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Aging Gratefully

Aging Gratefully

Aging Gratefully: Nourishing the Fountain of You{th}

by Heather Tydings for Sass Magazine Summer 2022 Issue

“Aging is no accident. It is necessary to the human condition, intended by the soul. We become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years; the older we become, the more our true natures emerge. Thus the final years have a very important purpose: the fulfillment and confirmation of one’s character.” ~ James Hillman

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was just turning 47. Now, I’m marching into my 50th year of life and I see changes. Was it the mask? The weight of stress during the pandemic? The deeply felt vicarious grief of a nation that lost a million people and a planet that grieved over 6 million? The harsh political climate? Teaching my fledgling teen at home while working as a psychotherapist for other “covid confused” teens. Or did the regular rituals of life, the ones that mark endings and beginnings and the entry in and out of seasons, get so hijacked that aging went unnoticed? Where was I as the lines formed on my face and heaviness descended on my heart?

I have sat with many gorgeous humans in the last few years asking the same questions. Though the natural changes that come with aging aren’t new; they just seem a bit….accelerated.


The Psychology/Stages of Aging:

Most are aware of the child psychoanalyst, Erik Erickson  Erikson posited that personality develops over eight sequential psychosocial crises and each stage fosters change that lays the groundwork for the next phase of development. 

If we focus on the adult stages of his theory, the first one is Intimacy versus Isolation which spans from 19-40 years old. In this stage, you are leaving your family of origin and forming intimate bonds with others.

Middle adulthood, ages 40-65, encompasses Generativity or Stagnation (or Self Absorption). This is a stage where you want to pass on your experiences and wisdom to others in some fashion. Essentially, it’s a time we care for others. If we lack in caring, we tend to feel isolated from society and loved ones. Restlessness and decreased life satisfaction can set in. 

The final period, Integrity versus Despair occurs in late adulthood (around age 65 per Erickson), and continues until you leave this verdant earth. These later years offer time for reflection and time to assess how contented or fulfilled we are. During this time, we contemplate questions –– do I swell with pride at what I’ve produced in my time here? Do I feel satisfied with what I’ve offered to others? 

Much of this unfolds organically in the passing of time YET many of the natural ways we move through and/or resolve these stages were truncated over the last few years. 

How do we get back to OR start feeling vital, spirited, and wholly alive while flowing through the natural changes in our bodies and spirits? How do we truly embrace each time period and course correct if needed? 

Essentials to Aging Gratefully; how to move through the stages of development with panache, vibrancy and intention.

Attracting and Becoming Life Giving People: The first phase of adulthood is all about capital L O V E. Ideally, we spend time building a solid network of people and community around us. I often see clients in this stage of life who are becoming aware of the barriers that block their ability to create strong, meaningful relationships. Through wiser eyes, they start to see how a difficult childhood or past trauma affected them. In this stage of life, one of our main goals is to truly connect to Life Giving Others. It’s also a time to hone our skills at becoming a Reciprocal Life Giver. Doing our own personal work can be difficult but it sets a firm foundation for how we connect and relate to others throughout our lifetime. Bonding to others and healing past hurts lessens the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease (a literal dis-ease in the heart area), depression/low mood, addiction, and suicide. Learning to be vulnerable, intimate/open and to invite play and pleasure into our lives lends itself to higher life satisfaction and can take you to many delightful places.

Finding Meaning: the basic question in the second period of adulthood is “how do I contribute to this world?” Contribution can have a million faces. It may not have anything to do with what you do for work, but it does involve participating in the world. Whether raising healthy baby humans or creating a safe place for wounded parakeets, people who intentionally spend time generating goodness typically make inspired, healthier choices leading to greater longevity and a sense of wholeness.

Calm Management: many people are weary of hearing the words stress management. We know yoga and meditation are beneficial, but many don’t feel adept or motivated to start. Thus, I coined Calm Management. When we start developing a regular routine of serenity — engaging in something that creates internal stillness — we can hear or have a felt sense of what is tying us down. Moving through the earth peacefully assists with aging as it reduces blood pressure, stimulates healthy digestion, and protects against heart conditions and cognitive decline. Find time to tap into your quiet space through breathwork, thought work, journaling, or reading high vibe material to start your day feeling inspired and rooted. 

Sleep like a Teen: this is a crucial step in feeling energized and youthful. Our liver is the nighttime janitor and cannot do its job when overtaxed. The liver and brain need deep slumber to detox toxins, clear out amyloid plaques and balance our hormones. Keep a routine sleep schedule. Step away from the screen at least an hour before bed. Reduce or give up alcohol. Ideally, we need 20-25% of our sleep in REM and 13-23% of deep sleep to feel balanced and alive. There are many supplements to help release your day: valerian root, magnesium glycinate, calm magnesium powder, california poppy tinctures, gaba, Inositol Vitamin B powder. Do some research, talk to your PCP or an integrative or functional medicine doctor for more in depth information. 

Movement: we were born to move. It’s inevitable AND natural that our bodies will change. Instead of spending a second of our precious life bemoaning it, we can inch toward acceptance. One free and easy way to feel in control is to MOVE. Why? Regular exercise increases our feel-good chemicals and can be neuroprotective, keeping us physically sturdy and mentally sharp. We need to sweat and engage in weight bearing exercises regularly to care for our tissues and organs. Try new or novel exercises to transform your self-image and to see what your sweet soul can do. 

Glow Up While You Grow Up: there are many ways to get the outer shell of our beings to shine. The anti-aging movement is a booming billion dollar business. It boldly targets dissatisfied women and often sends the message that aging is negative, something to hide. That is an old, outdated paradigm. We should both care for our vessel in a way that feels delicious to US (not “them”) and kick the notion that a woman is only valuable when beautiful, thin, and pleasant. 

Whether you’re a woman who has regularly scheduled medi-spa appointments or only interested in using all natural ways to treat the skin you’re in, we do know that internal nourishment creates outer luster. A disharmonious diet can wreak havoc on our bodies and spirits. We need whole foods, good fats, probiotics for healthy gut bugs, and omega fats from clean sources.

There are also aging hacks. Collagen is readily available to aid our skin glow and help with joint inflammation. Some physicians tout that seed cycling reduces PMS symptoms and eases the entry into menopause. There is compelling research that promotes balanced gut flora for mental wellness as well as supplementation with nootropics for their ability to clear away amyloid brain plaques. These are worthy of exploring under the care of a credentialed and trained professional. 

In full disclosure, there are times when I look into my mirror and have thoughts that are grossly lacking in Self Love. And, there are more occasions than I’d like to admit, that despite living a holistic lifestyle and taking neuroprotective supplements, I cannot recall the name of a well-known actor I once crushed on. Most days though, I refuse to permit societal expectations and social conditioning to put “baby in a corner.” 

Anne Lamott puts it perfectly: “What if you wake up one day and you’re 65, or 75 and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were so strung out on perfectionism and people pleasing that you forgot to have a big, juicy, creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid. It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” ~Anne Lamott


I have tucked her words deep into my heart to remind myself that we are actually here to FEEL GOOD, content, alive, and juicy. 


Published in Sass Magazine Summer 2022 issue.