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How to Cope with the Fear of Aging

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” ~Mark Twain

Time is the most precious asset we’ve got. It means life, and it’s never coming back.

In a world where everyone seems to be in a rush, it feels like time is flying. Not sure about you, but when I was a child, I felt like I had all the time in the world. Much later, as a grown-up woman, always busy to do more and achieve more, I had to sign up for time management courses so that I could cope with stress and learn how to manage my hours.

In April this year, I turned thirty-nine, and I was happy to witness a major transformation in myself: no more panic knowing that soon I’m going to be forty. No more sadness or fear of getting older.

This year, the only thing I wanted for myself was to celebrate a new year and feel grateful for everything I’ve learned so far at the school of life. To look at the future as an excellent opportunity to learn more and grow from my experiences.

Beautiful…but it wasn’t always like that. Like many other people I know, both women and men, I was terrified of the idea of growing older. I could feel this fear in my bones years ago, when I “changed the prefix” and turned thirty.

At the time, I didn’t express that out loud and pretended everything was okay, but, deep inside, I was terrified. To me, such a change was a powerful mental, psychological transition that came with high pressure on my chest, followed by painful beats of my heart. I wasn’t ready, and I can recall that I wanted all my youngest years back.

So I’ve been asking myself this question: Where does this fear come from? What makes so many people scared of aging?

One explanation I’ve found comes from societal norms and culturally inherited limiting beliefs that influence our way of thinking and don’t serve us well.

If you grow up preparing yourself for the aging process as if it will be a burden, that’s exactly how it will feel. It’s all about self-perception and the story we tell ourselves about whom we are becoming with passing time.

Take my example:

I grew up in Eastern Europe. In my home country, Romania, I often heard things like “Of course I’m sick. I’m sixty-eight now. I’m not young any longer, so that should be expected.” Or “My time has gone now; I’m seventy-five!”

Of course, not everyone thinks like this, but it’s common. Growing old is supposed to bring suffering and pain. With no savings, many people feel unprepared, both mentally and financially, for retirement, and it’s quite common for retired people to get support from their children to pay their utilities and buy medicine or food.

I am grateful for the four years I spent living in Sweden—a time that shifted my perception around aging. I still remember the beautiful yearly concerts I gave with my choir. Performing made my heart sing. And many members of that choir were over sixty!

You see, that was a different culture, mentality, and system of belief—and a much richer country. When we are financially stable and secured, it is much easier to be happy, right? But it’s not always about money; small moments of happiness don’t have to cost much, and often come for free.

In Sweden, I got to meet grandmothers who were learning new languages and discovering new hobbies for themselves. Some started to paint; others were enhancing their computer skills. They were thrilled to finally have all the time in the world for themselves, their wants, and their needs after they’d dedicated a high amount of time and energy to their families or employers.

I found that inspiring. That’s exactly how I want to experience my life once I grow older: as a new opportunity to learn, when every morning is a fresh start, despite the number of my years.

If you’re afraid of aging and everything that will entail, I can empathize, as I’ve been there. Here’s what helped me heal this fear, move on, and enjoy my everyday life in the only reality there is—the present moment:

1. Shifting perspective.

What would open up for you if you knew your age was nothing but a number? Once I decided to look at the process of growing older with compassion and see it as a gift not everyone receives in life, everything changed.

We create our own reality through the way we think and the story we tell ourselves about each and every experience.

I know there will be lots of good things for me to enjoy once I grow old. Firstly, I will have all the time in the world for myself and I will make sure to fill it up beautifully, doing things I enjoy, traveling more, spending more quality time with friends, learning new things, and practicing new hobbies.

Most people complain about spending too many hours at work and not having enough time for themselves. But once they retire, they get the time they’ve always wanted and don’t know what to do with it. Interesting.

We need to revise how we think of aging. The old paradigm was: You're born, you peak at midlife, and then you decline into decrepitude. Looking at aging as ascending a staircase, you gain well-being, spirit, soul, wisdom, the ability to be truly intimate and a life with intention.” ~Jane Fonda

2. Knowing that I am not what I do.

The truth is, societies generally value the younger generations, seen as a much-needed force in the working field.

