Horne: Aging is a natural transition into uncertainty

So what do we do when life throws us a curve ball and suddenly we are living with too much uncertainty?

I think we all get bogged down with life sometimes.

Too much to do, too many changes happening, too many decisions to make.

My role of working with seniors and their families through transitions that come with aging takes me into people’s homes on a regular basis.

We all like to stay in what are the routines and rituals as we move from day to day.

They may not always be full of excitement, but the quiet knowingness of what is to come gives us all a sense of security,  like wearing an old, well worn bath robe—we like it, we know it and we don’t want to throw it out.

So what do we do when life throws us a curve ball and suddenly we are living with too much uncertainty?

Our physical reaction is often the first to be noticed. Uncertainty can push us into a fight or flight response.

This is what we describe as a hard-wired response to stress and it can have a dramatic affect on our nervous system.

We then begin to feel the uncertainty emotionally as well. By its very nature, the fight or flight system bypasses our rational mind—where our more well thought out beliefs exist—and moves us into “attack” mode.

This state of alert causes us to perceive almost everything in our world as a possible threat to our survival.

As such, we tend to see everyone and everything as a possible enemy.

Anxiety is precipitated by the fear of the unknown and the body’s primitive reaction to it.

It initiates an automatic response to fear for our safety that increases our blood pressure and pulse, tightens our muscles in response to a perceived threat to our well-being, and fires adrenalin and cortisol through our body like the burning fire of a rocket launch.

If this continues for any length of time, it begins to affect our sleep.

Before we know it, life seems too much to handle and our mind loses its ability to think clearly and take effective action.

As we go through the aging journey, transitions seem to be on a more frequent visitation schedule. The stress of uncertainty can begin to take up permanent residence within us.

But what is it we are really afraid of?

In 2011, the first baby boomers began their foray into the over 65 journey.

It is not often until you are actually experiencing something yourself, you truly begin to know what something feels like.

Surely, as any new parent can attest, we found this out for ourselves.

It was always so much easier to evaluate what other new parents should be doing compared to actually figuring out how to deal with your own baby.

If parenting was about uncertainty and new learning, I believe the third chapter of life takes that up even a higher notch.

The uncertainty that we experience is about our physical and cognitive capacities that require a shift from independence to interdependence in a big way.

Sensing my own response to clients facing the challenging adjustments to changing physical and mental abilities as they enter their later 80s and early 90s, when I stop to be still, I know that I fear what the future will bring for myself.

I am sure that many of us, if we allow ourselves to really embrace our fear recognize how it brings the unknown path of aging into more reality with each passing year.

In the book “Aging Togetherness: Dementia, Friendship and Flourishing” by Susan and John McFadden, the authors confirm that as our brains age, even if they age in the healthiest way possible, cognitive changes will occur, something I encounter   daily in my work.

They also cite that: “At no other time in history have so many people been aging with the keen awareness of the perils of old age, mixed with brash optimism about the promises of medicine and material wealth to eliminate those perils.

“Somewhere along the aging pathway, some people hope to spot a glorious fountain where they might sip the elixir of youth.”

Baby boomers may have their own unique path of facing the adjustments of growing older due to the trajectory of how we have lived our middle years.

One helpful way to achieve a sense of peaceful calm, is to dump your brain.

Put it all down on paper. Just dump out your anxiety. When it’s on paper, you can better decide what’s worth worrying about and what’s not.

Then change your focus. To experience a peaceful, calm state of mind, focus more on feeling, sensing and experiencing, than on your mental chatter or analysis. Instead of figuring out what is wrong with a situation, ask what’s right with it.

Uncertainty always define the future, whether we acknowledge or deny it. But if we simply ask ourselves “What is to be done next?”, then do it and then embrace uncertainty again, it encourages us to live fully and thoughtfully in the present.

If we can do this, it helps us to focus on renewing our important relationships and pondering our values and priorities, rather than imagining a future that we cannot control.