Wednesday, 17 May 2017

How to Cope with the Fear of Aging

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” ~Mark Twain

Time is the most precious asset we’ve got. It means life, and it’s never coming back.

In a world where everyone seems to be in a rush, it feels like time is flying. Not sure about you, but when I was a child, I felt like I had all the time in the world. Much later, as a grown-up woman, always busy to do more and achieve more, I had to sign up for time management courses so that I could cope with stress and learn how to manage my hours.

In April this year, I turned thirty-nine, and I was happy to witness a major transformation in myself: no more panic knowing that soon I’m going to be forty. No more sadness or fear of getting older.

This year, the only thing I wanted for myself was to celebrate a new year and feel grateful for everything I’ve learned so far at the school of life. To look at the future as an excellent opportunity to learn more and grow from my experiences.

Beautiful…but it wasn’t always like that. Like many other people I know, both women and men, I was terrified of the idea of growing older. I could feel this fear in my bones years ago, when I “changed the prefix” and turned thirty.

At the time, I didn’t express that out loud and pretended everything was okay, but, deep inside, I was terrified. To me, such a change was a powerful mental, psychological transition that came with high pressure on my chest, followed by painful beats of my heart. I wasn’t ready, and I can recall that I wanted all my youngest years back.

So I’ve been asking myself this question: Where does this fear come from? What makes so many people scared of aging?

One explanation I’ve found comes from societal norms and culturally inherited limiting beliefs that influence our way of thinking and don’t serve us well.

If you grow up preparing yourself for the aging process as if it will be a burden, that’s exactly how it will feel. It’s all about self-perception and the story we tell ourselves about whom we are becoming with passing time.

Take my example:

I grew up in Eastern Europe. In my home country, Romania, I often heard things like “Of course I’m sick. I’m sixty-eight now. I’m not young any longer, so that should be expected.” Or “My time has gone now; I’m seventy-five!”

Of course, not everyone thinks like this, but it’s common. Growing old is supposed to bring suffering and pain. With no savings, many people feel unprepared, both mentally and financially, for retirement, and it’s quite common for retired people to get support from their children to pay their utilities and buy medicine or food.

I am grateful for the four years I spent living in Sweden—a time that shifted my perception around aging. I still remember the beautiful yearly concerts I gave with my choir. Performing made my heart sing. And many members of that choir was over sixty!

You see, that was a different culture, mentality, and system of belief—and a much richer country. When we are financially stable and secured, it is much easier to be happy, right? But it’s not always about money; small moments of happiness don’t have to cost much, and often come for free.

In Sweden, I got to meet grandmothers who were learning new languages and discovering new hobbies for themselves. Some started to paint; others were enhancing their computer skills. They were thrilled to finally have all the time in the world for themselves, their wants, and their needs after they’d dedicated a high amount of time and energy to their families or employers.

I found that inspiring. That’s exactly how I want to experience my life once I grow older: as a new opportunity to learn, when every morning is a fresh start, despite the number of my years.

If you’re afraid of aging and everything that will entail, I can empathize, as I’ve been there. Here’s what helped me heal this fear, move on, and enjoy my everyday life in the only reality there is—the present moment:

1. Shifting perspective.

What would open up for you if you knew your age was nothing but a number? Once I decided to look at the process of growing older with compassion and see it as a gift not everyone receives in life, everything changed.

We create our own reality through the way we think and the story we tell ourselves about each and every experience.

I know there will be lots of good things for me to enjoy once I grow old. Firstly, I will have all the time in the world for myself and I will make sure to fill it up beautifully, doing things I enjoy, traveling more, spending more quality time with friends, learning new things, and practicing new hobbies.

Most people complain about spending too many hours at work and not having enough time for themselves. But once they retire, they get the time they’ve always wanted and don’t know what to do with it. Interesting.

We need to revise how we think of aging. The old paradigm was: You’re born, you peak at midlife, and then you decline into decrepitude. Looking at aging as ascending a staircase, you gain well-being, spirit, soul, wisdom, the ability to be truly intimate and a life with intention.” ~Jane Fonda

2. Knowing that I am not what I do.

The truth is, societies generally value the younger generations, seen as a much-needed force in the working field.

Aging means wisdom and experience, but often much suffering as well. Many people hold the belief that, the older they get, the worse their quality of life will be, as if their worthiness in the world will vanish or fade. I’ve heard of people who got severely depressed when they retired because they felt their lives had no meaning apart from working.

One of the most common questions people ask when they make new acquaintances is “What do you do for a living?” In a world that evaluates human worth through status and how well we do things in life, they lost their identity when left with no job.

Work is where we spend most of our time, so if we’re not happy with at work, we’re ultimately not happy with most of our lives. Most of us need a job, and money is a much-needed instrument for us to survive. But is life supposed to be all about our jobs? Is there no other way to be happy?

What if the ultimate purpose of us being here were just to be happy?

I can think of so many different kinds of activities that can bring us tremendous joy and fulfillment once we retire! Spending quality time with our dear ones, enjoying the small pleasures of life, traveling, practicing our hobbies, learning new skills, being involved in charity projects, making a difference in the world, and so on.

“You are a human being, not a human doing.” ~Wayne Dyer

3. Loving myself: mind, body, and soul.

 In the same way that I am not what I do, I am not my body. My spirit refuses to be put in a box or labeled. If I identify my human value through my physical appearance, the process of aging turns into a burden.

In today’s society, the concept of beauty often gets associated with youth, with having no wrinkles. Social media, women magazines, Photoshop, beauty contests—all these put tremendous pressure on people (and women especially) to fit particular requirements and parameters that sometimes are not even real. For many industries, that’s an excellent source of income. That is why anti-aging cosmetics sell well, and plastic surgery is booming. It’s all based on fear.

No matter our age, our bodies are the vehicles of our spirit—the temple of our souls and the only ones we’ve got. I have started to take care of my body: I exercise more and give it nutritious food and plenty of water. I make sure I find the time for those necessary doctor appointments and yearly health checks. When we invest in our physical health, we make a long-lasting investment in our future.

According to research, the people who live longest are located in Okinawa, Japan. I visited that place recently and wanted to learn more about their lifestyle.

People there eat healthily and exercise. They don’t stress much and have a social life, despite their age. That’s what I also got to see during the years I lived in China and South Korea: older people exercising, doing tai-chi or chi-gong, dancing or singing in the parks of Seoul or the big squares of Shanghai. They were keeping themselves active and spending quality time with like-minded people in their communities.

Descartes defined human as “social animals.” No matter our personality, extroverted or introverted, we all need a tribe, a sense of belonging to a group or community. That is a basic human need.

Happiness is a mental and emotional state of being; it comes as a result of the choices we make. It’s all about attitude, perspective, and what we make age mean to us. We all are what we believe.

So next year I’m turning forty—nothing but a new beautiful number, a time for brand new opportunities and a gift from life. Getting older is a reality, and I have decided to embrace myself with love, despite my age. I know I’m going to end up with more wrinkles and I’ll love them, too. True self-love is valid at any age; there’s no expiration date to that.

Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Goddesses Never Age, expressed it so beautifully: Growing older is inevitable; aging is optional.”

And now, I would like to hear from you. Have you ever felt scared of the idea of getting older?

About Sara Fabian

Sara Fabian is a women’s career and empowerment coach and inspirational speaker, on a mission to help professional women to discover their unique strengths, gifts and talents, boost their confidence, find their calling and live a meaningful life of purpose. For weekly inspiration, subscribe to her free newsletter at sarafabiancoaching.com or follow her on Facebook.

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