Our generation is a generation of worriers. It is what we do! We grew up on an era of air raid drills and bomb shelters. So what do seniors worry about most? A recent study conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network identified the top 10 things seniors over 55 fear most. They represent real issues for seniors! Sometimes we can find some comfort when we discover that we are not alone in our concerns and worries!
- Loss of independence
- Declining health
- Running out of money
- Not being able to live at home
- Death of a spouse or other family member
- Inability to manage their own activities of daily living
- Not being able to drive
- Isolation or loneliness
- Strangers caring for them
- Fear of falling or getting hurt
The list has not changed much over the last five years. US News and World Report published a similar list five years earlier in 2015. It looks like this:
- Maintaining good health
- False confidence
- Staying in your current home
- Giving up driving
- Financial security
- Sudden bills
- Cutting costs
- Social ties
- Mental health
- Social Support
The words of the two surveys might be different but the feel and similarity is clearly obvious. How does your personal list compare?
The real message here is that there is little we can do about many of the worries on the list. Quite frankly, they are beyond our control at this point in time in our lives. We can neither change the calendar with months flying off at an accelerating pace nor bring a loved one back to life.
If we are to find peace and freedom from worries, what needs to change? What can we control?
The only thing we can control is our view of the worries we face as seniors. My late wife was and will always be a great example to me. She battled multiple sclerosis for over 33 of our almost 40 years of marriage. She was the poster child for serenity in the face of adversity. Her pet saying that summarized where she was in life was simply, “I am happy with where I am!” The only thing we can really change is our view of our circumstances.
- 1 The 50,000-foot view
- 2 Our generation grew up with worry
- 3 Ten ways to fight your fears + a bonus!
- 3.1 Time is your friend
- 3.2 Deep breathing can break the worry cycle
- 3.3 Embrace your fears
- 3.4 Dwell in today
- 3.5 What is the worst thing that can happen?
- 3.6 Avoid opinions
- 3.7 Avoid feelings
- 3.8 Look at the facts
- 3.9 Perfectionism is a curse
- 3.10 Speak up
- 3.11 Go back to the basics
- 3.12 The bonus: Reward yourself
- 4 Disclaimer
The 50,000-foot view
Sometimes we need to take the “50,000-foot view” of what is going on to bridle our worries. The world looks different from 50,000 feet than it does at 0 feet where we stand. A 50,000-foot view is just another way of saying we need to take a look at the big picture.
Our generation grew up with worry
So, let us look at the 50,000-foot view of seniors. How did we get here and how do we deal with it? Seniors are no strangers to worry. It seems from the first decade when this generation began to become aware of the world, there were big things to worry about. WE were the first generation to grow up with a reality that world destruction was possible at the hands of a man-made weapon that actually existed and was pointed at us. In the 1950s and 1960s, the decades when our generation was entering youth, it was common for children to have drills to hide under our desks as a defense against the arrival of a nuclear bomb. Even back then, those children knew those desks were a faint defense against such a devastating weapon.
So from worrying about the draft, the bomb, Vietnam, or about corruption in government, seniors grew up as a generation of worriers. Of course, worry is endemic in human psychology. And as we grew into adults, parents, and the ones who would come to take leadership in the world, those worries of our youth paled compared to the new responsibilities we faced.
The onset of the 21st century brought the advent of the retirement years for us. Over the years, many of us have learned good coping mechanisms to defray some of the worries of life. We have learned that worry about money, our children, or whether the car needs a new set of tires should be taken in stride. The reason is quite simple: To some extent, most of these issues can be solved with finite action. I gleaned a nugget of wisdom from a leader in my church – Gorden B. Hinckley. He often said, “It will all work out!” It usually does.
However, the worries of the retirement years are often beyond such short-term fixes. Seniors are hands-on managers who have charged through life with the attitude of, “Let me at that problem. I can fix it.” But problems of aging are not always as easily conquered as many of the problems seniors fixed in their younger years. Some problems that demand a different approach in the latter third of life that seniors have entered. They include…
- Incurable illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, or other forms of dementia for which the only relief is death.
- Running out of money because Social Security was not adequate, and life was too challenging to really save up for retirement.
- The prospect of passing many years in an old folk’s home with no hope of release and no physical resources to save oneself can cause panic attacks in many an aging baby boomer.
- Dire issues with adult children such as death or illness, marital woes, or the need for grandparents to raise their grandchildren present problems to aging seniors that seem beyond their physical, emotional, and financial abilities to solve.
These new worries are unlike the worries of our middle-age years. These very real and dire problems loom even larger if the baby boomer seeing them on the horizon is made suddenly alone by the passing of their significant other. Now one of their primary resources for staying calm and solving problems has been taken away from them.
And now, as some of us enter the eighth decade of our mortal sojourn, we have a whole new worry: Covid-19. Is it real or is it a hoax? A natural phenomenon or an insidious foreign attack? Is it virulent or is it no more dangerous than the flu or even a common cold? I guess the answers to all these questions depend on which talking head you choose to believe. Even worse, no matter which side you choose, the other side can be counted on to mock and ridicule you. In 2020, there are no simple answers!
Ten ways to fight your fears + a bonus!
- Time is your friend
- Deep breathing can break the cycle
- Embrace your fears
- Dwell in today
- What is the worst thing that can happen?
