Fear of aging is one of the most common fears there is. But Health's resident psychiatrist explains why you should embrace the process of getting older.
Afraid of aging? It can stem from a lot of different anxieties, so it may be helpful to nail down exactly what is frightening you.
Are you afraid that the 20-something junior associate will get your job? Being an older employee can give you a leg up, believe me. Confidence and maturity in the workplace go a long way. Just keep demonstrating to yourself and others that you bring expertise that comes only with years of doing the gig, and continue to upgrade your skills and evolve as your company or position does.
Are you freaked out about waking up one day and not recognizing yourself in the mirror? In today’s youth-obsessed culture, more and more people associate aging with losing beauty and even love and respect. It’s important that you don’t let yourself succumb to superficial aging stresses. Instead, reframe your traits as positives (those forehead lines are like tiger stripes; you’ve lived a good life and earned ’em!). Also, remind yourself that no one is going to love you less. The relationships that matter—the ones you put work into maintaining—will continue to thrive. Friendships get better with age; you have more memories, and the time spent together feels more precious.
Getting older may also trigger anxieties about becoming sick or dying; fearing death is as normal as it gets. But let me remind you: If you’re living well, you’re in your prime at 40. Perhaps you’re more worried about losing your lucidity. True, some mental and physical decline is part of the natural aging process—everyone will go through it. Still, if you’re taking care of yourself on all fronts (exercising, eating right, saving money for retirement), you are already controlling what you can to live your best life long-term. So don’t waste your days ruminating over what might happen down the line healthwise. Life is too short, right?
It sounds cliché, but please don’t forget that with age comes wisdom, experience, often a wider circle of loved ones, and more comfort and security in your sense of self. Those are things worth looking forward to.
Gail Saltz, MD, is a psychiatrist and television commentator in New York City who specializes in health, sex, and relationships.