Spiritual Reflections

Emotional Well-Being as We Age

Maintaining our emotional health as we age is not one size fits all. Our emotional needs will vary at different times as we age. Being aware of the complexity of our emotional health and appraising the facets of our life which impact it, are the roadmaps to feeling good and enjoying life.

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. 

Abraham Lincoln

For the past 20 years, Susan Turk Charles, a psychologist from the University of California at Irvine, has been looking with a special interest at the way we handle and experience emotions as we grow older. She and her colleagues have found that, on average, older people have fewer, but more satisfying social contacts; they also report higher emotional well-being.

One of the interesting findings in Charles’ work is that as we age, there is a decline in the overall mass of the brain’s frontal lobe, the part that is responsible for emotion regulation, complex reasoning and speed of processing, but researchers found that older adults often exhibit greater prefrontal cortex activity than younger adults when processing emotion. Older persons also have a positive bias, even without realizing it. Their default mode is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff;” they also are better at picking their battles.

Emotional regulation improves with age. This research provides some understanding of the brain and its impact on our emotional health. This is one aspect of the complexity of our emotional health. Emotional health is multi-faceted and interconnected with all aspects of our life. Emotional health as we age can be more of a challenge due to development of chronic disease, social isolation and loss of family and friends. To improve our emotional health, we have to examine all aspects of our life which impact our emotional health and wellness. 


  1. Maintain and cultivate our social relationships. They are as important as our cholesterol level, but often forgotten. 
  2. Stay socially active and engaged in activities that give us a sense of belonging and purpose. Have a confidant, a relationship which is open and non-judgmental, in which we can share our feelings freely. Volunteer for things we care about. Maintain a sense of humor. Laughter is the best medicine. 
  3. Spend our time wisely with people we enjoy. 

Physical Health 

  1. Maintain our physical health. 
  2. Exercise daily. Ten minutes a day can have a significant impact on maintaining mobility, maintaining weight and lowering blood pressure. 
  3. Stay hungry for opportunities to learn new things. Challenging our brain has a powerful impact on our emotional health. 
  4. Know and understand our limitations. Understanding our limitations allows us to focus on our strengths and helps us reframe our goals/purpose. 
  5. Get enough sleep. At least 6-8 hours a night. Sleep helps us think more clearly, have quicker reflexes and improves our ability to focus. 
  6. Know our numbers. Blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). Increases in any or all of these can worsen or lead to chronic illness. 
  7. 5 for 5 – Aim for a healthy diet of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. 
  8. Recognize and manage our stressors. 

Spiritual Health 

  1. Meditation and prayer. Create a daily routine. 
  2. Think about defining our sense of purpose and meaning which may change as we age. Embrace the opportunity to re-focus and revitalize in a way that is congruent with where we are right now. 
  3. Define what makes us feel harmonious with the world around us. 
  4. Spend time enjoying nature as much as we can, wherever we can. 
  5. Be grateful. 

Understanding and Controlling Emotions 

  1. Recognize, name and feel the emotion. See where we feel the negativity in our body. Breathe and relax the muscles of our neck and shoulders. Breathe again and let go of the negativity. 
  2. Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is the warm embrace that reminds us that we are safe; it is the gentle voice that makes us feel understood. Think of what our own kind voice would say. Then obey it! 
  3. Listen closely. All emotions remind us of our needs, our boundaries, and the values we hold dear. Emotions are also tied to the stories that have grown with us over the years. When these emotions are negative, we need to listen closely, so we know whether a value needs to be upheld or a self-defeating story needs to be dismissed. Do this without self-judgement. 
  4. Be present. Stay in the moment. 
  5. Be open and accept what is going on around us. Appreciate and accept without excess judgment or criticism. Be empathetic. 

Coping with Loss

There are many losses that come with age. The loss of family and friends, loss of independence due to chronic illness, job loss due to retirement, to name a few. Although some losses are more profound, grieving any loss has an impact on emotional health. Acknowledge and validate our loss. The grieving process is different for everyone. There is no “right way to grieve” a loss. Examining the facets of our emotional health can impact our response and ability to cope with grief. 

Remember, anxiety and depression are not a normal part of aging. To maintain our emotional health, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety and to seek help to alleviate symptoms and improve our quality of life. 

Maintaining our emotional health as we age is not one size fits all. Our emotional needs will vary at different times as we age. Being aware of the complexity of our emotional health and appraising the facets of our life which impact it, are the roadmaps to feeling good and enjoying life. 

Resources for Maintaining Emotional Health 

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