Aging means wisdom and experience, but often much suffering as well. Many people hold the belief that, the older they get, the worse their quality of life will be, as if their worthiness in the world will vanish or fade. I’ve heard of people who got severely depressed when they retired because they felt their lives had no meaning apart from working.

One of the most common questions people ask when they make new acquaintances is “What do you do for a living?” In a world that evaluates human worth through status and how well we do things in life, they lost their identity when left with no job.

Work is where we spend most of our time, so if we’re not happy at work, we’re ultimately not happy with most of our lives. Most of us need a job, and money is a much-needed instrument for us to survive. But is life supposed to be all about our jobs? Is there no other way to be happy?

What if the ultimate purpose of us being here were just to be happy?

I can think of so many different kinds of activities that can bring us tremendous joy and fulfillment once we retire! Spending quality time with our dear ones, enjoying the small pleasures of life, traveling, practicing our hobbies, learning new skills, being involved in charity projects, making a difference in the world, and so on.

“You are a human being, not a human doing.” ~Wayne Dyer

3. Loving myself: mind, body, and soul.

 In the same way that I am not what I do, I am not my body. My spirit refuses to be put in a box or labeled. If I identify my human value through my physical appearance, the process of aging turns into a burden.

In today’s society, the concept of beauty often gets associated with youth, with having no wrinkles. Social media, women magazines, Photoshop, beauty contests—all these put tremendous pressure on people (and women especially) to fit particular requirements and parameters that sometimes are not even real. For many industries, that’s an excellent source of income. That is why anti-aging cosmetics sell well, and plastic surgery is booming. It’s all based on fear.

No matter our age, our bodies are the vehicles of our spirit—the temple of our souls and the only ones we’ve got. I have started to take care of my body: I exercise more and give it nutritious food and plenty of water. I make sure I find the time for those necessary doctor appointments and yearly health checks. When we invest in our physical health, we make a long-lasting investment in our future.

According to research, the people who live longest are located in Okinawa, Japan. I visited that place recently and wanted to learn more about their lifestyle.

People there eat healthily and exercise. They don’t stress much and have a social life, despite their age. That’s what I also got to see during the years I lived in China and South Korea: older people exercising, doing tai-chi or chi-gong, dancing or singing in the parks of Seoul or the big squares of Shanghai. They were keeping themselves active and spending quality time with like-minded people in their communities.

Descartes defined human as “social animals.” No matter our personality, extroverted or introverted, we all need a tribe, a sense of belonging to a group or community. That is a basic human need.

Happiness is a mental and emotional state of being; it comes as a result of the choices we make. It’s all about attitude, perspective, and what we make age mean to us. We all are what we believe.

So next year I’m turning forty—nothing but a new beautiful number, a time for brand new opportunities and a gift from life. Getting older is a reality, and I have decided to embrace myself with love, despite my age. I know I’m going to end up with more wrinkles and I’ll love them, too. True self-love is valid at any age; there’s no expiration date to that.

Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Goddesses Never Age, expressed it so beautifully: Growing older is inevitable; aging is optional.”

And now, I would like to hear from you. Have you ever felt scared of the idea of getting older?

About Sara Fabian

Sara Fabian is a women’s career and empowerment coach and inspirational speaker, on a mission to help professional women to discover their unique strengths, gifts and talents, boost their confidence, find their calling and live a meaningful life of purpose. For weekly inspiration, subscribe to her free newsletter at sarafabiancoaching.com or follow her on Facebook.

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  • Great article!

  • sammy

    I think it is insulting that you wrote an article about aging when you are 39 years old and have yet to experience the difficulties and sorrow that can accompany menopause, the loss of loved ones and the hopes and dreams that did not come to pass.

  • Sinead Clark

    When I was younger I swore I was not going to get “old”, as soon as I found a grey hair, I was going to start dyeing my hair. But as I move through my mid, into my late 40s, I’m enjoying this period of my life, I’m even trying to enjoy the process of menopause. I’ve made a conscious decision to love my grey hair (I think it looks really cool, actually), to love myself just the way I am. I’ve got a long journey ahead of me and, personally, I’m excited to see what mischief I can get up to…

  • Cate

    Age is NOT just a number, and Jane Fonda — who I admire, but who has had a ton of cosmetic work — is not a convincing spokeswoman otherwise. The reality has not set in by 39 for most people, but it will, as real cognitive and physical losses accumulate with age. This does not mean we should fear aging, or that one cannot enjoy some benefits. But losses in capacity are real and often significant; this much is obvious in old animals. We would be wise to acknowledge and directly engage that truth, and to understand that keeping a good attitude — which I agree is crucial — is easier said than done in the face of these losses.

