Embracing the Power of Fear
Let’s not be so hard on fear. It isn’t as evil as you might think. While most of us view it as an emotionally draining experience to be avoided at all costs, fear can, in fact, turn our lives around by forcing us to confront ourselves and make changes for the better.
I came to this realization a few years ago, shortly after turning 50, when fear almost paralyzed me. I knew that I hadn’t been doing all the right things for myself. I was always too busy working and taking care of others. I hadn’t been exercising, and the post-menopausal pounds were starting to pile on. The realization that it might be too late was starting to worm its way into my brain. All I could do was beat myself up for not having done this or that to get myself as healthy and fit as possible before I hit 50. And now that I was there, I believed I was doomed.
I found myself asking the “What if?” questions: What if I have a heart attack? What if I get Alzheimer’s? What if I get cancer? Do I already have cancer and don’t know it? I looked around and saw that people my age were having strokes, struggling with depression, gaining weight, developing diabetes. Sure, younger people also have some of these health concerns, but they seems all too common after we turn 50.
Baby boomers, especially those over 60, are already responsible for rapidly rising medical costs, and many of their illnesses are due to obesity, poor nutrition and lack of exercise. In fact, obesity is the fastest growing health issue in the U.S. I was sure I would end up adding to these statistics.
Obesity can contribute to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. Developing any of these illnesses can have debilitating results, including loss of employment, inability to cover medical costs and care, and disability. Savings can be wiped out, causing tremendous financial hardships — at a time when unemployment is at an all time high. Many Americans also are living without health insurance, a huge financial risk in and of itself. Jane Bryant Quinn, one of America’s foremost financial experts, told me that lack of health insurance is the leading financial risk for any American, but this is especially true of boomers.
Admittedly, getting older isn’t always easy. All kinds of changes — wanted and unwanted — go hand-in-hand with aging, which can often be so scary it stops us in our tracks, keeping us from moving forward.
But then I did some hardcore soul- searching, and realized there is another side of fear, one that could propel me to take action, to help me change my life. I spent some time digging deep within myself to get to the very core of my fear, and only then did I understand what was truly behind my angst:
I was terrified of becoming ill, disabled, dependent, and financially broke as I got older because of things I was — or wasn’t — doing now.
Seeing that drastic action was required, I began to seek the best information from leading experts on nutrition, fitness, health, and financial planning. I wanted to feel good and look good so that I could see that person in the mirror with a renewed sense of pride and confidence. I would turn my fear into action and do everything possible to age with confidence.
I started going for slow runs, with breaks for walking, every day and learned how to do push-ups and other exercises to prevent osteoporosis. I went for annual health checks. I changed the way I ate and dropped my bad habits. Where I had once spent my time dieting instead of eating, I began to pay attention to what I ate and to eat something healthy and small every couple of hours. I even accepted the fact that my hair, which I had spent decades straightening, was naturally wavy and looked its best that way. And I didn’t just lose the 15 pounds I had gained — I dropped an entire pant size.
Instead of giving up and giving in, I took responsibility for my own health, which was the best way I could think of to make fear work for me. I pulled myself out from under the proverbial blanket—where I had planned to stay for the long haul, believing, at first, that this is what aging was all about.
Now I know better.
Armed with this new knowledge, I’ve come up with my own personal mantra, which I’d like to share with you:
Don’t fight your age. Embrace it, whatever it is. Let go of your younger self and embrace and love your aging self. Treat yourself with kindness, respect, and take care of you — body, mind, and soul — as you would your children, family, and friends. This is your time. Yours.