Facing an 'Uh-Oh' Birthday
by Dan Neuharth, PhD
your genes, you can control
significantly determine the quality of your life.
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?
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
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
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
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.
resources on this topic:
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
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
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
Posture: Get It Straight Janice Novak
American Academy of
on the Aging
Other Ask Dr. Dan Columns:
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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
This column originally appeared on ShesGotItTogether.com