Building Resiliency to Combat Aging

Recently, I talked to a childhood friend who is 52. He lamented that he was getting old and not looking forward to it. I find this to be true for some friends in this age group and not for others.

You may also have seen this with your parents and their friends. So what makes it easier for some to cope with getting older and not others?

Those who handle aging well don’t think of themselves as their chronological age. Research has shown that those who see themselves as younger than their actual age are happier than those who see themselves as the age they are or older. Most of us have met people who we assumed were older than we were only to discover they were younger and vice versa. So the important thing is to not get caught up with a number. You’re only as old as you think you are.

To avoid focusing on age, be selective about those things you continue to do. If you ran a 7-minute mile when you were young, you may have to accept a 10- or 12-minute mile. If you enjoy gardening and have a huge garden you may need to reduce the size of it and over time, convert it to raised beds. It’s hard not to feel old and be unhappy when you’re constantly reminded of what you can’t do anymore. If your parents get caught up in trying to maintain everything the way it was they’re bound to be disappointed. So being able to adapt is imperative.

In working with older adults and people with multiple or serious medical issues, I’ve found the most detrimental thing to their well being is not having a sense of purpose. Everyone needs to feel useful and that they’re contributing in some way. Your parents may have worked hard all their lives until that magic age of 62 when they could retire and rest. Then in retirement they became dissatisfied and depressed. Most likely it’s because they didn’t have a plan after retirement. Whether it’s reading world history, part-time or volunteer work, or traveling the world, everyone needs to feel they’re life has purpose. What brings your parents’ pleasure or enjoyment? What dreams are they still waiting to fulfill?

Finally, it’s necessary to be flexible and positive. There really is something to being able to make lemonade if you’re given lemons. We don’t always have control over what life gives us (and unfortunately as we age we’ll have even less). If being flexible is a challenge for your parents encourage them to start developing flexibility.  If they can accept there is much they don’t have control over they’ll be able to move forward, be happy and otherwise adjust. Along with this, they have a choice in how they view things. They can see the glass as half empty or half full. They can focus on regrets or what they’ve accomplished. I encourage you to start developing a new mindset now to help yourself as you age: at the end of each day mentally or physically make note of at least one thing that happened in the day you’re proud of, that went well or you feel good about.

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