Four Ways to Befriend Yourself as You Age

By Etta Hornsteiner
woman showing love to herself by taking time to notice nature

“What surprises me is—even though discrimination against women and racial discrimination still exist, they have improved a lot, especially among artists. And just when I felt I could finally take a break, I encounter the age discrimination. I turned 72 and started noticing a drastic difference in people’s attitudes. I started with racism and sexism in the beginning and fought them so hard and was finally ready to relax. Then, here comes ageism, and I feel like, ‘Give me a break!’” 1.

As human beings we all want to receive love from others, but we must first learn to love ourselves. Ageism is prejudice against our future selves. Hence, the best way to show love to yourself is to befriend yourself as you age.  To love yourself means to accept yourself fully in every season of life.   Here are some ways to befriend yourself as you age:

1. Love yourself.
Give yourself a dose of compassion We can be hard on ourselves as we age. During menopause and andropause, extra pounds around the waistline can leave women and men feeling powerless and even unhappy. Many people become frustrated as they encounter this new phase. Though this frustration is perfectly normal, avoid the double negative. What’s the double negative? During these periods, the body becomes more prone to store fat as it undergoes biological changes.  Chronic stress causes the body to release the cortisol hormone into the blood stream. Cortisol triggers the body to hold onto fat or to store it around the waistline. Add to this stress negative self-talk and you have a never-ending loop of negativity.

Negative self-talk, like “I’m no longer attractive,” or “I’m heading down the hill,” is stressful on the body. The brain interprets negative self-talk as a form of stress.

Give yourself some love by offering yourself compassion. Self-compassion is not pity. It’s being understanding and grateful for where you are now on your journey. Ask yourself: What still works? You have probably heard the importance of gratitude, now is the time to embrace it. Gratitude helps the body maintain a state of harmony. Can you walk? Do you have health? Can you still breathe? These questions are meant to remind you that complaining never helps but offering yourself kindness can help the body to relax.

2. Empower Yourself.
Chronic stress destroys neurons. Neurons are nerve cells. These nerve cells can become damaged by prolonged stress, especially due to trauma. This breakdown is seen in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. Creating a stress-free environment is important for your health. So, find a place where you can rejuvenate—perhaps, a sun-room or a space in your home where you can relax and connect with your inner being. Some people create a sacred space or room, with things that are special to them like pictures of loved ones. You can have religious symbols such as a menorah or cross. Add some aromatherapy for the body and soul as you refresh yourself by offering self-care.

When we show self-compassion to ourselves, we are practicing self-care. Self-care is like being on the airplane and being reminded to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before helping anyone else with their mask. Perhaps, you are now an empty nester, a retiree, a wanna-be retiree, or a caregiver taking care of older parents. Whatever category you find yourself in, it is an opportunity to practice self-care, especially through mindfulness meditation.

Caregivers, in particular, are susceptible to high levels of stress, which can lead to being burnt out. Offering caregivers an opportunity to learn mindfulness meditation can help in managing emotions and alleviating stress. Check out our mindfulness workshop for caregivers here.

3. Cultivate Positivity.
If negativity impacts the brain, then positivity impacts it too. How do you cultivate positivity as you age, especially as you witness the not-so-positive changes your body is going through? One way is through acceptance. Change is a part of life. No greater teacher teaches us this than Mother Nature. Every year she takes us through five seasons of change and each one is beautiful in its own right.  See yourself in the same light. Though your colors are changing you have the opportunity to choose to be vibrantly beautiful by cultivating a positive mindset. For example, you can have grey or silver hair. You can choose to grow old or to age gracefully.

My mother explained the difference to me in this way: Old means outdated, languished and dried-up. Age, on the other hand, means alpha-leader of the pack, graceful and elegant. To age is to mature like fine wine.  The process of aged wine is described in these words:

When a wine that was meant to be aged is drunk, the aging of the wine helps create flavors and textures we would never have experienced had the wine not undergone aging.

Like aged wine, the aging process has the potential to produce your best self. It is the opportunity to gain and continue to grow in wisdom.  So, with every good experience, Rick Hanson, psychologist and New York Times bestselling author, would suggest, you enrich your good experiences—allow them to grow. Absorb them and allow the positive experiences to override the negative.

4. Be adaptable.
Cut yourself some slack. When you possess self-compassion, you understand things do change. It is “the balance between acceptance of and grit to overcome adversities along with a positive attitude and close ties to family, religion, and land, providing purpose in life,” says the International Psychogeriatrics Journal.

In a study recognizing positive psychological traits in a group of rural Italians aged 90 to 101 years, participants were recognized for resiliency and optimism. The remarks below are examples of their resilience and optimism:

“I am always thinking for the best. There is always a solution in life. This is what my father has taught me: to always face difficulties and hope for the best.”

“I am always active. I do not know what stress is. Life is what it is and must be faced… always.”

Being kind to yourself can lead to resiliency. Resiliency is deeply connected to self-compassion.

Conclusion
Befriending yourself is one of the best things you could do for your body and soul. Don’t allow the inner critic to measure your self-worth. You deserve love and appreciation, but first from yourself.

 

Endnote
    1. Yoko Ono is a Japanese multimedia artist, singer, songwriter and peace activist. Her work also encompasses performance art, which she performs in both English and Japanese, and filmmaking. Singer-songwriter John Lennon of the Beatles was her third husband.

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