So much of who we are and how we show up in this world is wrapped up in our purpose. Think about the last time you had a conversation with a stranger. It’s more likely than not one of the first questions asked was, “Well, what do you do?” Why do you think that is?
It’s a question that’s always been part of our lives in one way or another. As children, we were constantly asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. Then, as adults, our careers somehow became our placeholders. Our markers, that signaled to those around us who we were, and what roles we played in this world. It’s one of the reasons we often see a decline in the mental health of older adults when they enter retirement.
Think about it. We spend so much of our lives wrapping our entire beings around one aspect of who we are, and then we lose that anchor. We’re then told that those are our golden years, and will be the best times of our lives. But what if they aren’t? At least one in four older adults experience mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression. The number of seniors with depression is expected to double by 2030. While there’s a plethora of factors that can contribute to mental health disorders at a personal level, there are specific societal factors that can help reduce the number of older adults who are struggling with their mental health. One way is active aging.
According to the International Council of Active Aging, active aging encourages all adults, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or health to fully engage in life within all seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, intellectual, cognitive, physical, professional/vocational, social and spiritual. This includes everything from healthy eating and exercise, to community involvement and maintaining a sense of identity and belonging.
It’s important for us to see ourselves as the multifaceted beings that we are. There’s more to you than what you do at work, or even the role you play for your partner or children. Take the time to get to know yourself. What are your hobbies? Who are you around when you feel the most connected? What did you love to do as a child, and are you making time for it now? When making your list, remember to include the seven dimensions of wellness – your body and mind will thank you for it.
The pandemic provided an opportunity to see what happens when one of the seven dimensions of wellness is ignored – many of us lost touch with the people we thought we were. Removed from our social lives, offices and external markers, we were forced to sit and contemplate whether we were truly happy with our lives, and whether we belonged in the places and spaces we clung to. While we still do not fully understand the mental health effects the pandemic had on us as a society, we do know that when we neglect one of the seven dimensions of wellness, we create an imbalance that can eventually lead into mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety.
Wondering how you can incorporate active aging into your lifestyle? The simplest way is to “bundle” dimensions of wellness. Start a walking group with friends or schedule a weekly yoga class and brunch date. Active aging starts now, because you are currently living in the body and mind that will be your home once you reach your older years. Invest in getting to know yourself. Take the cooking class, go on the road trip, sign up for the guitar lessons you always talked yourself out of and give yourself permission to truly live – your future self is counting on you.