We age from the time we are born. We do not have to look much further than within our own families to see that this is true. We can observe the changes as our grandparents and parents get older. We witness our children's stages of growth. From infancy, they become toddlers, continuing to grow over the years into adolescents and then into young adults.
As lovely as the growth stages are, there are losses that come with the stages that can bring on grief feelings of sadness and growing pains. I recall the sadness that my neighbor, a stay-at-home mom disclosed to me when her daughter, the baby of the family went for her first day of kindergarten. Although her daughter was going through a healthy rite-of-passage, she acknowledged the sadness and difficulty of letting go of the baby and toddler stage, sending her youngest offspring into the world of primary school. This same daughter is now a mother with young children of her own.
My neighbor had less of a problem entering into the stage of becoming a grandmother than she did seeing her daughter off to kindergarten. For many though, becoming a grandmother, turning 50, 60,70, 80, retiring from work, facing the wrinkles that come with age, identifying as a senior is challenging. For some, aging can cause excruciating grief.
Aging attitudes are determined by various factors including our culture, circumstances and personal characteristics. Culturally, we are influenced by a youth-oriented society. The media and an industry that pushes age defying products repeatedly deliver the message that young is good and old is....not good. What is really being defied is the inevitable reality that old comes part and parcel after years of living young. Unfortunately, there are also circumstances of situational loss that come with old age that our culture can feed on to keep youth as appealing.
As older adults, we are more likely to experience situational losses involving declining health. We may acknowledge physical changes in eyesight, hearing loss and/or loss of energy, Changed circumstances such as retirement can lead to financial loss. Also we are more likely when older to be affected by death related losses involving a parent, sibling or close older friend. In our 80s, we may assess more subtle losses such as people not giving us the attention or respecting our opinions the way they did when we were young.
It is difficult to maintain a positive attitude when faced with adversity and loss circumstances associated with aging as well as living in a youth valued culture. Nevertheless, there are people who embrace aging with positivity while others who are bitter. This proves that there is an element of personal characteristic that can play a role in how we react to aging. For instance, people who have an inner locus of control possess the ability to ward off the cultural influences and adverse circumstances of loss more so than those with an external locus of control.
Here are 3 "A" coping tips to assist in working through the losses that you acknowledge and assess so you can move forward with enhanced resiliency as an older adult:
A-1. Acknowledge whether your feelings are influenced by our culture. Once acknowledging that our society values youth, take the challenge towards developing a thick skin that can see beyond and does not buy into this way of thinking. Acknowledge instead the value and wisdom that comes with age and the value of having years of past experience to draw from in order to cope and make decisions better - something that the youth are lacking since experience can only come from age.
A-2. Assess for inspiration and hope. With regards to aging, I am inspired by Betty White, an actress whose career has spanned over 70 years and still working in her 90s. I saw her in an interview exuding self-confidence, the advantage of having years of experience, Being over 90, Betty White had years to hone her craft and consequently in her old age can easily make an audience laugh. She serves as a good aging role model.. The more role models and sources of inspiration you have, the better.
A-3. Assist yourself with self-care. Treat yourself with tender loving care which includes eating well, getting enough rest and sleep, exercising regularly and having many enjoyable moments. Stay connected daily with others, even if the connection is through a phone call rather than face to face. Avoid isolation and participate in activities that put a smile on your face.
There are reasons for wanting to avoid aging but the truth is we can not avoid it. Sure, there are losses along the way. When we acknowledge, assess, assist, we can rather allow ourselves to face them, make resolution with them and move forward from the losses with strengthened resiliency that leads to confidence and personal growth. Although challenging, well worth the effort to reap the benefits.