How ageing can affect our psyche and emotional health

There have long been fanciful claims made or solutions sought to delay the onset of ageing, most often from the physical perspective. But what impact does ageing have from a psychological and emotional perspective?

In earlier generations, those in the 60+ age group, would traditionally be planning for retirement but today, for a variety of reasons, this is not necessarily the case. Typically the transition to retirement has been seen as most difficult for men, as women were seen as having broken careers (if a career at all) as they took time for family duties, and were therefore used to doing ‘other things’ apart from being in the workforce. However, baby boomers have been a part of their own revolution when it comes to workforce change, and in workforce history have championed the age of working/career women. Women have carved out careers and stood close to – if not alongside their male counterparts. Baby boomers have paved the way for astute, ambitious, skillful, dedicated and emotionally intelligent women to play their part in society.


So are we ready to retire at 60 or 65, and what is there in life after a career?

For women with children, there is often anticipation at the prospect of caring for and sharing in the delights of their grandchildren, or spending time planning their retirement with their partner. For single women, however, the situation can look very different, particularly if they do not have strong social and/or sporting links.

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Given that we live in a world of constant change, as one nears the end of their working life there are numerous changes that have become well entrenched. Firstly, there can be that sense of being overrun by young bright up-and-coming ‘kids’, who, with the world at their feet, are oblivious to the fact that mature workers have much to contribute. Brought up with technology in their hands, these kids may well be more adept in some areas, but they also lack the life experience that you have in spades! Unfortunately, they don’t know what they don’t know! Organisations are also changing, and for some people, the roles they once performed meticulously have now been discarded, leaving you to question what all of your hard work was for!

This highlights the importance of our sense of purpose – a fundamental element in everyone’s being. This is sometimes referred to as our ‘Why?’ and is the driving force behind why we do what we do, who we are, and what we stand for. We all need a sense of purpose to keep us motivated and to drive our self esteem. Without it, we lose our sense of self worth, and find it hard to see a reason for anything and everything. Worse still, without purpose, we are in danger of spiralling in a negative trajectory, which can lead to depressive symptoms, a loss of confidence, and the will to enjoy this new phase of life.

In essence, we all need to feel ‘useful’ in some way, whether we are socialising and contributing to stimulating conversations, helping out friends or family, or contributing through the workforce. We are social beings and social contact is essential.


Physical changes

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Whether we are ready to leave the workforce, are forced out of it, or are forced to work for longer than planned, at the 60+ stage of life, people often experience physical changes. The painful impacts of degenerative conditions such as arthritis is common, making life that much more difficult. As limbs and organs fail to function as they used to, the onset of advancing age speaks loud and clear – and we do not like it! Women have the added complication of menopause and all that accompanies it, including hot flushes, irritability, weight gain and poor sleep, and as all of these pressures mount, it can be devastating to find that their ‘usual self’ has gone! With all of these major changes – the work situation, our body and moods behaving differently, it seems like the world is against us! This can trigger a grief and loss reaction attributed to the loss of the ‘old self’, which sees one slide down to a place of despair. For single women, this can seem even more difficult if they do not have a supportive partner to reassure them or the distraction of family needs to re-focus their purpose. Hence, single women can find themselves feeling isolated and alone, and women more than men, tend to thrive on human interaction. It is important to understand that dealing with all of these concerns is common, and that this is not something afflicting only you.


How to manage changes

To manage these changes, the first step should be to check it out with your doctor. From here the key is to find a new focus. Sporting or interest groups are a great way of developing new networks, which can be instrumental in assisting individuals find new purpose and fulfillment. These can be varied, including sporting or charity groups, creative arts and U3A. Spending time with like-minded people is a great way to re-connect with your community, and connecting with your community gives a sense of belonging which fosters contribution, and highlights a new purpose. This is a step that should ideally be taken before leaving the workforce to ensure a smooth transition from working life to the retired lifestyle.

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Whilst accepting the ageing process is part of the cycle of life, understanding how you are thinking about the situation is pivotal to how you are feeling. Having ‘normalised’ your feelings in comparison with others at a similar life stage, it is important to examine your beliefs and expectations, and where appropriate, adjust them. A classic example here is body image: the goal should be to maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle with consideration to you general health and physical capabilities – not to look and feel like you did when you were 35! Once you have this sorted, examine your self-talk, and challenge the negative chatter. Re-frame your thoughts in a positive and realistic manner for your current lifestyle, and learn to develop a positive perspective wherever possible.

Understanding why you feel the way you do, together with the fact that you are not alone in this, is the precursor to managing the psychological impacts of the ageing process. Learning how to adopt positivity and optimism in your thinking can re-direct you through the next stage of a fulfilling life.

Thanks to Merryn Snare, MAPS for this article.