When you were young, New Year’s resolutions may have been about dieting, finding a new job or traveling more.
But now, as you deal with the vast emotional landscape faced by every aging boomer and Gen Xer, your challenges, worries and fears have changed: Perhaps you or your spouse are dealing with a serious diagnosis. Maybe you are single again and making financial decisions on your own for the first time or figuring out how to be safe when you live by yourself. You worry your money will disappear and imagine yourself homeless.
If you have long given up on the usefulness of New Year’s resolutions, consider using the start of the new year as an excuse to take an honest look at your fears (even the irrational ones) and come up with a logical plan to manage them.
Take Stock of Your Fears
Resolving fears requires recognizing and naming them. So your first step is to take inventory and list them. Think about all the times when you feel a knot in the pit of your stomach or when you can’t shut your brain off to go to sleep or when you get sweaty palms and a dry mouth. What is worrying you then? What are you afraid of?
Also ask yourself questions such as: What is the worst thing I can imagine happening to me? What could happen that may not be the worst, but I certainly wouldn’t like it?
Research studies show that when we write down or write about our fears, it takes away some of their power. Therefore, even the simple act of writing your fears down so you can look at them more objectively can be helpful. As you think of things that generate fear or worry, write them down on the left side of a paper. Some of them may be substantial, such as fear of not being able to stay in your own home. Others may be smaller. Write them all down anyway, no matter how long the list gets.
Brainstorm Your Options
Now, choose one fear at a time, and contemplate what things might help, no matter how unconventional they might seem.
For instance, if the fear is being unsafe now that you live alone, you might choose to:
- Install a home alarm and have outside lights on motion sensors
- Always lock doors, even when you’re home
- Ensure that windows are secure and that sliding doors have security bars
- To combat the stillness in which you hear every creak and groan of the house, turn on a TV quietly so you hear a voice, or play music that provides background and relaxes you at the same time
- Keep pepper spray on your nightstand and have another on your keychain to carry with you
- Perhaps take a self-defense class at a local community college or park district
- Register for an option such as Lifeline, so you have immediate help in case of an emergency
- Start planning now for where you may eventually move, such as a senior living community where there are built-in activities, safe environs and interesting people to meet
If the fear is running out of money, you could:
- Meet with a financial adviser to discuss investments, reserves and possibilities
- Ensure that you have an emergency fund of at least three to six months of living expenses
- Develop a budget or spending plan by keeping a written log of all income and expenses, no matter how small, so you know what you’re spending vs. what is coming in and then cut back on nonessential expenses wherever you can to ensure you can still be putting money into savings
- Make sure you’re taking advantage of senior discounts wherever you shop, eat, or travel and educate yourself on how to get your maximum Social Security benefits
Or perhaps your biggest fear is isolation or loneliness and feeling unwanted. In this case, your steps might include:
- Find meaningful volunteer work — tutoring children, assisting at a nonprofit dedicated to a cause you have passion for, volunteering at your place of worship or a hospital, helping out at a shelter or serving at a pet clinic
- Do something every day that makes another person smile
- Create a regular schedule of phone calls, texts and letter-writing to stay in touch with people who are important to you; make sure you spend most of your communication time with them asking about them rather than talking about you (in other words, be interested, not interesting!)
- Create a schedule for visiting family and friends, so you always have a visit to anticipate
Enact the Plan
You get the idea. Take the time to discover and name your fears. Then think of options that could help, and choose where you’re going to start. You may be surprised by how much confidence you gain simply by implementing a realistic step-by-step plan.
Most likely, several of your fears won’t even materialize. For those that do, you gain a sense of greater control and hope of surviving them when you’ve made plans ahead of time and thought through the options. Knowing you will be OK in the long run can help alleviate your fears. No matter what happens, you can survive and hopefully thrive.
Move Forward with Greater Confidence
Throughout this process, be assured that your feelings of fear need not last forever. When you allow their expression and deal with them honestly, they will eventually resolve. Don’t let fear and worry rule your life, and open up room for hope.
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