Examining Your Own Attitudes About Age
by Virginia Bola, PsyD
A common complaint of the mature is that, in American society,
there is far too much focus on youth. We collectively spend a
fortune on attempting to look younger and fighting the natural
results of gravity, sun exposure, and the poisons that have
seeped into our bodies through years of unhealthy eating,
drinking, smoking, lack of exercise, and self-neglect.
"Getting old is the pits" we are wont to mumble as we get up
slowly from the floor, recalling how we used to spring upright
without a second thought. We feel more secure in lower heels and
often forget the principles of good posture, our shoulders
rounding forward into an aging stoop.
We walk past a shop window and are shocked by the figure we see:
"That can't be me. It's my mother (father)!"
We can fight the biological ravages of aging only so far.
Depending upon our budget, we can buy anti-aging creams,
vitamins, cover-ups, special makeup, have HGH injections at a
few thousand dollars a shot, or a complete makeover by an
exclusive (and expensive) plastic surgeon. Some of us, despite
the desire for eternal youth, settle into our senior years
overweight, wrinkled, stooped over, but content.
If we have limits on what we can do to look physically young, we
have an unlimited ability to think young. If we progress into
maturity with a positive attitude about aging, we can make sure
that we are as productive, attractive, and youthful as our
bodies allow. No, we will not have the taut unlined skin of our
teens and twenties, nor the athletic energy we recall so fondly,
but we will maintain our self-respect, our pride, and a vital
sense of our own value.
How many of the following negative attitudes have you already
- "Getting older means I can't be active anymore."
In a limited sense this is true. If you performed heavy labor as
a youth, it is unlikely that you now want to lift hundreds of
pounds throughout the day. If you stood on your feet waiting
tables or in retail, your feet and legs will warn you to cut
back. However, with the additional free time you gain as
children leave home and you look forward to, or move into,
retirement, you have the opportunity to expand your activities
which was impossible when you were over-committed to work and
family needs. Daily walking will keep your joints lubricated,
your cardiovascular system healthy, and your mood upbeat. Buy a
pedometer and gradually increase the distance you walk. Practice
good posture by walking tall as if there were a string in your
head pulling you up, up, up. Check out your community for
swimming classes, tennis lessons, tai chi, or yoga. All will
leave you feeling younger, more vibrant, with little chance of
injury. If you have long participated in vigorous physical
activity, such as jogging, aerobics, softball, or racquetball -
keep doing it. There is no reason to cut back on activities you
enjoy until they become absolutely medically contraindicated, if
- "I get a headache when I have to read something technical or
try to figure out my computer. I just don't concentrate as well
as I used to."
The human brain is amazing and inspiring. Its intricacy and
ability set us apart from the other creatures of our planet. It
has the capability to keep functioning, and growing, throughout
our life cycle. Only when we choose to ignore it, or fail to use
it, does it slip into dormancy and slowly wither. Nurture your
mind as you did your children. When they thought they would
"never get it" at school, you encouraged them and stuck with
them until they mastered their assignments. Relish new mental
challenges and give yourself that same patient coaching. You may
need to read technical information several times before you
really understand it. Spend free hours exploring your computer
and researching what it does and how it can best work for you.
Work on crossword puzzles and word games to maintain your memory
and expand your vocabulary. Learn about a new subject which has
always interested you but which you never had time to thoroughly
explore: history, astronomy, holistic health, genealogy, horse
race handicapping, geography, anything that catches your fancy.
The goal is not the subject you study but the mental exercise it
affords which will, in turn, improve your mood, provide the
daily excitement of new discoveries, and allow you to feel
productive and valuable to your prime audience: yourself.
- "It's time to start acting my age."
What does that mean? Shall we allow our age to be determined by
an arbitrary, man-made calendar or by how we feel? Some of us
seem "old" by fifty. We give up trying new things, we slow down
our activity, we stop thinking creatively. Many of us at sixty
or seventy feel as we have always done and are shocked when we
look closely in a mirror and see that we have changed. How could
our appearance be so different when we still see ourselves as
young and vibrant as ever? If we can act the age we feel,
calendar age no longer matters. If we love to dance, should we
stop because of a date on a calendar? If we like to work, should
we be forced to retire when we have so much to offer? If we feel
at our best in shorter skirts and high heels, must we start
changing our wardrobe to present the image of a dowager? If we
like to play rough and tumble sports, should we move to the
sidelines and let the "young set" take over? Are we doomed to
wear shawls and scarves and sensible shoes when we don't feel
any more "sensible" that we did for the past 50 years? No way!
Let our inner attitude shine in public as brightly as it burns
within our minds.
Human beings have few limitations. The limits that exist are
often self-imposed. A positive attitude about yourself, your
refusal to allow the calendar to stifle your physical and mental
reach, and frequent self-examination of the myths of aging to
which you may be falling prey, can transform the destructive
social concept of aging into bright new opportunities for
change, growth, and fulfillment.
Virginia Bola is a licensed clinical psychologist with deep
interests in Social Psychology and politics. She has performed
therapeutic services for more than 20 years and has studied the
effects of cultural forces and employment on the individual. The
author of an interactive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An
Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's
Edge, she can be reached at