7 Ways to Beat Your Fear of Aging
Creative aging expert Alan Heeks shares tips from his new book, 'Not Fade Away'
If you’re over 60, you’ve reached a time of life with some great new possibilities, but also some new challenges. What’s pretty certain is that you’ll need to make some fresh choices and learn some new skills to stay happy. I’m turning 70 this year, and in my book, Not Fade Away: Staying Happy When You’re Over 64!, as well as in my life and in workshops, I’ve been exploring these topics deeply.
Here are seven tips for beating your own fears of aging:
1. Maintain a positive outlook. We all have to face losses and downsides as we get older. On top of this, the sheer pace, complexity and technologies of everyday life can get you down, further aggravated by the constant barrage of news, advertisements and social media, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. How can we stay happy in spite of all these pressures pulling the other way? The basic point is that we have to continually choose to believe in the positives about ourselves, other people and the world in general. Try to keep noticing your thoughts and feelings, and keep choosing positive ones, like gratitude and appreciation for all the good things about yourself and your life.
2. Embrace your fears. Approaching retirement status, most people are likely to slow down, either from choice or necessity. For many, this slowing down creates a space where habitual fears can come up more strongly. If you want to grow old happily, my advice is to face these fears of aging sooner, not later. This doesn’t mean going into battle with them: invite them to tea and start a dialogue. I’ve done this a lot since turning 60: I’ve found that my fears were just trying to protect me and had some useful advice when I gave them a hearing.
3. Create cheerful daily habits. Habits are a great way to ensure you keep making the positive choices you need (as described above). Here are some examples: continually take time in your day to express gratitude for the good things in your life; try to bring humor into your daily life by enjoying some comedy on the TV or radio or watching a DVD. Get outdoors into nature; it lifts your spirits, reduces stress and is great for your health. Take a brisk walk, ride a bike or engage in some outdoor activity every day.
4. Treat problems as an adventure. It’s easy to get downcast and feel like a victim when you have problems with health or in other parts of your life. Choose to believe that there is a gift, an upside in most problems, if you can find it. Treat these difficulties the same way you’d prepare for an adventure holiday: gather maps and other information, look for a good guide and treat the new learning you need as an interesting challenge. Look out for any new openings that may arise.
5. Explore elderhood. Our modern society gives us few useful guidelines about growing old positively. We have to figure this out for ourselves. I’m using the term elderhood to invite you to connect to the mature wisdom in yourself, and in our ancestors. The old tribal cultures, such as the Celts and Native Americans, saw the elders as playing vital roles in the tribe. It was the elders’ role to guide the tribe in a crisis, to dream dreams, uphold values, mentor the young and speak truths as they saw it. Clearly we live in a different kind of society, but the role of the elders is something we can learn from and update.
6. Be more conscious of your values. With modern life being so hectic and distracting, becoming more aware of your values and choosing to live by them more deliberately, can be a real service to your well-being. It's also a gift to those around you, including the younger generation. Values can be everyday ones like honesty, integrity and care for others, and choosing to respond positively to the apparently hopeless state of the world.
7. Cultivate your people skills. Many research studies show that it is our ability to express, hear and work with feelings that is far more beneficial to our personal and work life than intellect or brain power. Honing your interpersonal skills is a great step, even for retirees.