Mindset matters when it comes to experience of aging
Last updated 8/15/2019 at 1:31pm | View PDF
Often, when we think about aging, we think about a version of ourselves that somehow gets eroded over time.
We tend to have a negative attitude toward aging; this seems to be reinforced in our own awareness of how our bodies and minds respond to the passage of time. These days, we are living longer; yet, we cannot forget to strive to live better. Extending our life span increases the burden of physical challenges, losses and the question of meaning and purpose.
Recognizing normal aging is an important step in enjoying and accepting this stage of life. Social support, developing a strong connection to family and community, and educating ourselves on ways to develop skills in problem solving make a difference in our quality of life.
The prevailing concept in aging is change: intellectual, psychological, behavioral, relational, physical, environmental, spiritual. How we respond to those changes will determine how well we can accommodate or adapt to stressors. Each of us is an expert on our own self, and we are part of the solution. We have the ability to activate our resilience - the spirit of overcoming adversity, tragedy or significant sources of stress.
If we perceive aging as a time of great growth and opportunity, then we can address and alleviate the "three plagues" of aging: boredom, helplessness and loneliness. It is about acknowledging the disruption in our life balance by making connections, accepting change, taking decisive actions, keeping things in perspective and taking care of ourselves.
Behavior is communication. A person's actions may be indicating an unmet need, such as pain, the need for space or assistance, or something more complex. Behaviors need to be understood first, as opposed to trying to control them without determining the message or the reason.
Each person approaches their old age with different life experiences, problem solving skills, stress responses and access to resources. It is fair to say that the same stressor that makes one person stronger may harm another.
Experts agree on recommendations to increase the chances for people to experience an optimization of mental well-being. These recommendations include developing your feeling of having a purpose in life, honoring your feelings, coming to peace with past decisions and accentuating the positive, even in the face of illness or distress.
The promotion and encouragement of healthy aging may improve the mental health of older adults. It is important to note that negative emotions differ from mental illness. Common feelings of sadness, anxiety and stress differ from feelings that might require medical evaluation and treatment.
For example, sadness over a specific loss is not the same as feeling hopeless and depressed in general, losing interest and enjoyment, which in turn affect self-care and relationships. When we talk about negative emotions, implementing stress-reduction and coping strategies can have a positive impact on mental well-being. The practice of mindfulness, for instance, assists older adults in shifting motivational goals from future-oriented desires to the those that fit the present time. Other mindfulness-oriented practices include yoga, tai chi and deep breathing.
Multiple studies support the concept that older adults may actually adjust to severe stressors better than younger adults. The Positive Aging Movement urges older adults to use their wisdom, experience and passion to reinvent themselves beyond midlife.
The invitation is on. Celebrate your age. Every moment of life is precious and unique.
- Monica Guilhot-Chartrand is a bilingual psychotherapist and senior services coordinator at SamaraCare Counseling.