  • Tracy Carpenter

    I agree absolutely. Loss is part of aging- our elders die, and our children leave home, many things we do not want to change, do. Growing old successfully includes dealing with loss. Many of the things the author writes about can help us do this- having community, purpose, and faith. And at the age of 39 or 40, these issues may not have yet become as large as they one day will. I am a 65 year old psychiatric and hospice nurse. I struggle with loss, dispite the fact that I know loss very, very well.

  • Tracy Carpenter

    She is losing her youth, but not yet her middle age. She will learn. Still, her loss of youth is valid as a source of learning for her.

  • Kitty Larkins

    Looked at the title and thought finally something for people my age (71). While I don’t think a “30 something” person can speak to aging issues, all of the advice she gave is good practice for successful aging. The person you are at 30 is probably a good indication of the person you are going to be at 70. For you younger people I need to tell you there is no need to be afraid. This can be the best time of your life if you accept the changes that aging encompasses. I am so grateful for each day. But I’m still wondering why there are no older people contributing to tiny Buddha.

  • Tracy Carpenter

    I am glad to see this headline today, as I am musing on how to negotiate my own aging. Some of your suggestions are very helpful for me. I must say, that as death approaches more closely, some techniques no longer hold back the fear of the greatest of all losses as well as they once did. That is the ultimate test of our ability to age without fear!

  • Tracy Carpenter

    Hi Kitty, I just added a comment (I am 65). I agree with you!

  • Sara Fabian

    Dear Sammy, I am not teaching people how to grow old, what to think and what to feel. As every other post, this is a personal sharing and everyone gets to chose what to believe in. This post is about how to cope with the FEAR of aging, which many people feel since an early age. I was scared to death when I turned 30, imagine that!
    I suggest you have a look at Dr. Christiane Northrup’s books: “Female body, female wisdom” and “Goddesses never age.” her work is a gift for women struggling with menopause symptoms. Blessings!

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you, Samy.

  • Debby

    I’m just going to say, that while the article is good in some respects, I don’t feel that you really have the experience behind you to understand what it may mean to certain people (I speak from a female standpoint) to age. When you get to 60, you might have the experience to comment on this vast and multi faceted subject. You touch on truths for sure, but only from a perspective of what has been told to you or you think you have witnessed. It is quite another thing to be IN those aging shoes. There is much that comes with this, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally – losing parents, loss of youth, loss of job, feelings of becoming “invisible” to the world, loss of many things, but also much to gain and many, many new experiences. With age, as with youth, comes new challenges. It is how we respond to these new challenges that defines how we age.

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you for your comment, Cate. My inspiration when writing this article is Louise Hay. She started her company HayHouse at 60+. Acquired new skills and started to practice new hobbies at 70+. Also Dr. Christiane Northrup, who’s work around aging is a gift. I am not telling people how to live their lives. That’s not my job to do. As every post, that’s a personal experience and my own insights. Everyone gets to decide how to look at each and every experience, and I hope this post is going to help people who are scared of aging, as I was when I turned 30 and started a new decade of my life.

  • Sara Fabian

    Everything is a learning, isn’t it? And what is to be young? I know grandparents who are younger in spirit than their grandchildren. I am looking forward to the new experiences middle-age will bring into my life. Blessings!

  • Sara Fabian

    I can hear you, Tracy. Many people fear the process of aging, knowing the time of death is getting closer. I’ve been there. I chose to believe my spirit won’t die and that helps a lot to believe. Blessings!

  • Cate

    I appreciate that, Sara. This is a good article, and you offer wise counsel to assuage fear of aging, which is not useful. This is just one of those topics in which one’s perspective tends to change with embodied experience. Trust me: 39 is worlds different from 59! Organic changes affect not only the body, but the mind in ways that are hard to appreciate until you live them. I wish our culture could find some middle ground that encourages people toward what is yet possible in later life while also fully acknowledging the real losses and limitations that accumulate with time. Best to you as you enter the earliest stages of that journey.

