Therapy Insights to Age More Positively


Therapy Insights to Age More Positively

Therapy Insights to Age More Positively
5 Ways to Achieve a Healthier Orientation to Yourself As You Age

We have all come to agree and recognize that there is a significant and powerful interaction between the mind and the body. It’s hard to imagine that we used to think of them separately, after all they are attached and wired together!  We have long known that a positive attitude can impact healing and positive health outcomes.  While in the past we might have been less clear about how our thinking specifically interacts with our physical health, there are now many new research findings that strongly suggest that how we think, and what we have in our minds truly determines our health and aging process.

I found this out the hard way and want to pass on some important revelations that I have personally had. 

For a long period of time, I had a significant work and financial concern that I was aware was causing me distress. This started to manifest itself into my physical health, impacting my sleep, my gastrointestinal system and even some particular aches and pains in my body. I knew that thinking about a negative situation too often was adding to my physical discomfort, so I needed to practice what I preach. I started to NOTICE how often I thought about this particular concern, and slowly started to stop myself from doing so as often as possible. I also dedicated some specific times to deal with the situation and was cautious to not engage in thinking about it outside of the designated times. It was a very short time after making this plan that my sleep and gastro discomfort actually improved. It is a very empowering experience to know that you can actually affect your own physical health with some control over your overthinking.

When we are careful and mindful about what we think and say inside our heads, we can instantly improve our daily experiences. This is particularly true as we grow older and age. By changing our outlook, thoughts, and the way we think about our own aging, we can create a more positive new map for life and promote our own good health through our thoughts themselves. (We can actually change our brain chemicals from negative to positive just by watching our thoughts!)

We have more effect and agency on all our physical and mental health outcomes than ever imagined.  Science has confirmed this.  We no longer have to be victims of outdated notions of aging and the presumed inevitable losses and deterioration of health that we used to accept. “We have agency over 95 percent of our health outcomes-only 5% is predictable by genes only” Deepak Chopra.

A great first step in rethinking getting older, can be to think about HEALTH span as well as Lifespan. If we direct our thoughts to how we want to live, not just focused on longevity and living longer we can create experiences of creativity, visioning and positive decision making.

A long term study from the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology tracked the perceptions of aging in 2,400 adults over time and the effects of these thoughts on physical health. They asked individuals to self report their subjective age-how old they thought of themselves. These perceptions were either rated Gain Related thoughts or Loss Related Thoughts.  A gain related thought could be “getting older means I can learn new things versus loss related thoughts, such as ‘getting older means that I am less healthy.” The study demonstrated over time longer mortality rates for both middle aged and older adults who held gain related thoughts.

How can we learn how to think differently about our own aging?

Working with a therapist or health coach can help in identifying and rethinking old notions about becoming older and getting a sense of clarity about how to best express our new sense of identity for ourselves as we pass through life stages.  The therapy room, either virtual or in person creates a safe space to let go of old or scary notions about losses and begin to explore a more developed sense of accumulated identity.

Therapy at mid age and in the fourth quarter of life particularly after many of our developmental tasks of building a family or career have been achieved, can be helpful to develop a deeper understanding of oneself and the wishes you may have for the future.  A therapist or coach comes in with a neutral position to help you explore with out any expectations or preconceived notions about what good mental and physical health might look like for you.

These are some of the areas that I have explored with my clients to develop a more age forward/positive focus.

  1.  Reducing stress:  When we care for our mind in a gentle and loving way, we can see changes in ourselves physically and mentally even within a week.  A therapist can introduce you to Mindful Practice, such as giving our brains a break, pressing the pause button, observing our breath and sensations are practices that one can develop within a therapeutic setting. “When the brain moves toward equanimity, love, and compassion, we can regulate the mind to achieve a more peaceful state.  Skills in journalling, gratitude practices, grounding, meditation and participation in therapy itself are benefits of working with a professional at this stage.
  2.  Developing your own Growth Mindset. “People don’t stop growing when they become old, they become old when they stop growing.” Ann Lamont as a journalist talks about making a pre-arrangement with yourself as a duty of honour to crystalize your own understanding of your own developed strengths and playing to them. One for example might be your experience and wisdom and ability to navigate a complicated world.  A therapist can help you make decisions and formulate a ‘ to do’ list for aging, instead of a ‘what if’ list. Thriving means continuing to dream, plan and actualize your current values in your day-to-day life. Creativity, spontaneity  and resilience are thoughts and skills to focus on. Self confidence and esteem are essential components to aging well and it is always a good time to focus on this.
  3. Fighting ageism: Individuals often face career challenges at this stage of life. Navigating ageism in the workplace has been an area of focus in my work with many clients, particularly in our current cancel culture, and severe consequences to workplace injustices.
  4. Reducing Anxiety and Depressive thinking:  A therapist can help clients deal more positively with the unknowns and fears relating to the physical aging process.  Fears about the loss of power and independence, death and end of life issues can be beneficially examined with a trained therapist.  As anxiety often increases with age, it is important to address old traumatic memories and notions in order to be free from them in this stage of life. We also want to make sure that we are not adding to our own sense of sadness or powerlessness.
  5. Curating more meaningful relationships and social circles.  Beliefs about our own aging impacts our relationships. We can take charge of this by looking at ways our relationships can grow and become more connected.  Some relationships need better boundaries or even need to end. Enhancing our sense of social meaning as we leave the workforce is essential as we become more isolated working at home post Covid, become empty nesters and our social circles diminish.  It has been well researched and documented that feeling seen, heard and connected  with others directly leads to better health and longevity.  Studies have shown that the first year after retirement is the most precarious for physical health for these reasons. A healthy social life is directly related to a healthy physical life (get quote).

In what ever way you do it, either on your own or with a professional therapist living optimally as you age is definitively achievable with intention.

Brenda is an experienced psychotherapist with a clinical focus on helping individuals formulate positive identity and healthy aging.