthusiasm for what they do.

Another change mid-lifers observe is the shift in their emotions. Commonly, men may feel more tender, sensitive and emotional, seeking a deeper connection with their mates. Some are alarmed by this trend, as they may view it as loss of vigor, masculinity and power. Women may notice a focus change form pleasing others to pleasing themselves, which is of concern if viewed as a selfish preoccupation. When the mature woman takes up athletic endeavors, goes back to school or wants to explore the world, she may wonder whether her giving nature has been altered.

Spirituality is often a new focus for many who have not explored their faith and practices earlier in life. This may also be perplexing for those who have neglected their spiritual needs for many years.

An even greater area of concern for mid-lifers may be the first time experience of anxiety, doubts and insecurity about their competence and direction in life. Why should they be uncertain about coping with their professional, social or personal life after many years of effective functioning? The appearance of these unfamiliar emotions is frightening to many aging individuals.

So where are the blessings in all these changes? The slower pace, the shift in focus, interests, emotions and preferences are all positive changes as nature redirects the individual toward greater exploration of the self and conservation of energy for longer survival. The physiological limitations give birth to intellectual and spiritual renewal for the individual’s expansion of potential and wisdom.

The fact that tasks take longer is probably wisely programmed to preserve one’s energy for more years. It also allows one to develop a greater appreciation for life’s details.

The shift in interest from the life-long focus of a job or mothering serves to expand the breath of one’s capacity. It is not a loss, but an opportunity for living up to one’s fullest potential.

Even the increase in anxiety, doubts and fears is nature’s way of safeguarding the individual’s safety. Anxiety leads to caution, greater focus and attentiveness, which protect the individual from potential injury and harm.

If you are worried about the changes of aging:

• Do not grieve for your former self. Welcome the changes you notice as healthy, normal and beneficial shifts toward your self- preservation, survival and longevity.
• Take advantage of the new opportunity to expand your life in previously unexplored areas.
• Accept that middle age changes are not signs of deterioration but rather an avenue for expansion of mind, body, emotions, talents and spiritual awareness. It is the adolescence of the second half of your life.
• View your aging not as a disease process but as an evolving passage toward a higher level of a more well-rounded and enriched existence.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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