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you for sharing, Sinead. Self-love is essential, at any age. If you feel that might help, have a look at Dr Christiane Northrup book, “The wisdom of menopause.” Blessings!

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you, Kitty, spot on: the person I am now in my 30s is a good indication of the person I am going to be at 70. We all get to chose what to think and how to feel and taking charge of our own thoughts and emotions is power. I don’t know how aging will feel later, time will tell. I’m not there yet. But I surely know how I want my aging years to be and what to do already now, so that I start getting older gracefully. Blessings!

  • Sara Fabian

    Very true. I don’t know how my aging years will look like because I am not there yet. Time will tell. But I surely know how I want them to be and what I can do already now to start growing older gracefully. Blessings!

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you for your comment, Debby. Dealing with loss is tough at any age and one doesn’t have to get old to deal with that. I am 39 and I’ve been through that, as well. This post is not about how to grow older (as I’m not there yet), it’s all about how to cope with the fear of aging – something that feels scary to so many young people, both women and men. Even someone who is 10 years old can fear the idea of aging and write about that. I don’t know how my aging years will feel (only time will tell) but I know how I want them to look like and what I can do right now to prepare for that and live those years with grace and peace. Blessings!

  • Sara Fabian

    One doesn’t have to grow old to deal with loss, Tracy. That can happen at any age, I’ve been there as well.

  • Sara Fabian

    My post is not about the process of aging, Sammy. It’s all about the fear of aging, which is something different. Even a 10-years-old can be scared by the idea of growing old and write about that. Dealing with the pain of loss can happen to anyone in life, despite their age. I’ve been there as well. If you think that might help, look for Dr Christiane Northrup’s book, “The wisdom of menopause.” Her work is fantastic. Blessings!

  • Aegira

    Thank you for the post, I agree the ‘fear’ of aging can hit a person at any stage in their lives. For me it was the first time I ticked the next age box on a recent form “55-60”. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what has changed since January and now I know, I’m 55! Age is something that has never scared me before, I have been so busy fighting an illness for the past few years hitting the next ‘box’ has scared the heck out of me. I have become unemployed and put on a disability payment, something I never saw in my ‘future’. Time to turn the thoughts around, yes I ticked the box, thankfully I am here to be able to, (so many have never got to see 55). As others have said, yes the body does change, at times it downright screams in pain, but the choice ‘we’ have is how we choose to live our lives. Thank you for the reminder =)

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you for sharing, Aegira. Lots of thoughts of healing and many blessings to you!

  • Finding Peace

    I enjoyed the article and see a lot of truth in what the author has to say. I do want to offer that, unlike several commenters, I don’t think who you are at 30 necessarily presages who you will be at 70. I will be 66 this year, and I am a VERY different person than my 30-year-old self. Life has taught me much, sometimes through love and sometimes through adversity, and the things I thought so important at 30 — status, appearance, an aura of invincibility–no longer hold much value for me. I am so much calmer, so much more centered, so much more accepting and forgiving. I have changed in ways I never would have predicted when I was young.

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you for sharing. It reminds me of one of Jane Fonda’s speeches on aging, when she said that, with time passing by, she stopped caring about things like status, looking invincible or other people’s opinion about who she way. She allowed herself to be authentic much more and some of her priorities changed. Blessings!

  • ShaunTheCHB

    “Who sets the standards, who makes the rules?” Society makes the standards and society makes the rules. The problem is there and it has always been. You look at somewhere like Japan where age is regarded with respect. Then you look at western society and age is regarded as a burden and a negative. That is why ageing is seen so negatively by many people. Myself included.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Sammy, here’s a news flash for you. You are not the only person who has had difficulties and suffered in life. There are people who are much younger than you who have seen and experienced horrid things I hope you never ever see. I dare you to tell your comment to a young person with their life ahead of them and they discover they can’t walk anymore. I dare you to tell your comment to a little child who is dying from a life threatening illness. I dare you to tell your comment to child who lost their parent and has none to help them or look after them. They have suffered, they have felt pain, had their dreams and hearts broken too. But I guess they would not know anything huh? Because they are younger than you? Now that is insulting.

