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Anxious About Getting Older? Here's Help

Aug 17, 2007
Do you worry about growing older? About half of women do. Here's a letter from one: "Please could you advise me on how to overcome anxiety? I mostly feel ok in daylight, but I wake up at 2 am or 3 am, and have 'butterflies' in my stomach, and sometimes I feel so heavy I canbarely move my arms. I have been told that I have to use a medication, maybe even the rest of my life. Although a lot of people have treid to reassure me, I am really upset about it. It makes me feel like I'm getting older, which scares me!"

Can you relate to this? Why is aging scary? Women told the WomenSpeak Project they have few role models for aging successfully. Many say their mothers never discussed "age" and they saw them simply "suffering through it."

Behavioral scientists have shown us that we learn the most as we grow up from role models, usually our parents. These role models show us behaviors that we assimilate and then begin to duplicate everyday. These actions and behaviors are driven by beliefs, attitudes, and "world views" of these role models. If, for example, a female child watched her mother suffer with aging woes, the girl may have similar issues when she grows older.

A young girl searches for reference points that reveal how her world reacts to her. Women are bombarded by media messages that say stay "young and beautiful if you want to be loved." At the grocery checkout she sees magazine covers of beautiful, young, glowing women smiling with perfect teeth and perfect figures. It is an impossible, airbrushed ideal that can raise fears about wrinkles, weight, and coming up short in the desirability derby if her man compares her to these beauties.

And appearance is just the start! In fact, most women worry far more about money than about their looks. The struggle to fund single motherhood or a secure retirement worries many women.

Another huge anxiety issue for women...an "elephant" in the living room, as it were...is their health. Although women say their health is a major aging concern, many cannot identify any specific health issue as their focus. Although younger women have long talked freely about reproductive issues of childbearing, later in life, the term menopause remained unspoken, as did sleeping problems and mood swings, dry skin, loss of libido and "feeling out of control." Many saw their mothers and female relatives sicken and slide complaining into an unhappy twilight.

No wonder the women we talked to struggle to grow older gracefully. They lack role models and mentors with whom they could share their thoughts, emotions and concerns about aging. My research with more than 1,000 women showed that half were afraid of getting older! That's an epidemic of women worrying about their futures.

What can you do? First of all, stop the squirrel that is your mind from running round and round in the cage of anxious thoughts. Challenge your thinking and choose to focus on the things you can do something about.

Every woman's body will change as the years pass. That is inevitable. Do the best you can with a healthy diet, hydration, good skin care, and physical activities you enjoy. Pay at least as much attention to developing your inner beauty through spiritual exploration and by caring for others. After that, work on self-acceptance: ignore the flawless images in the media and talk to other women about your feelings and concerns. Adopt the attitude of cultures that revere their elders for their knowledge, wisdom and contribution as guides and teachers.

I am a valuable human being no matter my age or my body size.
I am a loveable and caring person. I deserve to love and be loved.
I was created to be unique and special. I am like no other human being.
I have a special place in this world and will let my light shine.

Face up to financial anxiety. Take a hard look at your spending habits to find places you can save and begin to faithfully put that money into savings. If you truly have no pennies to spare, you might to increase your income, perhaps by improving your job performance, or even by acquiring more skills so you can get a better job. There are other women in your community who are working on these same issues, so reach out.

I have the intelligence and talents to learn what I need to know in order to achieve my goals.
I am willing to spend less today so I can save for tomorrow.

Harness your health anxiety to develop good habits. By all means, examine your breasts for lumps and watch for reduced rates on community health screenings to get your blood sugar and cholesterol checked. But remember, experts say the majority of health problems plaguing American today are caused by poor lifestyle choices. Basically, that's about eating, drinking, sitting around...and worrying! Even if a disease or condition "runs in your family," you can greatly reduce the chances that you'll get it by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

I like the way I feel when I exercise and eat well.
I can easily and comfortably change my habits to achieve better health.
Taking good care of my body and mind makes me happy.
I deserve to take time for myself. I give myself permission now.

Choose to get happy and feel great. Start by identifying the single most important action you can take to fight your biggest worry, then get with your girlfriends to develop your strategies. The WomenSpeak Project found that few women openly talk about their aging concerns, so open up! Whatever your needs are, smart women working together can help. Trade childcare while you go to school or work out, share an extra job, cook together to try new healthy recipes, split inexpensive bulk food items or start an investment club to help your savings grow. Women are expert problem solvers!

Women can help other women talk about their concerns about growing older. It's also important toget help if you are struggling with an emotional condition such as anxiety or depression. These conditions have consequences if not treated quickly and professionally, but both can be treated successfully with early intervention.

Each day, take a moment to focus on something special about yourself. If you notice you are putting yourself down and comparing yourself to others, stop that stinkin' thinkin' right now! Be good to yourself. You are worth it!
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Nancy D. O'Reilly, PsyD, has worked with women for more than 25 years. She founded the WomenSpeak Project to support women growing older in a youth-oriented society. Access ongoing research , e-newsletters, a free online consulting service, and resources , about Health and Wellness, Relationships, Finances and Aging itself at http://www.WomenSpeak.com.
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