FOF: What kind of people most profit from meeting with you?
DH: I work with individuals who are in any kind of transition, which can make people feel stuck and anxious. You may be retiring or changing jobs, or downsizing your home. Your kids may be moving out of the house. Your parents may be sick, or you’ve gotten sick or developed a physical limitation. Good things also can make you anxious, such as becoming a grandparent, just as having a baby may have made you anxious when you were younger.
I try to let people see that everything is an opportunity, rather than a challenge. Control is a big deal in our lives, and people fear loss of control when they don’t know what’s going to happen. I show them how they can be in control of something, of a move, for example, or of helping with a new grandchild. I help them to reframe their lives and show them the positive side. I strive to help them see what they have to look forward to and to be emotionally proactive, rather than anxious, about their new situations.
FOF: Please give us an example of someone who changed her attitudes when she was anxious and “stuck.”
DH: My mother-in-law, Edith, was 86 and was alone in her own home. She and her husband rarely traveled outside their neighborhood near the end of his life, and she didn’t drive, so she had nothing to do and nowhere to go after he died. We invited her to move in with us, and she started to see the opportunities she had. Now she walks two miles a day, even carrying weights. She plays mah Jongg, and is an active member in the religious community. She went to Alaska, at 89, with her new best friend. She recognized that she needed to reframe and get confidence. And she couldn’t have done a better job of taking advantage of the opportunity a new community offered her.
FOF: What do you say to someone about to retire who spent his or her life wrapped up in a job?
DH: A man in his 70s wanted to do more things outside of work, but he was concerned that once he left his job he’d no longer have an ‘identity’ and feel productive. Often, your business card becomes your identity card. You accomplished a great deal in your life, and now you’re retiring. Will you be nothing now? Will you be just a golfer, or a babysitter for the grandkids?’ A lot of people don’t realize they still can make a difference, and leave a mark on the world, that they have opportunities and choices as they age.
You can mentor, volunteer, and be philanthropic in the transition stages of your life. Feeling productive will make you feel better about yourself. You don’t have to have money to mentor or volunteer. Mentoring provides life-changing benefits and volunteering gives meaning to our lives.
FOF: Why do some people have a harder time coping with aging than others?
DH: If you haven’t developed good coping mechanisms for your anxiety during your life, it’s going to make it harder to deal with these issues as you get older. If you can roll with change pretty well, you’ll have an easier time. Some people believe change only means bad things and that translates to great anxiety. Anxiety can be good in small doses. It’s no good when you have too much.