  • Sara Fabian

    Exactly. That’s why I asked this question. We are all products of the societies we live in. In Asia, aging means wisdom and experience ( = respect). In other regions, it is seen as decrepitude. I chose to believe what to think. I know I could never control societal norms, but I am 100% in charge with the way I feel, act and think.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    That’s right. I think your attitude is good towards this. I wish I could look at my growing older like this. Unfortunately, society is not going to change it’s wicked ways. The message will continue to be pushed in the media and people will continue to believe that getting older is a “bad thing”.

  • Mirabella

    It accelerates at a much greater pace with age. You lose your entire family, and many friends. You also lose function, as Cate says, no matter how well you take care of yourself. No need to fear it, but you seem to be in denial and in for a serious fall when these realities hit home. Changing your perception won’t fix aging. You have some more work to do on acceptance.

  • Melayahm

    I wan’t bothered by 30, nor 40. But 50, it started to be different. It’s all very well saying that age is just a number, but, your body Is getting older, your telomeres are being lost and starting to show. I used to walk for miles and miles without even thinking about it, now, my hips ache, my knees ache. I used to remember people’s names without trying, now I’m at the ‘you know, thingy..’ stage. I used to eat what I liked and stayed a size 12 (UK), now, it inches upwards and so much easier than downwards. I have to get up every night to go to the loo at least once. My hips get hiccups when I lie down to sleep ( I have no idea what this is, but it keeps me awake) Mentally, I still feel about 35, but my body is complaining. An it’s not going to get better without a ton of work which I don’t have the energy for. And then I see my 79 y/o mother with vascular dementia and wonder if I’m going to go that way too in 25 years time. Hard to learn a new language when you can’t remember how old your granddaughter is 10 times in a conversation. These are my fears.

  • Recently Rocks

    I agree entirely. I am not at all the person I was at 30, and that is a good thing! And though I love Jane Fonda, I look more to women like Helen Mirren or Dame Judy Dench as to what authentic aging looks like. We earn those wrinkles. We should not be afraid to flaunt them.

  • lilych

    Fear of aging is cultural, therefore contextual. In some 3rd world somewhere, fear is about the jungle’s ‘survival of the fittest’. In societies with pyramidical socio-economic structure with the majority at the base, even the rights of the elderly are just coming into light. The elderly are generally regarded as waning and fading away, while “vultures” circle for whatever worldly possessions that mesmerize opportunistic & greedy eyes and hands (even wooing and romancing by young/old/married/single men for the elderly’s material assets). It is fear of vulnerability to society’s predators.

  • XT!

    Sammy, your comment is insulting to youth in the chronic illness/disability community, who have had to deal with these losses as early as their teens and twenties. As a member, I have dealt with hopes and dreams that did not come to pass–the first one being that a chronic illness I was promised would go away by the time I was in my teens in permanent and can only stay in remission at best. Another being that my hearing is already deteriorating, thanks to consequential damages of chronic illness. Let’s not forget I have lost parts of my cognition consequential to PTSD and the necessary treatments to keep flashbacks and nightmares from overwhelming me.
    Your description does not even include the people I know who have been forced into early menopause because of fibroids, ovarian cysts, cancers…yes, these things have happened to people in their twenties and demanded hysterectomies as well as oophrectomies.
    What Sarah is saying is 1000% correct. It can happen at any age. I and so many other members of the chronic illness community have not only lost our functions at radically younger ages, we have also had to watch our friends die young. Some of them have been dragged out kicking and screaming, not ready to go. Others have killed themselves in the face of their illnesses. I have lost friends to suicide, and am facing the likelihood that several of my friends could very easily die before they hit forty. Those of us with chronically ill parents have also had to lose them at young ages and/or face the horror that their fate could be ours, or we could have one that’s far worse.
    For those of us who grew up chronically ill, the realities you describe are ones we see early in life. Be mindful of how you discuss aging because you can very easily erase millions of people who will be damn lucky if they can age at all.

  • XT!

