Do You Dread Growing Older?

Dread

How did you react the last time each of the following happened? (if they took place)

  • Someone pointed out you have a strand of white hair
  • You noticed fine lines and wrinkles on your face which were never there
  • You realized you look more hagged than before
  • Your birthday is approaching

Did you feel a slight dash of panic? Dread? Did your heart do a small jump? Did you think aloud “Oh no, I’m growing old!”.

There seems to be a lot of fear that surrounds the topic of aging. I just turned 25 this year (as of this writing in 2009) and a good number of my friends are the same age. By normal standards this would be defined as a prime age, but even then some of my peers treat the topic of aging and impending birthdays with a sense of dread. For peoples who are older, the intensity of the feelings get stronger. Usually, those in their late 30s or 40s resign in jest.

Gerascophobia – this is the fear of growing old or of old age. There are several symptoms, such as the following:

  • Irrational fear of growing old
  • Feeling of panic, anxiety, terror or dread
  • Physical reactions, such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling
  • Extreme avoidance measures taken against aging

I distinctly remember discussing about birthdays with one of my friends many years ago, and this heartfelt comment from her grabbed my attention: “I don’t want to grow old”.

But why? Why do people fear growing old? Why do people feel so adverse toward the phenomenon of aging?

Mention the word ‘aging’, and the immediate emotional connotations that get wired up are fear, sadness, negativity, aversion, helplessness and resignation.

If you have a fear of growing old, this fear may stem from the following factors.

  1. Being undesirable. Most see fine lines and wrinkles, frown lines, laugh lines, sagging skin, etc with a sense of negativity. These are linked with ‘ugly’. This seems to apply to females more often than not, thanks to marketers. They spend billions in advertising every year to reinforce negativity in the notion looking old, so it leads to continual sales for their anti-aging products. The anti-aging consumer goods category continue to grow yearly. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty movement attempted to move away from that, but even then we are still bombarded by the whole industry which is still entrenched in a certain notion of beauty.
  2. Sickness, pain, suffering. With old age comes increased probability of sickness, decreased physical ability, medical conditions such as dementia (Alzheimer’s disease), heart disease, cancer, etc. These are seen to come hand in hand with pain and suffering.
  3. Being lesser than who they should be. All of us have goals and dreams. When you were younger, you would have consciously or unconsciously envisioned yourself being somewhere at a certain age. It may be to earn a lot of money, achieve a certain amount of success and have a family. Reaching a certain age reminds you of your visions, and simultaneously triggers the realization that they are not where they want to be. This realization can be quite painful for some.
  4. Fear of Loss. Growing older comes with loss – seeing people pass away, losing what they have now, losing their youth, losing their health (see reason # 2).
  5. Being Alone. People see old people as a burden and they try to avoid them. For example, my grandmother is in her 90s and she has over ten children. When it comes to taking care of her, all of them try to shift responsibility from one another, giving reasons like they are too busy. Old age tends to bring solitude.
  6. Death. Ultimately, what’s the end of our physical existence? Death. People fear death. Death means losing everything we have. Everything we have built. It also means the end of our existence.

All reasons take shape from certain beliefs, which will take several articles to address (something I will do in the future). For the purpose of this article, I’m going to address the specific fear of growing old.

If you ask me what I think about the fear of growing old, I see it as an irrational fear, as with other mental fears.

Why do I say that?

Let’s say you fear growing older. While you may dislike what old age brings to you, what exactly do you achieve by feeling worried about this?

Nothing! Except you are left feeling more negative, worrisome, and unsettled. You don’t lead a better life. And you certainly don’t grow younger by being afraid of growing old. Not only did you just tire yourself out with the fearful thought of growing older, you relive it for real when you do grow older.

This is the same no matter how long you harp on this fear. Whether you spend 1 minute entertaining the thought, or 1 hour, 1 day, 1 month, 1 year or 10 years, you are still going to grow older. Time will pass, the sun will continue to set and rise, Earth will rotate on its own axis, ocean tides will  rise and fall dependent on the gravitational pull from the moon. Flowers will bloom and wilt. Life will still go on.

And you aren’t the only person in this world growing older. Everyone else is growing older too. Leaders like Barack Obama are growing older. Celebrities like Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are growing older. Your friends are growing older. People around you are growing older. I’m  growing older too. Same for every physical being living on this planet.

No matter what you think, say or do, you are going to grow older. It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not.

So instead of sitting there, scaring and paralyzing yourself with your fear, you might as well embrace it. Embrace that growing older is part and parcel of life. Embrace that lines are going to form, that your physical body is going to deteriorate, that you will eventually die.

Rather than fight it, accept that it’s going to happen.

When you come to terms with this, your perspective shifts to a whole different level. Because now, instead of trapping yourself with unconstructive thoughts and fears, you concentrate on what’s really actionable. Instead of thinking what you could have done before, you think about what you can do now. Instead of investing time in things outside of your control, you focus on what you can influence instead. Instead of living in an illusion, you start living your life proper.

Some questions for you to think about:

What can you start doing today to maximize your experience of life?

What can you start doing today that will make you feel better about yourself?

What can you start doing today to increase your happiness and fulfillment of your life?

What can you start doing today to really be ‘living life to its fullest’?

What can you start doing which will make you look back and think ‘wow, I can’t think of a better way to live my life!’?

Here’s some quotes on growing old which I enjoy:

“If wrinkles must be written upon our brow, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old.” – James A. Garfield

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.” – Michael Pritchard

Don’t wake up one day only to regret having missed out on so many things in life. Don’t miss out on all the marvelous things that are out there in your life now, because you are too busy fearing something which is going to happen anyway. Don’t fearing growing older now, only to look back later in life and regret not having lived life the way you wanted.

