Q: I just turned 60 last month. I did not celebrate my birthday because it scares me to be in my 60s. I worry about my future, whether I will get sick, or run out of money, or die soon. I can’t seem to fully enjoy my children or the extra time off that I now have.
A: Sixty is a large marker towards moving into the last phase of your life. This passage evokes anxiety, loneliness, and sadness. Our bodies do feel different at 60 vs. 30. Our memory isn’t as strong and we do slow down. In a culture that idolizes youth—looking 17, being quick, sharp, and energetic—anyone over 40 is made to feel weaker and less powerful. There are definite losses in aging. What are they for you? This culture also provides many resources to stay healthy and keep your mind bright. People live well into their 80s today. Now is a good time to be aware and enjoy ways to stay young.
In South Asian cultures, aging has been traditionally associated with becoming a respected elder in the community. You have more respect and power because you have experienced and learned much more than a person in her 30s. Can you recognize how your age makes you into a sage? You can now contribute more to society now than ever before.
Beneath the fear of aging is the fear of death. This is the greatest fear a human being experiences. At 60 death is more imminent than ever before. Its purpose is not to terrify and worry you, rather to encourage you to recognize that you are on this earth for a short time. Don’t you want to make the most of it? What is most valuable to you at this time in your life? As you face the inevitability of death, you will more fully embrace your true life.
Q: I am an Indian woman in my early 40s, born and raised in the U.S. Most people have seen me as attractive and I feel the same. Physical beauty, fashion, and youth are very important to me. I am constantly worried about the graying of my hair, lines on my face, inches on my waist, and not being as attractive as I was or as other women around me. I spend thousands of dollars each year to look young. How do I end this obsession?
A: This truly is an obsession, not only for you, but for many women. Being attractive is a blessing and a curse. Your anxiety regarding looking older is also fueled by our superficial culture that benefits financially by your issues. In Indian families, often a pretty girl is doted on and given privilege. The girl feels special simply by looking good. Sometimes she isn’t even encouraged to develop her talents or intelligence. She is treated like a princess. The other siblings can feel quite resentful about this.
Recognize that there is so much more to you than your looks. You may not know that and feel ashamed about some aspects of yourself. People will appreciate and enjoy you even if your face has lines and you don’t wear the sexiest clothes. The unique changes in your face reveal the life you have lived and who you are becoming. Hiding your true self by constantly trying to look a certain age doesn’t allow you to be yourself in the world. Other people also miss your full self. Your power and meaning in the world come from expressing the deepest, most genuine part of yourself, not by creating an image.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (415) 205-4666. www.wholenesstherapy.com.