What is FOGO and how does it relate to the art of aging?
Let’s begin with the easy part. FOGO is the short form for Fear of Getting Old.
Getting old is inevitable. For many, FOGO begins in teenage years, accelerates with every decade, and becomes more of a pre-occupation if you are fortunate to live into later years — 60s, 70s, and beyond.
Fear of getting old (FOGO) is well documented. It is often associated with fear of death. Elizabeth Lesser, speaking to Oprah, famously said that aging is the younger cousin of dying.
Seeing old people often provokes FOGO as it serves as a reminder of our own mortality. Shunning and/or avoid old people relates to FOGO.
For some, FOGO is severe enough that it becomes a phobia. There’s a clinical term for it — ‘gerascophobia’. Wikipedia describes gerascophobia “as an abnormal or persistent fear of growing old.”
FOGO is often associated with dysfunction. Common fears revolve around loss of health, loss of memory, and financial fears. Fear of dependency and fear of pain loom high on the list. Nobody wants to become a burden to family members or suffer pain.
Some level of FOGO is natural. Anxiety about aging accelerates as skin begins to sag, and energy levels decrease. We know that aging brings us closer to dying.
The Art of Aging
Fear of growing old does not need to cripple us nor should it dampen the enthusiasm and excitement of living. Aging brings many benefits including increased wisdom, better judgement, and greater emotional stability.
Aging begins at the onset of life which means that we’ve had a lifetime to accumulate experiences that strengthen character and give perspective.
The art of aging is a useful concept as it focuses on positive ways to grow old. It nullifies media stereotypes of old people that feed the fears of growing old.
We can use various strategies to practice the art of aging.
1. Look for role models. There are many good examples of people who have mastered aging with grace and style. Actress Judi Dench, environmental activist David Suzuki, and feminist Gloria Steinem come to mind as people who have accepted their age. All of us have parents, grandparents, neighbours and friends who have demonstrated aspects of aging — both positive and negative — to emulate.
2. Focus on the freedom of aging. Physical beauty changes with age but there is less worry about appearances. While there are changes in the structure and function of the aging brain, loss of mental capacity is not a given. Aspects of memory and processing speed decline, yet older people demonstrate excellent problem solving skills, better emotional control and good decision-making by making effective connections from brain inputs. They have more patience and tolerance. Perhaps that is why wisdom is often associated with aging.
3. Plan for your future. As much as possible, take control of financial, health, and living arrangements to find a comfortable lifestyle that fits your means and your capacity. Make plans to live the remaining years as well as you can. Practice self-care. Learn to pace yourself to deal with changes of energy level and stamina.
4. Maintain connections with people. As well as fostering positive family relationships and maintaining long-standing friendships, it’s important to develop a social network and that fits your postworksavvy lifestyle. This is no time to withdraw or pull back from the world. Initiate activities, join clubs, take courses, accept invitations and savour social events.
5. Stay hopeful and optimistic. Life adventures don’t belong only to the young. The novelty of living continues when you when you stay excited and enthusiastic. Believing in yourself, setting goals, and working to accomplish something you’ve always dreamed about provides meaning and purpose.
6. Make your life about experiences. Most people, especially as they grow older enjoy experiences more than possessions. Perhaps that’s why many find travel so pleasurable and satisfying. Learning new skills, taking courses, meeting new people, and giving back through volunteer work are other experiences that contribute to aging well. As we take responsibility to avoid being sidelined, we prevent complacency from setting in. Experiences make our lives interesting.
Perhaps FOGO should be re-labelled ‘fear of living’. When we embrace the process of growing older, we can stop fighting natural fears of growing older and begin to appreciate the benefits. When we learn to love and to value our older selves, we will have mastered the art of growing older.
Thanks for reading my blog. I’m interested in your comments about FOGO and the art of aging.
Image courtesy of hyden2012