Anxiety and aging. Sigh.
This week I chomped on a single Starburst, which immediately pulled my less-than-one-year-old gold crown out of my molar. I felt embarrassed to tell my dentist that I was still chewing on kids' candy at age 50. Next stop, dentures?
I added toothlessness to my list of aging worries - Alzheimer's, stroke, heart attack....
To learn how to reduce getting-older anxieties, I checked with the pros. Their tips:
Live in the present, not the future. "Obviously the biggest factor in fear of growing old is you're looking too far down the road," says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? "You're thinking, 'How many decades do I have left? I only have so many good years.' The anxiety sets in." Avoid thinking about "time running out," he says. "You've got to think about what's the hope today? What's the hope for this month? What's the hope for your relationships with your children? Work toward those."
Be aware of how you'd like to be remembered. "Nurture and develop your own legacy," says Hindy. "It is, in a sense, what some philosophers would call one version of immortality. It's the immortality of influence. You've influenced others, and you've changed the world. Part of understanding and nurturing and enjoying your legacy is to work on what psychologists would call your personal narrative - your life story. Acknowledge in this that you and your life are special."
Make new hobbies - and revisit old ones. As a kid, Hindy loved ham radio. About five years, he got back into it. Want to try something new? Make yourself a "bucket list."
Recognize why getting older makes you feel anxious - and then take charge. "We worry about what that [aging] is going to mean - our mobility, our appearance," says psychologist Tamar Chansky, author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: 4 Simple Steps to Overcome the Worry and Create the Life You Want. "Reduce the big, sweeping fears down to the issues at hand. [Then] we feel empowered instead of scared. You don't get anything done when you feel scared. [When] you're thinking, a different part of your brain is operating. It's not the fight or flight part. It's the good analytical part that solves problems and makes the decisions."
Share your worries. Tell a friend - or write them down. "When you articulate it, you kind of see what makes sense and what doesn't," says Chansky. "Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle. On one side, write what your worries are, what your fears are. On the other side of the page, challenge yourself to write down what you really think is going to happen." Then fold the paper so only the reality side shows.
Think about the time you'll save. "We're all trying to be more efficient," says Chansky. "If we're going to spend 70, 80 percent of our time worrying about something that is not even a 1 percent chance, it doesn't make sense."
Remind yourself of past successes. "When you have some kind of crisis or challenge in life, notice how well we are able to handle that element," says Chansky. "We tend to be decent problem solvers when something comes up."
Downgrade your anxiety level. "Fear is always going to be more extreme than what's merited," says Chansky. Narrow down what's at stake or what went wrong.
Don't just rely on prescription drugs. "Medication is a very powerful and helpful tool for many people," says Chansky. "[But] it's not going to teach you a different way of thinking. That's something you can do with a therapist or reading books and working on your thinking."
Figure out your purpose in life. "As you get older, you're able to be clear about what's important to you and take action about that," says Chansky. "That's just such a gift....In your 20s and 30s, you're just scrambling with other people's purposes. Tap into your wisdom. How many hours have we spent wasting time spinning our wheels that have no benefit? Think about what's important, what we need to do, what we want to do."
Stay busy. "We don't worry as much when we're fully engaged," says Chansky. "Kids, when they're at sports, say, 'I don't worry there because I'm having a good time....' Enjoy your children if you have children. Be engaged in the present."
Get involved with something you care about - whether it's volunteering or working. "That's really what this age is about," says Chansky.
I'm going to dust off my clarinet, sign up for that Shakespeare class I keep meaning to take - and brush my teeth. Goodbye to my anxiety and aging problem?
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