The Joys and Anxieties of Aging

Joel Eisenberg

For those who have retained their childhood memories, aging often comes with an emotional price.

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Young and OldPaolo Bendandi, Unsplash

Author’s Note

This article is free of bias, and is based on conclusions of accredited medical organizations and mental health professionals including licensed psychiatrists and psychologists. Though I myself am a former mental health professional with training in Psychology, and I will share some relevant personal information within this article, I am not a doctor and I offer no medical advice herein. Please contact a currently practicing medical or mental health professional for any potential issue that requires attention, whether age-related or otherwise. Sources for this article include Mandy Oaklander of Time, The Journal for Clinical Psychiatry, The University of Michigan, Jane Fleming for TheConversation.com, and Bill Murphy, Jr. from Inc.com.

Introduction

I will introduce this article with some personal honesty. I was a powerlifter in my 20s and 30s, and a long-distance runner in my 40s. In my 50s, that check came due. Today, I am approaching my sixth decade. It is not always fun, but it is certainly not all that bad either. I have undergone one knee replacement with the other knee scheduled for the same surgery. My hip is giving me issues too. As for my back? Forget it. And yet, I continue to push in the gym and try to work out like I’m decades younger. Do I bring the pain upon me? I am guilty, as charged, but I am also of the type that refuses to quit either physically or mentally.

Professionally, however, this has been a terrific and productive period for me. Personally, my family life is strong. My wife recently adjusted to signing up for Medicare, and we are finding humor in those aches and pains that have begun happening for us both where once we were strong and pliable.

Aging is no joke.

According to mental health writer Mandy Oaklander of Time, who six years ago published a pre-pandemic article for the magazine titled “Old People Are Happier Than People In Their 20s,” older men and women have tended to also have less anxiety than their younger counterparts.

Reporting results from a 2016 Journal of Clinical Psychiatry study, the author states: Older people were physically more disabled and had more cognitive impairment than younger ones—the natural deterioration of aging—but in mental health, the advantage flipped. People in their 20s and 30s reported having the highest levels of depression, anxiety and stress, plus the lowest levels of happiness, satisfaction and wellbeing. Older people, surprisingly, were the happiest. The study was just a snapshot in time; it didn’t follow people to track how their answers changed throughout their own lives.

Today’s pandemic era does show certain shifts in that outlook, as acknowledged by a recent University of Michigan National Poll on Aging. The linked report summarizes the findings in this subtitle: Pandemic worsened many older adults’ mental health, but long-term resilience also seen.

From the poll: Two in three adults age 50–80 (65%) rated their mental health as excellent or very good, 27% as good, and 8% as fair or poor. Few older adults (5%) said their overall mental health was better compared to before the pandemic, and 18% said it was worse. Reporting worse mental health since the pandemic began was more common among women, those age 50–64, those with higher education, and those who rated their physical health as fair or poor. About one in five older adults (19%) rated their overall mental health as better compared to 20 years ago, 62% rated it the same, and 19% said it was worse. Rating mental health as worse now than 20 years ago was more common among those who rated their physical health as fair or poor and those with an annual household income less than $30,000.

Let us explore further.

Anxiety and Aging

As a former mental health professional who has worked with children and adults well prior to the pandemic, I noticed that a fear of death was discussed more openly prior to 50 than after, when resignation took hold. There was nothing scientific or formal about my findings, simply something noted as my work in the field was primarily with at-risk students from high school-aged (my dominant group) to adults in their 60s. When I discussed these informal findings with others in the field, there was widespread agreement with this analysis.

Another 2016 pre-Covid analysis, this one of a considerably older group, largely agreed with these findings as well. In Jane Fleming’s article from TheConversation.com, entitled “Here’s What People in Their 90s Really Think About Death” — being the first part of a larger series on mortality — the author writes: Death was part of life for many of the older people who often said they were taking each day as it comes and not worrying too much about tomorrow. “It is only day-from-day when you get to 97,” said one woman. Most felt ready to die and some even welcomed it: “I just say I’m the lady-in-waiting, waiting to go,” said one.

There is, of course, another side of aging to consider — that of wisdom, and inspiration. Very few will deny degrees of physical and/or mental decline, although for some success comes late in life. See here for Bill Murphy, Jr. article from Inc.com, “14 Inspiring People Who Found Crazy Success Later in Life.”

Any emotional price depends on the individual; dementia-related illnesses tend to have strong impacts as do the passing of loved ones. Many older adults in these stages will discuss their childhood or young adulthood in wistful, romanticized terms, as referred to in some of the above links.

If aging yields a response with memory loss or depression issues, or any physical incapacity, please contact your medical professional.

Conclusion

Older age can be an albatross, or it can be the most productive of times. Older age also, as both a concept and a specific age period, is defined differently by different people. Some believe you are only as old as you feel, while others see a pending period where all faculties are irretrievably lost and nothing remains for which to live.

Still some people believe there is no such thing as old age at all, and they maintain peak physical and mental fitness — assuming no medical issues — throughout their lives to remain healthy and stave off anxiety and other potential conditions that can hinder quality of life.

Aging is not a perfect science. It likely never will be, so my encouragement to all is to remain busy and productive for as long as you can. Science has concluded that a positive outlook typically follows a healthy mind and body.

Common sense? Sure it is, but sometimes many of us need to be reminded.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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