At the point of writing this, I’m 25 (Update: I’m now 30 as of 2014, and my views on aging are still the same as when I wrote this post five years ago) and I focus on living every moment to the best every day. Some may say that it’s because 25 is still a young age, and things will be different when I’m older. Not from where I see it though. Even when I’m 28, 30, 40, 55, 75, 100 (if I physically live that long), I will still be living life the way I’m living now – passionately, fiercely, vivaciously, spontaneously, free-spiritedly, crazily, joyously, compassionately, enthusiastically, courageously.

Age is but an indicator of the number of years you spent on Earth, via your current physical identity. While there may be social connotations that come with it, but beyond that it really doesn’t mean anything much. Don’t get too hung up on the number of candles that will be on your next birthday cake – focus yourself on current moment you are in now, take action on your goals and dreams and start creating the future of your undertaking. Then will you truly be living your life to the fullest.

Image: Dread

Not only do you have to experience the fear of growing older, now you have to be older as well.
  • Bella

    Absolutely! You have expressed it perfectly :)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Thank you, Bella! :)

  • Richard

    You’re 25. What do you know about aging?

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      I’m 29 now. What I know about aging is as what I had written in the post, so I fail to see the point of your question.

      I also don’t see how one has to be 60 or 80 to share views about a topic. It will be more helpful if you can add constructive views of your own rather than combating opinions on a blog based on whether you feel they are qualified to do so or not.

  • Thomas Mrak

    I’ve been fretting about it since 24, so I can relate to the Author. 32 now, going on 33. Turning 35 scares me a great deal. At 35 you’re no longer considered part of the coveted 18-34 young adult demographic.

    This is honestly my biggest fear. More so than rejection by others, loss, going without money, shelter, food, etc.

    The reason it scares me so honestly is because it sometimes feels like it’s too late already. I’ve felt this way since 24 as well. It also doesn’t help we have a culture which doesn’t value your intelligence or talent or ability as much as your physical appearance.

    Let’s face it- no one looks as good at 50 as they did at 20.

    Especially when you see someone younger who has already done so much more or had more success.

    It’s especially hard if you have peers who are more successful than you and you’ve had a lot of bumps in the road. They seem to have it all figured out, and you’re making it up as you go along.

    I agree that we need to make the most of it. Our lives will continue whether we want them to or not.

    So much of life needs to be a certain way comes from others, the media, and entertainment.

    Should we spend our lives figuring out the way we want them to be and what kind of person we become?

    So, does that mean at 35 you have to give up on all of your dreams, youthful curiosity, exploration of the world and commit yourself to living in a cubicle?

    I’m also very scared of getting older because your looks fade with time. I am putting in the effort to take care of myself, but being gay, single, and over 30 scares me a great deal. I am sure women feel the same way sometimes.

    Some might say yes, but I’m just going to write and make music anyway despite being too old in the eyes of many. I have some business skill, and I’m more interested in scores and electronic dance music which are both WAY less age discriminatory than Pop music is.

  • A-1 Home Care

    Women, especially, are sensitive about the topic of
    aging. After a certain age, they
    deliberately forget their own birthdays or hang on to their youth for as long
    as they can fool people. As the saying
    goes, age is just a number. You can
    choose to embrace it or relive it when you actually are “old.” Thank you for putting a positive spin on
    aging! You offer wonderful perspectives
    on this topic.

  • Maria Claudia Crespo

    I’m very dissapointed with the way people are reacting to this article. So the author was 25 when she wrote it: so what? Do you have to be a minority to sympathize with oppression? No. Living through something might give you the benefit of experience and credibility, and certainly going through something is different than just seeing it happen to others, but does that make what she said in this case less sound?

    Yes, growing old is not always fun. There’s fear and mourning and trouble, you’re less independent, you’ve got reduced mobility, you might even feel like your body is giving up on you. But why must it be a horrible dark tunnel of disaster? Why must it be the monster hiding under our bed? I think this author has got a good start to things, confronting the fear before it happens and keeping the silver lining in her line of sight from right now. There is something of value in every age if you work for it, mentally and emotionally if you can no longer move much, and while it won’t make your life forever perfect, it will definitely make it worth living for however long you’re on this Earth.

  • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

    Comments like yours is the very reason why people around the world, including some of the very readers of this blog, fear expressing their views and being their true authentic self. Because when they do so, what they get is judgment, scorn, and to a certain degree shaming for simply airing their thoughts.

    It doesn’t matter if someone is 25, 29, 35, or even 10. Everyone has the right to share what their opinion is on something. You mentioned you couldn’t read much of this article, and that’s specifically after reading that the writer of the entry is 25. What does that mean though? That you judged the article’s value by virtue of the person’s age? So does a person’s opinion is lesser, and of no value, if the person falls within a certain age bracket? Whatever happened to living in a world where everyone ideally wants to work towards equal rights and opportunities for everyone?

    I don’t know how old you are, whether you’re 50, 60, or 80 (you sound as if you’re old, or at least you perceive yourself as much older and wiser than others), but to give a rude, and even condescending, comment to another person by virtue of the person’s age, it doesn’t matter how old you are — it’s undeserving, uncalled for, and downright rude. If you’ve lived all these years and still look at someone’s value by virtue of his/her age, even with a layer of snark and condescending attitude, perhaps you should re-consider your guiding principles for people interaction and people relationships.