When we think of fear and aging, we often think of the big D word: dying. But if you’re someone aging in America right now, there are likely a few things you’re fearing more than death. The stress of finding senior housing. The idea of being a burden on those you love. Whether you’ve saved enough for retirement. How to use Snapchat! Or maybe you’re just stressing over whether you still have relevance in this new digital world.
I’ve talked to many older Americans through a compassionate listening program called Humble Warrior. And while I’ve never had someone come to me to discuss a fear of death, I have met many older Americans stressed and anxietized about the following:
- “I only have so much to give.” Some of you have found yourself in a “sandwich” crunch, where you’re caring for your own parents while helping your children raise their children, as well. In what’s supposed to be your care-free retirement years, you’re drowning in the needs of those around you. You’re too busy worrying about everyone else to worry about death at all!
- “My kids are doing everything wrong.” Some of you are stressed about your children making bad decisions, either about their work or their families. Gone are the days when you could redirect your kids when they headed down the wrong path. You’re realizing that right now you have little influence on changing the trajectory of your children’s lives.
- “I thought I’d be happier.” Some of you, having expected that retirement would lead to instant joy and gratification, have found that you don’t feel the happiness you thought you would. It leaves you with a gnawing feeling of stress, wondering what they did wrong—and what’s missing.
- “I’m lonely.” Many of you have lost friends—sometimes lifelong friends—and mourn the ability to talk to someone who knows you in the same intimate way. You’re not afraid of dying—you’re afraid of having no one to discuss your greatest fears with.
- “I don’t want to be a burden.” Some of you may even feel like you’d rather die than you’re your partner or children take care of you. You’re stressed about the financial burden of assisted living or nursing care. You may also have some negative ideas of what today’s assisted living is really like.
It’s a lot, right? And that’s not even considering the very real issues of declining health. Even for those without mental illness, anxiety is a major concern. But for those who have struggled with anxiety your whole lives, it can become completely overwhelming.
No, there’s no magic bullet for anxiety, and breathing exercises only go so far in solving the problem. But if you’re feeling any of the above, I offer the following to ease the burden:
- Let go of the reigns. There is truly very little we control in life—and that includes other people’s choices. Know there is a greater force than you in the universe meant to fix, heal, guide, and make things right. Repeat after me: It is not my job to fix the world. (Or anyone in it.)
- Join a community. It’s always hard to meet people, especially if you’re mourning those you’ve recently lost. But that doesn’t change this fact: we weren’t meant to go through life alone. Find a support group, church, community center, or volunteer opportunity that allows you to connect with others. It will go a long way in keeping you young and stress-free.
- Love your body. Make peace with aging. Cherish the wrinkles, cellulite, and pains. Stand in front of the mirror and accept every single beautiful sagging part of you. After all, the only way out is through. There is no way to avoid the aging process, so we may as well embrace it as it comes along.
- Have faith. Times are changing. Know that if you do need to consider options like assisted living, there are good solutions out there. Today’s communities are beginning to look more like high-end resorts than old-time nursing homes. Have hope that the right solution will be there when you need it.
- Know you are loved. If you are worried about being a burden, talk about it. Discuss your fears. Discuss the options. But most of all accept the reassurances when friends and family say they love you. There is no fear in love.
Aging is a personal process. It’s scary because every step we take is new to us. I’ve never been 41 before. Maybe you’ve never been 75. But every day is a step we were meant to take, and we need to believe the universe will support us every step of the way.
Jess Stonefield is a contributing writer on aging, technology, senior care, housing and the greater longevity economy for publications such as Forbes.com and ChangingAging.com. She is a communications expert for Senior Living Fund.