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 unconsciously adopted?

"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 ever.

"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 http://www.drvirginiabola.blogspot.com