Anxiety & Aging the Dilemma for Baby Boomers

I admit it. I am an aging Baby Boomer. I accept than I am aging and that I am not in my 20’s, nor 30’s, even my 40’s or 50’s. I am past 60 and more than beginning to show my age. Physically, I mean. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually I am still a puppy BUT… If you are a Baby Boomer, you know where I am going with this.

My hair is not the same color as it was in my 20’s. Nor is there as much hair as there was in those photos of me with shoulder length locks and the full dark beard that I recently posted on Facebook. Believe it or not, I weigh more than I did when I was in my early 20s. In my early 50s, I took to wearing reading glasses and now my bifocals are my constant companion. Even my hearing has been impacted by the time, activities, and the years since my youth. My doctor reminds me that I need certain regular unspeakable tests as a more than I would want, course of my annual physicals. Though I manage my stress and anxiety fairly well through regular relaxation, meditation, and exercise, I find the anxiety of aging creeping closer to the surface. The situation is not unique just to me.

I don’t have the youthful energy that I once had nor the ability to focus and concentrate. It seems to take me longer to learn certain tasks and yet I do not want to give up on learning new things. I am not sure whether I am just frustrated by the aging process or whether there is some deeper levels of anxiety and fears that I or someone like me, may need to address. For most of my life, I have a pattern of being oppositional and not truly fitting in with the age that has been prescribed for me. I still feel youthful, excited, and passionate about life and yet I don’t seem to have quite as much energy. So as I struggle with the current reality I know that I am not alone and that there are many people who are dealing with the same situation and would like to find a forum for us all to work together and to support each other as we deal with the consequences of aging.

I do not claim to have a magic diet or exercise program that can eliminate the impact of aging. I would like to be able to offer a process where each of us can minimize the impact of the anxiety of aging. There are people who struggle a great deal more than me with the discovery of wrinkles, lack of skin tone, the widening of the waistline, the reduction of hair, or even the loss of key body parts like teeth. I have been blessed with a relatively healthy body and yet I still feel the effects of the aging process as I celebrate my mid-60s. This may not be true for everyone, but I do not wish to go back and be a teenager or someone in my 20s again. I simply wish that my body did not behave as if it were a large sack of stones that I must drag around at certain times.

For me a passive life of sitting still does not resonate. I like to be active and energized by new and exciting things. I like to tell my stories of times past when I hiked over mountain passes far above timberline and yet most days I do not feel I have the energy to trudge up those trails the way I did in my 20s and 30s and 40s. Truth be known, I can still do many of the things that I tell stories about but in this day and age I would do them more slowly and probably less gracefully. Again, I do not find my situation unique to me and I would like to be a voice for many of us baby boomers who can still not believe that the insidious aging process offers us “better days”.

Perhaps what is needed is a new perspective and a new way of looking at my now worn life. People tell me that I should focus on the positive like what I can do and what my body is able to perform. And yet there are times when any limitation makes me boil. I also admit that I am far from being a patient person. I’ve said for years that there will be a time later in life when I engage in accepting the process of being patient. I have not found that time in life as of yet. I’m not jealous of people who have their youth or of people who are in better shape than I, I am only envious of my memories of what I once took for granted and now find difficult if not impossible to do.

My ranting in this blog is designed to be a point of discussion. I would like to build a process where there can be physical control of fear and anxiety and the wherewithal to find greater emotional acceptance to live with the challenges that we all must face. From using the techniques that I have taught for 40 years in stress management and from sports psychology, I know that there are ways that we can minimize the impact of the aging process at least on our mind and our spirit. If you have an interest in developing your own skills for dealing with the aging process please contribute to this blog with comments and continue to follow your passion and be a role model for all of us.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Blessings to you and all of us baby boomers.

Anger and Death

At some point, most people who live past adolescence realize that they are not going to get out this life, alive. Death is a natural, and unavoidable, outcome of living. (As of 2014, this is a fact of life…) Some cultures and societies work at pretending that death is NOT inevitable and this denial is built into the structure of the culture. Americans seem to frown on death like it is weakness in life to give in to death. In this culture, youth is celebrated and old people should only participate in celebrations of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. There would be more television programs about older people if the culture were not in such denial. Now, I am not saying that we should have another “reality TV” show about older people’s last days amongst the living but it has been a long time since programs like the “Golden Girls.”

But the point of this blog article is not about denial of death and dying. It is about the emotions people feel regarding the loss of family member or friend to the process of dying. In the past, people lived with or near their families and families cared for each other with process of “passing away” done at home surrounded by family. Families would embrace the transition and it was a “natural” process. It is often very different in present day families.

Image that you were a child of divorced, or unmarried parents. You have been estranged from your biological parent due to divorce, or substance abuse, or prison, or large geographical distances and you learn that your non-custodial biological parent is dying. You may already harbor anger and resentment toward this parent for not “being there” for you and now you cannot even “get even” emotionally for the neglect (real or imagined) because the object of you anger is now leaving you due to a terminal disease process. How do you deal with your anger and your ambivalence toward this parent? From professional experience, I know that people often turn this anger inward. Depression often manifests. Anxiety can surface. Adjustment disorders may become inflamed. It is natural to be depressed or anxious. Though this is a natural response it remains often elusive as to how to deal with these strong emotions in “positive” ways.

Some cultures and religions suggest that you experience the loss of a significant person to better learn “your” lessons of this life. The perspective of surviving this loss can make you stronger. Everyone deals with loss differently. Some people want to escape their pain and avoid this strong emotion by getting involved with substance abuse. Some people use other behaviors to avoid their pain like playing too many video games, engaging in unsafe sexual experiences, or possibly other dangerous, but distracting, behaviors. A healthier way of responding to this difficult experience might be to get professional support or support from “healthy” family or friends. This might involve discussing the anger or the sadness in appropriate ways. It might involve discussing the loss and the void left when the person passes. It might include discussing the unfinished business. It might include discussing life beyond and how to consider filling “the void.”

Children or poorly articulate adults have serious challenges communicating their pain, anger, frustration, upset, and loss. They require assistance in a safe, “non-judgemental” relationship. They need to be told that their feelings are not un-natural or bad. They need to be counseled on how to express this emotion in safe and appropriate ways. They often need to be supported with positive alternatives forms of expression and positive choices to move forward in their lives. Often they have been “cheated” from the experience of telling their estranged parent or significant person the anger or pain they feel about their disappointing relationship. Alternative forms of communicating their feelings should be explored such as painting, drawing, writing, photography, or forms of sculpture.

It is hard to deal with the loss of a loved one (or significant other.) It is difficult to communicate your pain and ambivalence. Some people, especially children, need more assistance and support, from healthy, non-judgemental adults. I am sorry for your trauma and your loss. I can feel your pain. I have experienced this pain, myself, and it is not easy. Please take good care of yourself.