Why are we so afraid of growing old?

Noelle Texidor, Opinion Columnist

For most people, the thought of getting older can be daunting. When someone comes up to you and says, “I wish I was young again,” or, “Appreciate being young while you can — it doesn’t last forever,” it often makes us think of all of the negative side effects of aging. For one, our physical body and often our health begin to decline. This fear, known as gerontophobia, encompasses the fear of aging, losing one’s youth and becoming less independent and less able to take care of oneself. Yet we must also learn to come to terms with growing old and find things that we appreciate about ourselves as we continue to age.

There are many things in life that cause this phobia to get worse or to spiral. One of those things is social media. It often reminds people of how rapidly they’re aging, which further increases anxiety around growing old.

According to Jacob Olesen, a writer for FearOf.net, the most common underlying cause for the fear of growing old is anxiety. People with gerontophobia tend to be anxious or high-strung. They often have underlying health issues, which may include hormonal imbalances, adrenal insufficiency, thyroid-related problems, etc. This fear of getting old, as well as the fear of not being able to care for yourself (for instance, falling down and not being able to get up or call for help) can terrify those with the phobia.

Other causes that may lead to gerontophobia are negative messaging about aging in the media, age-based prejudice in the workplace, pressure from the anti-aging beauty industry and personal experiences with older people.

Aside from the causes of gerontophobia, the symptoms that arise mimic that of an anxiety attack or a persistent anxiety disorder. In addition to physical symptoms, there are also particular behavioral patterns that are common among people who have gerontophobia. For instance, people may avoid others or certain activities that may trigger a fear of aging.

Considering that the symptoms of gerontophobia are much like that of an anxiety attack, it’s fair to think that this phobia also affects one’s mental and physical health. Jaime Osnato, a writer for Livestrong.com, stated that “negative perceptions of aging are associated with a greater risk of depression and stress according to the RSPH.”

Osnato explained that studies have shown an adverse view of aging can lead to high levels of body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem in older people, especially females. Lots of people even choose to undergo excessive amounts of cosmetic procedures to “fix” age-related changes in their bodies.

According to Amber Bryce, a writer for Refinery29, the constant pressure to feel as if we’ve achieved everything by a certain age is not helped by the comparative nature of social media. According to the nonprofit organization Flawless, about 60 percent of young adults believe that social media has contributed to them feeling paranoid about aging. Bryce continues on to say that the internet makes everything feel like it’s moving faster, as if we’re never really present in one moment. Bryce says, “As a society, we need to be less derogatory about aging and talk more openly about all aspects of it, including the many, many positives. This is especially necessary given that we’re all living longer than ever.”

While social media may negatively impact the way we view ourselves, further increasing our anxieties about aging, it can still help us look back on our lives and show us how far we’ve come.

While there are certain downfalls to aging and the fear of aging makes the process even harder to take in, people should learn to manage gerontophobia. They must embrace aging as a gift, as it is normal and fully natural. It’s a gift that not everyone will be able to experience in their lifetime. It’s time to reframe aging as a privilege. People need to see the value in their lived experiences. Our lived experiences are assets to all areas of our lives, such as relationships, activities and the workplace.

It’s important to seek professional help for this phobia, as no one should have to face their fear of aging alone. There are many more ways to manage one’s gerontophobia, but mainly focusing on the parts of our lives that bring us joy rather than focusing solely on things that remind us of that fear of growing old can be beneficial. Getting older is inevitable, but with time, we can learn to accept the fact that we’re aging.