By Sandra Van Campen
“In our culture, everything happens at the speed of youth. Whether it’s cell phones, computers, songs, movies, books or opinions, it seems that only the newest models and latest releases matter. That might be inevitable when it comes to the latest Smartphone, but it makes no sense when it comes to people. “
This quote by Elizabeth Foy Larsen speaks to the truth of technology, but people have more options than just the inevitable outdating of electronics. While our culture seems to associate aging with a decrease in beauty, vitality, and worth, there are many who are proving that these perceptions are wrong.
So what makes the difference? Why are so many older people now proving that aging does not have to be about decline, but expansion? How is this happening? Many are realizing that not only can we upgrade our electronics, but we can also upgrade ourselves. Consider these 5 ways to continue improving as you get older.
- MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
You are what you think you are when it comes to aging. Positive thinking increases appreciation for life and makes it easier to deal with life’s challenges. A positive attitude can impact mental health and physical functioning. Your attitude can also affect relationships, social networks, and employment. Being more positive throughout life can contribute to less stress and can enable people to live healthier, happy lives.
Being able to accept and adapt to change plays an important role in having a positive attitude, especially as life is filled with ups and downs. A positive attitude allows you to meet challenges with greater resiliency. Becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions and beliefs about challenging situations or conditions and being prepared to challenge them is important.
Spending time with people who are positive and encouraging helps maintain a positive attitude. Gratitude is also an important part of a positive outlook. It can reduce difficult emotions like depression, anxiety or anger. Make a list of the things you are grateful for and a list of good things about yourself and reread it.
Everyone has a bad day, but in general, a positive attitude can help pull you through life’s challenges. Having an upbeat and proactive outlook on life over time can also contribute to better health.
- CONNECT WITH OTHERS
Friends and relatives make life more rich. Many find connection in spiritual communities, shared interests or organizations. The value of connection increases with years and experience. Pets help us live longer, too, but are not a substitute for human connections.
Don’t be afraid of asking for help. Asking for help does not mean weakness. It is not realistic to think we can do everything ourselves, regardless of age. If your emotions are getting the better of you, talking to others or going to therapy can offer support. Don’t be afraid of asking your doctor about medication for your mood. Sometimes people associate depression as a normal part of aging and don’t consider recommending antidepressants.
- CONTINUE LEARNING
To recognize life’s continuing possibilities, you learn to survey the world with an open, curious mind. The opportunities to learn are endless. You can take a class. Many colleges and universities have free or reduced tuition for auditing classes. Join a book club, learn about local history, watch documentaries, do puzzles, listen to public radio or books on tape, change your routine, practice new habits or attend one of our free workshops.
- CARE FOR YOUR BODY AS WELL AS YOUR MIND
Whether you’re 18 or 88, you feel better when you maintain a healthy weight and a commitment to daily movement. As the years pass, though, it becomes increasingly important to include healthy diet and regular exercise. Exercise for cardio function, strength, balance, and flexibility can maintain health and reduce the risk of falls and broken bones, osteoporosis, heart disease, and diabetes. A healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fiber, proteins, both animal and vegetable, and low fat dairy products can reduce the risk of many medical conditions.
“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing,” said George Bernard Shaw. We don’t have to take ourselves too seriously as we get older. Being able to laugh at ourselves and at some of life’s circumstances keeps us young. The people who do the best with aging aren’t so focused on getting older. Aging is an attitude — and aging well means facing life with a enthusiastic and curious spirit. Keep striving to find vitality in your life and new things to be grateful for and excited about.
As someone with experience in moving through middle age and beyond, it is often only my aching knees that remind me of my chronological years. Aging doesn’t have to be something you simply endure. If you struggle with your perspective on aging It can be helpful to identify unhelpful thinking and challenge negative or discouraging thinking. Ask yourself whether your perspective is based on fact or on an inaccurate perception of the situation. Be on the lookout for your own negative thoughts and try turning them into something more helpful. If you’re not sure how to do this on your own ask a friend or contact a therapist for support. No matter how old you are, you deserve to enjoy each day you’re alive.
Sandra Van Campen, LPCC, LADC, is a Licenced Professional Clinical Counselor at Thrive Therapy in Burnsville, MN. Her counseling practice focuses on bringing relief to individuals who struggle with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression at any age. For more information about Sandra read her full biography here.