'Uh-Oh' Birthdays

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Facing an 'Uh-Oh' Birthday

by Dan Neuharth, PhD

Dear Dr. Dan: I turn 50 this month. How can I meet my half-century mark with grace, optimism, and a youthful attitude when I mostly feel old, tired and pessimistic?
Landra

Dear Landra: Zero-year birthdays like 40, 50, and 60 (some call them "uh-oh" birthdays) can trigger soul-searching. If you're relatively content with your life, notching another year may be a happy occasion to take measure of your relationships, accomplishments, experiences, and personal growth. If you're discontented with your life, birthdays, anniversaries and holidays can be nettlesome. Prior to about age 40, we tend to measure our lives in years lived since birth. After age 40, we tend to measure our lives in years left. When we're not happy, birthdays are unwanted reminders of another year of discontent while the countdown clock ticks.

If you feel "old, tired, and pessimistic," you may be falling prey to "If-Only" or "What-If" thinking. It's depressing if you look at your past through an If-Only filter (If only I'd gotten a better education, traveled more, taken better care of my body, and loved differently.) Regrets are a natural part of life but regrets become toxic if you don't eventually grieve and move past your losses. Similarly, it's anxiety-producing to view your future through a What-If lens (What if my spouse dies, I'm all alone, and get cancer?)

Some suggestions on coping with aging:

1) Examine your beliefs. Our attitudes about aging are often set by watching our parents age. Even if your parents did not age well, your genes only partly determine your longevity. Your attitude and lifestyle which, unlike your genes, you can control significantly determine the quality of your life.

2) Don't overrate what you've lost. We tend to romanticize youth, recalling what it was like to have a more supple, forgiving body but forgetting the difficulties of being young. Most people over 50 wouldn't mind regaining a 20-year-old body, but few would do so if it meant giving up the growth, experiences, and attachments they've accrued since age 20.

3) If you feel tired too often, visit a physician. Rule out any medical conditions, then tune up your exercise, diet, and other health habits. Growing older doesn't mean you have to give up doing what you love. Most 40-to-60-somethings can do virtually anything a 20-to-40-something can do; the only difference is that it may take more time, focus, sleep, or exercise. If there's no physical cause for tiredness, there may be a psychological one. Depression, for example, can masquerade as tiredness. Take an online depression test Long-term anxiety can stress and age you prematurely. Information about anxiety disorders Both depression and anxiety are treatable. How to seek professional help

4) Plan ahead. Determine whether you need long-term care insurance and/or additional retirement income. Thoughtful planning can reduce anxiety. Once you've planned ahead, focus on living more fully. As Anais Nin said, "I postpone death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by giving, by losing."

5) Have fun with time. One woman I know, when asked her age, answers only in five-year increments and, unlike most of us, she rounds up! Chronologically she is 52, but to all who ask, she's "fifty-five" and has been since she turned 51. From 46 to 50 she was "fifty." Once she reaches 56, she'll be "sixty" for five years. She says this lets her feel younger than her "age" and, when an "Uh-Oh" birthday arrives, it's a non-event since she's already been that age for years.

Helpful resources on this topic:

Books:

Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, Dying  Ram Dass
The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty Carolyn Heilbrun
Real Age: Are You As Young As You Can Be?  Michael Roizen
100 Things I'm Not Going to Do Now That I'm Over Fifty  Wendy Reid Crisp
The Third Age: Six Principles of Growth and Renewal After Forty  William Sadler
Successful Aging  Robert Louis Kahn
Looking Good At Any Age: A Woman Dermatologist Talks to Women About What to Expect, What to Accept, What Can Be Changed  Amy Neuberger
Posture: Get It Straight  Janice Novak

Websites:

American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine
National Council on the Aging

 

Other Ask Dr. Dan Columns:

Coping with Controllers Self-centered People Live Your Dreams Get Out of Your Way 'Uh-Oh' Birthdays Balanced Parenting Choosing to Parent

 Back to directory of archived "Ask Dr. Dan" columns

This column is designed for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for psychotherapy or a visit to a mental health professional. If you experience abnormal anxiety, depression, or serious emotional or situational difficulties, please seek professional help immediately

This column originally appeared on ShesGotItTogether.com
 

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If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World
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