Today happens to be my birthday. Now, before you ask, I’m not going to tell you how old I am. Let’s just say that my high school had a smoking section, and I grew up in a world without seat-belt laws or social media. In the midst of all of the pomp and ritual that birthdays are surrounded by, it got me thinking about why some people struggle on the date that marks their latest revolution around the sun. Here are five reasons why you may struggle with the aging process, and what to do about it!
1. You’re not where you want to be in life: Birthdays can be a painful reminder of the dreams that we’ve deferred. Folks who experience unhappiness on their birthdays often lament missed opportunities, and the paths not taken. Perhaps you always wanted to go to college, learn a new language, or make more friends? If your birthday has become an unpleasant reminder of what you’ve yet to accomplish, it’s important to remember that it’s never too late to start. If you think, “well, I’ll be 68 before I get that degree, there’s no point,” remind yourself, you’ll be 68 anyway!
2. You’ve set unrealistic expectations for where you should be in life: This is the flip-side of the above problem. Are you one of those people who has a rigid timeline for your life? Graduate college by 21, married by 25, house by 27, 2.5 kids by 30, set career path by 32? If this sounds like you, you may have unrealistic expectations about how much control you actually have over all of these events. Sure we can study hard, dive into online dating, and concentrate on saving money, but the more you hold fast to a rigid timeline, the more unexpected bumps along the way will impact your happiness and well-being. There’s no perfect timeline for a happy life, and letting go of some of those unrealistic expectations may just help you to enjoy your cake a bit more this year.
3. We live in a society that rewards youth and beauty, and you’ve internalized those messages: Particularly in the age of Instagram-perfect vacations, fitspo, and a consumer culture that is geared more and more towards the younger generations, it’s easy to see why some people have a difficult time celebrating the aging process. Do you find yourself seeking to recapture what you see as your lost youth, instead of celebrating your milestones? Try taking time for gratitude, and taking stock of the things you feel grateful for that are in your life right now!
4. You struggle with fears about your own mortality: For some, birthdays are a persistent reminder of the ephemeral nature of life. For some people, fear of death is so overwhelming, that it can turn into a psychiatric disorder, known as thanatophobia. If your fear of death is keeping you from living your life, an evaluation by a professional with expertise in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may help. However, if your fear of mortality is more subtle, and rears its head around your birthday, learning about the practice of Mindfulness may help you to stay grounded in the present, rather than worrying about the future.
5. You’re lonely: Research shows that after we reach our mid-twenties, we start losing friends. There are many, varied explanations for why this is, and it impacts different people in different ways. Some folks are content with having a few, close friends, while others pine for the days when their birthdays were met by 30 buddies, all ready to close down the bar! If you find the annual festivities, or lack there of, to be a painful reminder of your shrinking social circle, it’s never too late to put yourself out there. Join a club geared towards something you’re interested in, start a book group, hang out a local coffee shop – you may not find immediate, close connections, but if you don’t put yourself out there, there’s a 100% guarantee that you won’t.
I loved my twenties dearly, but you couldn’t pay me enough money to relive them! Your birthday is a time to celebrate how far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown, and all the possibilities presented to you by being here for another year on this earth. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an empty stomach that requires cake!
Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, behavioral parent training, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York, Florida, and internationally. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected] to set up a free consultation. Visit my website for more information.