Are you middle-aged or a senior citizen? You may belong to one group chronologically, but feel like you belong to the other. How many of us are really prepared for the physical and emotional changes that come with aging?
The baby boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964), perhaps because of their large numbers, created a culture all but obsessed with youth. But all the "anti-aging" products and denial in the world can't stop time and the "don't trust anyone over 30" generation is marching into senior citizen status, ready or not.
The problem is not so much aging itself, as it is our accelerated expectations about what we should be doing at each age stage, says Margaret J. King, Ph.D., Director of The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis.
"THE LAST PART OF LIFE HAS TO DO WITH THE SEARCH FOR THE ULTIMATE MEANING OF OUR LIVES."
"The boomer generation has the highest expectations of themselves in history," according to Dr. King. "The GFC downturn (global crisis) has slowed progress or even reversed fortunes for many boomers, so the question now is -- given the limitations on personal economics, what is the best way to seek fulfillment in the final 20-25 years of life?"
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, Professor of Psychology and licensed clinical psychologist, adds that we can get caught between feeling psychologically young in a world that expects us to act our age.
"REMEMBER WHAT REGRET FEELS LIKE."
"Actually, I think it is healthier to exert psychological youth than physical youth. In other words, forget the BOTOX® and instead pursue dreams and take chances. Remember what regret feels like and be informed by the lessons of your life.
"We live in a culture that is ageist and employs every technology possible to keep people young -- surgical and otherwise. As such, when the things that can't be stopped kick in, it can be shocking. Memory can get a little worse, bodily demands change (e.g. it is harder to lose weight, our sleep habits may shift), joints ache etc. We can and should take good care of our bodies, but they do give way with time," says Dr. Durvasula. "It is the natural course of things."
So what factors most directly influence our daily lives as we age, and how can we best prepare for these challenges?
"Obviously positive lifestyle choices like good nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and reduced stress directly influence our daily lives as we age," says Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C.
The founder of Jenerations Health Education, Inc. tells Natural Choice Directory, "One of the best things we can do is adopt a positive attitude toward life and the aging process. Fighting against aging tends to make people feel stressed and dissatisfied.
"Embracing positive aging, choosing an optimistic view, and living a balanced life make a big difference. Many people see life and the aging process from a pessimistic viewpoint, but that can be changed with practice and meditation. Outlook is a choice. When people acknowledge that, they feel empowered and perhaps will choose a more positive way of thinking."
THE SANDWICH GENERATION
With the average lifespan growing longer than ever, large numbers of boomers are caring for their elderly parents and their young adult children, leaving many emotionally and financially exhausted. What methods can the "sandwich generation" use to cope with these burdens while facing their own aging?
"Sandwich generation adults should view the caregiving role as an executive director of an assisted living facility might," suggests Ms. FitzPatrick. "An assisted living director is charged with managing the care of many older adults. An efficient executive director says, ‘Let me find the most talented nurses, nursing assistants, recreation professionals, and billing staff that I can.'
"When a caregiver shifts to this mindset, he or she takes responsibility for the care but does not necessarily perform all of it. He or she enlists the help of other family members, friends, neighbors, people from church, as well as professionals in order to care for the older loved one.
"When a sandwich generation caregiver does too much for the older loved one, everything else falls apart. Consequences of doing it all include marriages collapsing, missing kids' sporting events, being late for work, and most importantly, the declining health of the caregiver."
"LOVE YOURSELF -- EVEN WHEN THE REST OF THE WORLD DOESN'T."
"Health is number one," says Stephanie Stephens of MindYourBody.TV.
"Live a healthy lifestyle by following basic principles of good nutrition and physical activity - this is not new. We can control those things, but we cannot control genetics. We can prepare with long-term care insurance, even though there are no guarantees it will be the same when we need it. We can have discussions with our loved ones about ‘what to do' before they have to ‘do.'
"Control stress, or at least manage it -- nothing ages us quicker and as we get older, there will be more stress. Time to put tested techniques into practice, whether it's yoga, meditation, taking a walk, or having a good laugh."
Finally, Ms. Stephens advises, "Love yourself -- even when the rest of the world doesn't." Now that's a good piece of advice for people of every age.
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis." She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites around the web.