    Thank you, ShaunTheCHB. Thank you for bringing up the pain and losses experienced by youth in the disability and chronic illness community. We have experienced losses most adults cannot even fathom until they hit their forties and fifties, and these losses are a huge part of why we are stigmatized. Chronically ill and/or disabled children are “not supposed to be sick” and consequentially, we are treated like dirt by adults who are scared of aging. They don’t look at us and see people–they see a fate they want to avoid and cannot and they punish us for their fear.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    I appreciate your words. I do not have a chronic illness and I could not fathom what you have experienced, you have my greatest of sympathies. However I do have a disability and can definitely understand the stigma and discrimination and pain and suffering that comes with that. You are correct when you say that we are not looked at as people. I’ve lost count the amount of times people have considered me “abnormal”.

  • Sue Johnson

    I agree wholeheartedly and vehemently with Cate, Tracy and Mirabella…for obvious reasons, Jane Fonda was not a great choice for a quote…she has had almost every cosmetic surgery known to humans. Although she looks better than most who have altered themselves to such an extent (most look quite distorted and rather creepy), she cannot mask the fact that she limps because of her hip replacement. Not that I am suggesting that she SHOULD hide any results of a hip replacement; my point is that the hip replacement was part of her aging process, and I think we all know if she COULD mask it, she WOULD mask it. Because of her obvious distaste for aging…which leads me to my next point…

    Our culture here in America has such shame around aging, which is ludicrous because it is completely unavoidable! So, the stress factor around aging (and stress contributes greatly to aging, how ironic is that?!), especially for women, is beyond silly. And is an embarrassing reflection on American culture.

    Everyone is going to age differently based on genes, lifestyle, financial means, and a host of other reasons I cannot even conceive of right now. I agree with you, Sara, that state of mind with regard to aging contributes greatly to how one approaches their own aging process. But to pretend that aging/dying happily, especially in the physical sense, is a matter of mind over matter, is naive and immature, at best.

    “Aging is not for the timid,” is a quote I heard years, and based on all the time I have spent working with and knowing elderly people, take that one to heart. Buddhists believe that suffering and loss are the two challenges we have to most prepare ourselves for in this life, and both of these are directly involved in the aging/dying process. We experience them in a myriad of different ways during life, of course, but aging/dying is where they present most dramatically, in ways that often leave us few choices, which is why we most fear the experience.

    Spoiled and lucky Americans are very rarely left without choice, but none of us are getting out of here alive, and rarely is the process pleasant.

  • paige

    WOW! This aging article got a lot of people thinking and reacting to aging/loss/finding their place in the world. We all struggle. I’m an RN and see loss and misery at every age. What separates those who cope or not is ATTITUDE. Yes, it sounds “easier said than done” and is in fact, easier said than done, but I think this is why we all seek such sites as “tiny buddha” and other self help sites/places of worship/friendship/meditation/self reflection/psychological assistance, etc. because our human journey is difficult, scary, fun, amazing and disappointing with all the good/bad all rolled up to create mass of confusion that we all seek to unravel and make sense of. Welcome to the human race. Although, my friend tells me it’s because our western society is so high up in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that we are “seeking self actualization,” when so many others in the world are worried where their next meal is coming from. I’ve never heard of a third world person being bulimic . . . anorexic yes – but not by choice. I’m not trying to be insensitive or insulting, it’s just that we do over think things to the point of making ourselves ill.

  • Michael Laman

    I’m 61, and I don’t feel that much older than when I was 50 or even 40. I have less hair, I’m losing hearing, and I’m underweight due to colon cancer. The hardest part for me about aging is losing many people, loneliness, and facing death someday in the near future. I never married, had children, or even had a girlfriend. I work to keep my body and mind active. I read 150 books in the past five years. I had to retire at 56 due to cancer after being a librarian for 25 years. Aging makes me grateful for every day I do have. I realize now I should have tried harder to be more loving, happier, and experienced more things before cancer hit me. Today I work hard on making a real relationship with God–I’m Catholic–I pray more and strive to be happy. Prayer helps a lot, it won’t make you a saint, but it brought me to a better place and calmed many fears. Strive to rightsize your life as you age up–let go and drop wasteful habits. We all die and it’s part of our human journey. We have nothing to fear except being a timid and lukewarm soul.