- Avoid opinions
- Look at reality
- Perfectionism is a curse
- Speak up
- Focus on the basics
- Reward yourself (Bonus)
Time is your friend
Time is your friend. Use it to your advantage to physical distance and distract yourself from your worries. Taking a quick walk around the block or a long shower or bath can have a significant calming effect. You might have placed your children in time out. It might work for you. Your challenges will not have changed, but you will have!
Deep breathing can break the worry cycle
My family has a genetic propensity for anxiety. Many years ago, I was fortunate to find an article in an inflight magazine during a long-forgotten flight somewhere in America. The article had a life-changing impact on me. The article’s guidance was simple. When feeling stressed…
- Find a comfortable straight chair
- Sit straight up with your feet together
- Start breathing slowly and deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
- Starting at your feet, slowly flex your big toe and slowly work to the top of your head while continuing to breathe slowly and deeply.
If you count your breaths as you go, you will begin to be able to time your efforts. I got to the point where I can time 5, 10, and even 15 minutes. Try this technique next time you feel yourself being overtaking by work. Try it. It is free. It just may help you deal with your worries.
This is a time in life when more than ever seniors need to get a refresher course in stress management and learning that worry cannot solve these problems. And like their parents before them for generations, seniors too will learn to face their sunset years with grace and maturity and to live with problems such as we have discussed with the same courage they faced down the problems of their youth.
Embrace your fears
Avoiding fears only makes them scarier. Whatever your fear, if you face it, it should start to fade. If you panic one day getting into an elevator, for example, it’s best to get back into an elevator the next day. A personal example: I dumped a big motorcycle over on me when I was in high school. I should have gotten back on a motorcycle the next day. I did not. I was never able to get back on a motorcycle. Now, you could not get me on a motorcycle for all the money in the world. I exaggerate only slightly. I did not embrace my fear and it is now chiseled in rock.
Dwell in today
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment is a book by Eckhart Tolle. Although I do not agree with all of his points, I found his main thesis very informative. His contention is that we can do nothing about the past. So, why dwell on it. Dwelling on the past is a waste of time. Likewise, Tolle’s contention is that we can do nothing about the future. We are the happiest and most well adjusted when we focus on today. In other words, stop and smell the roses. Developing the character trait of dwelling in today will take work but it will be worthwhile – very worthwhile. Singer-songwriter Bobby McFerrin said it more simply, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
What is the worst thing that can happen?
When you find yourself consumed with worry about a certain situation, take a minute to get a piece of paper and write down the very worst possible outcome. Personally, I keep a supply of 3 x 5 file cards on my desk. They are perfect for this task. By writing the worst possible outcome down, you have just made your fear tangible rather than intangible.
Usually, after a few minutes of reflecting on the worst possible outcome, the other options down seem nearly as they did just moments before. In the process, you will feel your worries just start to drain away. Try it! It doesn’t cost anything and it just might help.
Everyone has opinions. Including you. The stronger the opinion, the less likely a person is teachable. Including you. The bottom line is this: ignore people with strong opinions. You are not going to be able to influence them anyway. Why waste your energy trying? As for yourself, work hard on being teachable. Listen. Learn.
We live in an increasingly feelings -driven society. Feelings can bring on a quagmire of regret. Regret leads to unhappiness. Unhappiness leads to work. See the pattern? Base your view of the world on facts that are real and avoid feelings that can be misleading.
Look at the facts
It sometimes helps to challenge fearful thoughts. For example, using the elevator example I related above, if you’re scared of getting trapped in an elevator and suffocating, ask yourself if you have ever heard of this happening to someone.
Ask yourself what you would say to a friend who had a similar fear.
I actually did get caught in an elevator when I was about 10 years old. My brother and I were racing elevators in an old, dusty museum. The power went out and we were stuck for over an hour. We were more afraid of repercussions from my father than we were afraid of being in the elevator. So it can happen but we are no worse for the wear.
Perfectionism is a curse
If we use perfection as a standard, we will always fall short. Dwelling on our shortcomings, real or imagined, is not healthy. Unitarian Minister Jenkin Lloyd Jones made a famous statement about the challenges of perfectionism:
“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just like people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise.
Life is just like an old-time rail journey…delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”
Don’t look back and compare yourself to a perfect image that never really existed. You will be far happier just being you.
As seniors, we often prefer to suffer in silence. We do not want to bother or burden anyone. Or perhaps, we are a bit prideful and do not want to share that we have fears and worries. When we are in the depths of our worries, it will help to share the worries with a partner, a friend, or a family member. Just verbalizing your worries can help you make your worries more tangible. You will more likely to see possible remedies to your worries. Again, you can’t change the worries. You need to focus on changing you and the way you view your worries.
Go back to the basics
The aging process has a lot of moving parts even if we don’t have many moving parts ourselves. I tend to over-engineer everything. Over-engineering leads to worrying. Sometimes simple, everyday things like a good night’s sleep, a wholesome meal and a walk are often the best cures for anxiety.
The bonus: Reward yourself
Face it! We all like treats. When you tame one of your worries, treat yourself. It doesn’t matter what the reward is. An extra-long bubble bath. Lunch at your favorite restaurant. Even allow yourself to binge-watch your favorite TV series. The prize doesn’t matter. Savor the win!
This post is not intended to provide medical or psychological treatment. Do your best and seek help if you need to seek it. Such assistance can only be rendered by a licensed health care professional.
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