Life & Style | General

Is age just a number?

Does the thought of your next milestone birthday make you cry inside? We’ve spoken to three experts about this common fear of getting older – what it says about us, what it says about society and how we can make peace with the ageing process

  • By Louisa Wilkins, Editor, Aquarius magazine
  • Published: 10:57 March 26, 2013
  • Aquarius

Is age just a number?
  • Image Credit: Getty Images
  • "Mainly it is those who haven't truly lived – who haven't given of themselves and created meaningful relationships – that fear ageing."

PSYCHOTHERAPIST AAMNAH HUSAIN SAYS YOU CAN REMAIN YOUTHFUL WITHOUT TRYING TO LOOK YOUNG

“Is our fear of ageing linked to a fear of death? Yes, I think it is... and a fear of uncertainty. Since time immemorial, there’s been an obsession with the ‘fountain of youth’, but it seems like Western societies are becoming more ageist.

“In my experience, some people are really anxious about getting wrinkles and others take it in their stride. If you’ve grown up seeing more anxiety about getting old and more obsession about looking young, this is how you will feel. But if you’ve seen people feel happy with their ageing, it will make a difference to how you feel about your ageing.

“At the same time, we get some strong messages from the media; for example, ads always have young models. So it seems as if power and beauty is equated with youth. Also, success is no longer about establishing a career and growing your wealth over time... it’s the young who are rich and powerful. This encourages people to judge themselves based on their age. They subconsciously compare themselves with other people of the same age. Am I married? Am I fit? Am I successful? Hence birthdays are hard.

“TV shows like Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Cougar Town depict women in their 30s and 40s acting and looking like adolescents. How do you let these messages affect your standards? Think about how much more acceptable plastic surgery is now. Why is this? “The fact is, we are here to live a journey. Life expectancy is increasing – the chances are we are going to have more older years than the generation before us had. Successful ageing is about making sense of that. What do you want to do with those years? How do you want to find meaning from them?

“If you consider ageing a disability, like losing a limb, you will mourn your lost youth. Accept it as a natural part of life and find value in your older years. While you may lose some physical qualities, you may gain wisdom and perspective. “Think, ‘I can have a meaningful life even if I am slowing down physically and I have wrinkles.’ If you are single, think, ‘I would rather find someone who is OK with me having a few wrinkles than someone who wants me to look young’.

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“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best you can be, but there is something wrong with thinking there’s something wrong with ageing. Part of being youthful is having wonder – being open to new experiences, discovering new things, wanting to explore new places. Optimism, playing, being creative... Why don’t we try to hang on to that part of youth?” Email Aamnah at aamnah@gmail.com.

HEALTH PSYCHOLOGIST MELANIE SCHLATTER SAYS THE KEY IS HAVING SPIRITUAL BELIEF

“Some people say that their fear of ageing is about being afraid of death, but I don’t think people want to retain youthful looks because of that. “It’s about what ageing means to you. Does it mean losing your physical, mental and psychological strength? Does it mean feeling like a burden? Does it mean losing your independence?

“People don’t use Botox to stop themselves from dying or to protect their independence. But retaining their youthful looks gives them a mental self-protection against all of the above. The ability to retain youthful looks seems to be a formula to mean life will be OK. It is a buffer between ourselves and old age. Whereas losing your looks raises questions like ‘Will I find love? Will I find a relationship?’ We feel like if we look good, we’re doing OK.

It doesn’t matter if I am crumbling inside if I’ve got my make-up and heels on. I see this issue less in people who are grounded in a spiritual or a religious belief. They feel more connected to something bigger. It’s like being part of a greater plan, versus temporary existence. “It doesn’t help that the media doesn’t celebrate the mature woman. If you feel the best years of your life are over once you start getting wrinkles, that’s a pretty depressing thought. If that sounds like you, try looking at the bigger picture.

Focus on your health, not your looks – and look after your health properly rather than relying on quick fixes. Connect to some sort of spirituality or religious belief. Build your own legacy. Keep your brain alive. Be the best that you can be today and stop worrying about what you won’t be tomorrow.” For more from Melanie, visit healthpsychuae.com.

PSYCHOLOGIST SALIHA AFRIDI ADVISES NOT MAKING YOUR IMAGE YOUR MAIN FOCUS

“I think fear of ageing is quite common and quite normal. I believe it’s triggered by an underlying existential reality – fear of dying. Research shows that reminders of death can increase depressive symptoms – ageing is a definite reminder that our time is coming to an end. So, do we fear ageing or what it represents – a time gone, a youth lost and death approaching?

“It sounds morbid, but most cultures do not talk about death. We think by prolonging our youth we may be able to trick death or deny ageing, but really we are repressing a reality. By avoiding ageing, we may actually be avoiding living a true and meaningful life. “We are more self-absorbed than we have ever been.

I can’t blame individuals for this – society has set the bar for beauty to be younger and thinner than ever before. It creates an obsession to want to achieve that look, which leads to self-absorption. Those who chase the latest ways to appear youthful while neglecting the parts of themselves that crave meaning and purpose are the unhappiest. And they often have the greatest fear of ageing because they haven’t lived a meaningful life.

“It’s important to maintain yourself. But it’s equally important to not make that the main task of your young adulthood. According to psychologist Erik Erikson, young adulthood is about forming relationships and getting a sense of belonging. Middle adulthood is about generativity, which means having concern for others and creating something that outlasts us, in the form of career legacy or children.

Maturity is about ego integrity (meaning accepting yourself entirely) versus despair. If people feel useful and productive they will be happier as they age, but if they invest only in their appearance and their material possessions, getting older will depress them.

“Mainly it is those who haven’t truly lived – who haven’t created meaningful relationships – that fear ageing and dying. At the end of one’s life, a person wants to look back with a sense of fulfilment. If they have lived a rich life of experiences, relationships, responsibility, community, they will fear the idea of death less than someone who ages with a sense of regret, lost time or loneliness. Embrace each stage of your life and all the lessons you have learned, and take pride in the wisdom that only age and experience can bring.” To get in touch with Saliha, visit lighthousearabia.com.

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