Recently over dinner, a friend I've known for 15 years told me that I am "aging well." I was both flattered and intrigued by the compliment. Of course I quickly realized this didn't mean I wasn't aging at all, but that there was something about the way that I was aging that stood out to him.
I thought about the comment over the next few days and considered what "aging well" meant to me. As I slide into my 40s, aging well isn't just about counting the lines on my face, it's about feeling good in my own skin. Aging well is about taking care of my body so that I can enjoy the next 40 or so years of my life with energy, low stress, vitality, limber joints, strong muscles and organs that do their job and don't get sick.
But aging well is also about taking care of my spirit — nourishing my emotional body as much my physical body — with thoughts, experiences, people and activities that bring me joy, and avoiding those that don't.
My perspective on aging has changed in the past few years. I actually feel grateful to be aging, because I feel so much happier with who I am today than I did 10 years ago. By incorporating healthy lifestyle choices like whole foods, daily exercise, enough sleep, plenty of water, chemical-free sunscreen and appropriate supplements — I believe the biggest difference to how I am aging comes from one thing: how I handle stress.
I feel like I'm finally learning how to use my inner guidance system — the intuition and feelings that steer me in the right direction and help me avoid the stressful choices I could be making that would accelerate aging.
Stress can come in many forms — physical, emotional, mental — and not all stress is bad. Eustress ("eu" means well or good in Greek) was a term coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye to describe the kind of stress that activates your body to work towards a tangible goal. Instead of causing your body and mind to shut down or go into fight-or-flight mode, eustress actually motivates you to get what you want!
So as I age, I'm getting better at noticing what triggers my stress response and getting into the habit of mentally reframing the difficult moments into an opportunity to motivate myself to learn and grow in the process.
Here are three steps you can take to reframe stress and use it to your advantage to age well and gracefully:
1. Realize that not all stress is bad.
There is a type of stress that feels more like excitement or anticipation that you can actually thrive on. Eustress can be motivating and helps you reach the goals you care about most. But when the stress scale tips to worry or anxiety, think about your overall health and well-being and ditch it right then and there.
2. Realize that problematic situations can be seen as opportunities for growth.
When faced with a challenging event like a disagreement with a colleague at work, there are always two roads to go down: You can either approach the situation as a problem, or as an opportunity for spiritual growth. This not-so-subtle distinction can mean the difference between distress and eustress — always try to choose the latter.
3. Know your triggers and respond mindfully.
One fast way to turn off the negative stress response is to take a few deep breaths when you feel yourself being triggered. Keep in mind that you have the power to change your perspective on any situation. You can either choose to "fly off the handle," or you can stay calm and collected. Just those few breaths can make all the difference, cueing your brain to shift out of aggression and into a more stable state of mind.
I realize now that there are a million tiny stressors around me all the time, and it's up to me to navigate not only how I react to them, but also how I choose to make them a part of my life (or not). By making how I feel my top priority (rather than what I accomplish, who I impress, what I look like, etc.), I am making conscious choices every day to shift my attention and thoughts to what will bring me joy, gratitude and love.
Beyond gray hair and wrinkles, I think aging is an attitude — and aging well means facing life with a youthful spirit. Each day I strive to find new vitality for life, and new things to be grateful for and excited about. I've noticed that the more I focus on gratitude, the healthier and happier I am.
I'm excited to continue aging well over the next years of my life. More than ever before, I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. I'm not out to impress anyone, to prove myself, or to conquer the world — I feel very much at peace with who I am and where I am in my life. And if that's aging well, I'll take it!