How can we cope with fear of the future? Why does fear of the future become a preoccupation as we grow older?
Older people have many fears in common including fear of dying, fear of living in pain, fear of losing independence, and, of course, fear of getting old.
Most days, some worry about getting older crosses my mind. I know this is true for others as aging is a frequent topic at bridge tables, at my gym, and in conversations with friends and relatives.
Growing older brings all kinds of worries that cropped up infrequently in younger years. We worry about the effects of aging. We worry about losing health. We worry about money. We worry about losing a spouse, losing loved family members, losing friends, and, even, losing pets.
Much of the worry revolves around loss, especially loss of physical and/or mental capacity. How would we cope without capacity to walk, or climb stairs or capacity to care for our bodies? How would we feel if we could not feed or toilet ourselves? Most of us dread the thought of being cared for by a stranger, a spouse, or worse, a child.
Loosing mental capacity also ranks high on the list of fears. With increasing age comes the possibility of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Each time keys are misplaced, a name is forgotten or a thought is lost in mid-sentence, there is concern that mental capacity is in jeopardy.
Perhaps the fear of the future comes because, as we grow older, we experience losses more often. Coping with these losses becomes part of daily living. Friends and family members die and we grieve. Changes in lifestyle cause many to uproot from houses and communities, even countries, where most of life was lived. Careers are left behind, as well as professional networks, workplace friends, and the status of former job titles.
We are often faced with worries of loneliness and loss. Learning to cope with loss, to put things into perspective and to deal with the effects of growing older is part of a life transformation. It’s natural that there are feelings of anxiety and some fearfulness.
Coping with Fear of the Future
There’s no turning back the clock on aging but we can stop fear of the future from overtaking the happiness of present moments. By applying some common sense coping strategies we can stop fearfulness — regardless of age.
1. Focus on what you can control. You have control over your thoughts and your behaviour. You can think positive thoughts, keep a daily gratitude list, pray, and meditate. You can also practice kindness, especially kindness to yourself.
You can’t control what may happen to your health but you can try to protect the health you do enjoy. Although it’s sometimes inconvenient to exercise regularly, to sleep enough hours for rejuvenation, and to eat nutritious food, these simple things do help to protect physical health. If physician has recommended medications or other treatments for various ailments, it makes sense to follow advice rather than self-medicating or ignoring professional help.
2. Keep legal and financial affairs in order. After my mother turned ninety, she made it a practice, to tell me and my siblings of where she kept legal and financial documents. She did this each time we visited her. We knew who she used as a lawyer and who was responsible for her tax filings. We also knew where she stashed her treasures!
Each of us can act to make sure that wills are prepared and updated, that investment, credit and banking information is properly filed and safely stored, and that power of attorney for health and legal decisions is given to someone who is trustworthy.
3. Make peace with the past. Deal with unfinished family business and other regrets that add worry to your life. Let go of old grudges, feelings of failure and past disappointments.
Anger leaves scares in the brain! By reducing emotional baggage we cut worries about past events. The brain is freed up for positive experiences and pleasant thoughts.
4. Live for today. The immediate present is all we have. Maintaining intellectual curiosity and staying interested in big things that happen in the world will also help us find happiness in the small things that happen around us.
By enlarging your life and not allowing it to shrink, by daring to keep learning new things, by focusing on the good rather than the bad, we can enjoy every day and make it count as part of a life well-lived.
5. Maintain a positive and optimistic outlook about the future. Instead of feeling fearful about the future, consider that growing old allows a new you to emerge. Age can’t prevent you from having a socially rich and enjoyable future full of new discoveries — but a negative mindset and a fearful perspective can ruin every day.
While growing older is inevitable, fear of the future is manageable. Throughout life, all of us have learned problem solving skills. We can use these skills to face aging with confidence and not fear.
Now where did I leave my glasses?
Thanks for reading my post. I welcome your comments with your thoughts about fear of the future and fear of growing old. If you enjoy my blog please consider becoming a subscriber to receive regular updates by email.