From butterflies in your stomach to a full-blown panic attack, anxiety can take many different forms. At its core, anxiety is nothing more than a physiological response to a situation that creates internal conflict.
“It’s a feeling designed to give you caution and get your attention, so that you make adjustments in your environment or boundaries,” explains Theresa Moore, LCSW, LPC. “These are actually healthy feelings.”
Even if you’ve never been one to suffer from anxiety, you might find that changes the older you get — and, yes, it’s perfectly normal. In fact, getting older can be one of the major causes of anxiety for many people.
Why Does It Happen?
There are many things that can contribute to stress as we age, but in a country where we are expected to look, feel, and act younger than we are, watching our bodies go through the natural aging process can be one of the biggest — and it’s more than just the physical.
“We fear that it means that we will cease to be useful, engaging, or exciting,” Moore says, adding that a core fear from the moment we are born is a fear of being irrelevant or not belonging. “In our country we neither honor nor respect elderhood,” she says. “ We fear being thrown out or being seen as having no value to society.”
Add to that the fear of our own mortality and you can see where anxiety can get into your system and set up shop.
What Can You Do About It?
One of the first things you can do to manage increased anxiety is to realize that although you may not be able to control the aging process, you can control how you handle it. “There is a lot that is still within our control,” says Moore. “We can accept that this is a time of wisdom and life experience, and acknowledge that things are shifting and that this is the next step in life.”
No, we can’t expect to remain at our 40-year-old peak for the rest of our lives, but we can remain fit and active as it relates to our environment, nutrition, and mental health. And by accepting the aging process for what it is, we can enjoy the relationships around us and become more aware and present rather than disheartened or anxious.
“Our relevance has to do with relationships, not accomplishments and tasks,” Moore says. “That’s an important thing to remember.”
Do I Need Help?
Again, an increase in anxiety as we age is perfectly normal. The degree in which it manifests, however, can be problematic. And some women find that even “normal” requires a little extra help in the form of medication or therapy. How do you know the difference? “Anything that is ongoing or exhibits a significant pattern might indicate the need for a life coach or therapist to help you get some new tools for dealing with stress,” Moore says.
If you are anxious to the point that it is affecting your sleep, moods, ability to focus, memory, etc., then you should see your doctor or therapist and ask if short-term medication could provide some relief. “If you are so easily distracted that it is hard for you to complete a task and other people or co-workers are noticing, then that’s a problem that could possibly benefit from medication coupled with counseling,” suggests Moore. “Trying to do it on your own only increases the anxiety.”
If you are still unsure if you are just going through a phase or if it’s something more serious, check in with your squad.
“Having a good support system of people in your life who are objective and supportive is important regardless of stage of life, and this is the first place you should go to check things out,” Moore says. “These are the people who will tell you if you seem over the top.”
A stress-free life is pretty unrealistic, regardless of age. But accepting each stage of your life for the beautiful and wonderful gift that it is can go a long way in helping you manage, if not alleviate, some of the anxiety along the way.