“Going With the Flow” May be Helpful as We Age

 

I’m currently attending  a six week, 42-hour workshop on Aging and Wellness sponsored by the U of I College of Medicine. The presenters are multi-disciplinary and topics range from pharmacology to exercise, nutrition to substance abuse, physiology to pain management. If there’s a commonality across the topics, it’s the need to adapt to change, maintain resilience, seek information, and actively participate in life.

Whether you are experiencing depression, anxiety, stress or loss, when these issues are related to aging and illness, I have found the key to relief is often acceptance and adaptation.  Here’s an example:  A man in his early 60’s was experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression he didn’t understand.  It became clear that he interpreted normal, expectable physical changes as signs of catastrophic illness and rapid decline. He responded to this by engaging in the same level of physical activity as he had 30 years earlier. As you might guess, this resulted in increased aches, pains, and exhaustion which in turn created more anxiety.

With guidance, this man was able to understand and accept various sensations and changes as “normal”, and the anxiety lessened. He then was able to adapt his exercise routine to more appropriately meet his needs.  He could lift a few less pounds a few less times, exercise a few minutes less, and stop pushing himself way past his current ability. This increased his capacity to work out much more regularly without aches, pains, and exhaustion and alleviated the negative mood.  Because that depressed, anxious mood was resulting in this man socially withdrawing and feeling extremely pessimistic regarding his ability to manage his life, once he experienced the positive benefit of acceptance and adaptation, he also resumed his previously active and enjoyable life.

It would appear that a critical aspect of aging is the ability “go with the flow” insofar as the acceptance and adaptation of transitional changes is concerned. Sooner or later we all will have to adapt to things we would prefer not to. The quality of resilience in the face of difficulties and problems is a hallmark of successful aging.