Talk to just about any adult over the age of thirty and you’ll quickly learn that the issue of her aging parents is on her mind.
When it comes to our parents, a vague concern about aging can quickly morph into fear accompanied by various types of anxiety. We start out with a vague worry, concerned that our mother or father is getting older and not able to keep up with their lives the way they are going. Or, our parents are doing so well we fear something tragic will happen, causing debilitation no is prepared to deal with.
Then something really does happen—a fall in the garden, a fender bender on the freeway, or, even something more banal, like the washer your mom had for 25 years broke and adapting to a new one has triggered feelings of overwhelm about other things as well. Now, we think, we have something real to worry about. Soon, our parent recovers but we don’t. What if it happens again, only worse?
This is the tricky part, determining where your concern meets the reality of the situation. Maybe you become mildly obsessive, asking little questions—You promised me you’d throw out the area rug—did you? Did you take your meds? Is it really necessary to drive after dark?
Not that these questions aren’t important or necessary. But what is the intention behind them? Is it to control? To be right? The truth is–as is the case with having kids–we cannot control as much as we would like to believe we can, or should. But there are some things we can do to make it easier for ourselves:
Stay in the moment, in the present time. From personal experience, and from having worked with patients and families, I know that the way that I perpetuate worry is by scaring myself with things that my mind blows up into the worst. When I calm down and stay in the moment, I feel better.
If you revert to worry, try to ground yourself in your body. You may have to continue to do this, over and over again. If you call yourself a worrier, chances are you immediately go to that worry place, kind of like an automatic reaction. Again, I completely understand. Some ways to ground yourself in your body and thus into the present are: taking deep breaths, noticing the way your chest rises and falls. Bring yourself back to this and practice it, though, admittedly, at times it may feel like work.
Take one step at a time. Ask questions, but be aware when your mind wants to veer off and take control, and thereby drag you and your grounded state with it. Unfortunately, the mind thrives on thinking, on worry, on creating problems. Likely, you have found that when a real problem arises, you’ve been able to do all of the above, and walk through the situation and deal appropriately. Remember that, and take it a little at a time.
If you need some extra help, seek the support of a licensed therapist. A good therapist can better help you determine how to implement these strategies, and modify them just for you. Often, just a few visits can be of great support and assistance … to just about anyone.
Tell us: What worries you the most about your aging parents?
Meredith Resnick, LCSW, worked as a clinical social worker in geriatrics, psychiatry and home health/hospice for more than two decades. Her personal essays have appeared in Newsweek, Bride’s, JAMA, The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times and many others. She writes about all things “Sandwich Generation” for Psychology Today–Visit: More Than Caregiving: The Real Truth About Life With Aging Parents. For more, visit: MeredithResnick.com.