Successful Aging: How to deal with anxiety about fires, pandemic, earthquakes and civil unrest


I am in my mid-70s and have lived through a lot in my lifetime. I have never been so affected by change as now. I am afraid of getting the virus, fires, civil unrest, and even another earthquake. I live alone and am very cautious in venturing out. How can I get a handle on this? By nature, I am not an anxious person, but I am now. E.R.


Dear E.R.


It is understandable to feel anxious as we live through the most dramatic changes to our lives affecting how we live, work, learn, worship and even stay fit. According to The Elders Action Network, a movement of elders to address the social and environmental crises of our time, we are living in a period of radical uncertainty.  


HelpGuide, an online source that provides evidence-based mental-health education, offers a few suggestions that might help. 


Take action over what you can control: We cannot control the virus, the economy or the openings of businesses or schools. So, what can we control? If worried about the virus, we can wear a mask, wash our hands, avoid crowds and follow the CDC recommendations. If we are worried about our job, we can control the amount of energy devoted to searching online for work or networking with contacts. Such actions move us from “effective worrying to active problem-solving,” according to HelpGuide. 


Learn to accept uncertainty: Uncertainty is part of our daily lives. When we cross the street, drive the freeway and eat take-out food we trust that traffic will stop, we won’t have an accident and the food is safe to eat. There is a small chance of something bad happening as a result of these activities, so we accept the risks. Identifying triggers that make us anxious can be helpful such as social media which often focuses on worst-case scenarios. If that’s a trigger, consider limiting exposure.


Focus on the present: Instead of worrying about the future, focus on today. By doing so you can interrupt negative thoughts that will move your thinking to the present. Mindfulness is a practice that can help achieve a present focus, ease stress and boost your mood. 


Manage stress and anxiety: Physical exercise is a natural remedy. It is difficult to worry while walking, dancing, running or doing squats. Relaxation techniques also help such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises. Add to that adequate sleep and a healthy diet which can help maintain energy and prevent mood swings.  

Lynne Iser, a contributor to the Elder Action Network writes about three narratives we tell ourselves: The first is everything will be OK; the second is we are doomed; the third is we can create a more thriving and just world. She indicates that all three are happening at the same time and suggests it is up to us where we choose to place our hearts, resources and how we will live our lives.  


With these narratives, she offers the Gifts of Uncertainty by identifying the freedoms we enjoy. For example, we are free to experience the immediacy and truth of the present moment rather than our fears or hopes; to recognize our relationships and understand we all are connected and to know what we do affects others. Isler calls for us to act with intention, love, wisdom and courage and to hold on to our vision of a more beautiful world.


These words are important during a time of radical uncertainty. Yet this also is a time to acknowledge that adopting such freedoms may be easier for some and not for others. Those who have experienced the death of a loved one, their own illness, losing a job, not having enough food to eat, (euphemistically called food scarcity), feeling isolated and not being able to meet mortgage or rent payments may have a more difficult time compared to those who are healthy and financially secure.  


Here are some additional freedoms. We have the freedom to experience compassion, to care for one another and to reach out and stay connected. Let’s not forget about attitude. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”


Hopefully, a positive one will help us achieve a more thriving and just world. 


E.R., thank you for your important question and your candor. Hope these tips help.

Stay safe and well, and be kind to yourself and others. 


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity  

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