Toward the end of one of my play productions a few years back, the actresses and I were having one last get together before we said our goodbyes (none of whom were Cameron Diaz, by the way, in case there’s any chance that needs clarifying).
I don’t remember how, but the conversation turned to age.
I want to say we were sharing our numbers, but that might not be true. I just remember us being pretty open about things, with the exception of one of us.
She said she wouldn’t say how old she was because she’s a lot older than she looks. The upshot was, if I knew how old she really was, it would change the way I saw her and, in turn, how I (or other producers I told) might cast her in the future.
A few months later, the subject of age came up again with another actress I know (also not Cameron Diaz). She doesn’t tell people her age for the same reason, and she said I probably shouldn’t either, as it could limit my job prospects, too… Me… A writer… WTF?!
Though I’m not on stage or in front of the camera, what I gathered from our conversation is that the older I am, the more likely I’ll be perceived as someone who doesn’t get what younger audiences want to see and hear.
I’m reminded of that show Younger where a 40-year-old woman pretends to be 26 so she can get a job in publishing. It sounds far-fetched, but after what I just shared with you about aging anxiety among some of the women I know, maybe Younger is closer to reality than not.
So what if you know my age?
When I started writing about women and anxiety, my intention was to be open and honest about my life relative to my own anxiety. Yet, the more I wrote, the more I realized I was avoiding talking about one very anxiety-inducing subject – how old I am (though I implied it here).
This is very unlike me. In person, my age is one of the few things I’m not shy about sharing. But I guess I took that actress’s advice more to heart than I realized and, before I knew it, aging anxiety had set in.
I have found myself worrying that if readers know how old I am, then readers who aren’t (around) my age won’t be as interested in what I have to say. Like it won’t be relevant to their lives.
Meanwhile, I read stuff by women older and younger than me all the time.
I do find, though, that on the subject of aging, I find myself looking for inspiration from women who are my age because it feels like we’re going through it together. I’m not alone in what I’m going through right now, and if they’re aging with grace (and minimizing aging anxiety) then I can, too. Case in point…Cameron Diaz.
The Longevity Book
It’s not an anti-aging book. In fact, if anything, it’s a pro-aging book:
“Societal pressures that encourage women to deny aging or pretend that it’s not happening – as though we should somehow be immune to the passage of time – make it an even more painful challenge…. From what I’ve witnessed among the women in my life, the only way to actually feel younger is to embrace the reality that you are in fact getting older – and deal with it.”1
I like that advice better.
The Longevity Book is a pretty incredible reference on the science of aging and a welcome read for any woman experiencing aging anxiety who wants to feel better about getting older.
It also has some interesting things to say on the subject of anxiety itself.
My gut tells my brain when I’m anxious
Whatever you’re eating or feeling in your gut gets communicated to your brain via a direct line of communication called the vagus nerve. As Cameron explains, that’s how “feelings like fear and anxiety can originate in the gut and travel to the brain.”2
Playing a big role in all of this is your gut’s microbiome, the population of good bacteria that lives in your digestive tract. You know, the kind of bacteria antibiotics kill and you take probiotics to replace.3
“Recent evidence from animal studies has shown that the overall health of the microbiome has an impact on behavior and mood…. The microbiome can even play a role in stress-related diseases of the central nervous system, like depression and anxiety.”4
How do you keep your gut’s microbiome healthy?
Don’t just take probiotics after a round of antibiotics; work probiotic foods into your regular diet – fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, and kefir. And don’t forget your prebiotic foods, which is what all that good bacteria thrives on – asparagus, bananas, oatmeal, and legumes.5
Beyond that, minimize stress.
Stress causes inflammation, and inflammation kills the good bacteria in your gut’s microbiome. What’s worse, it promotes the growth of the bad bacteria instead.6
Because here’s the thing: “As you get older,” writes Cameron, “the health and diversity of your microbiome diminishes.”7
Anxiety is shrinking my brain
“At any age,” writes Cameron, “prolonged stress or anxiety can reduce brain volume.” It bounces back easily when we’re younger. And in middle-age, the brain can still recover. But in our older years, once it’s gone it’s much harder to get back.8
This list helps me – 24 ways to 24/7 anxiety relief. Not that I’m doing all of these things, but what I am doing is helping a lot.
Being social does my body good
In a study cited in The Longevity Book, researchers found that of 6,500 men and women over 52 years old, “people who were socially isolated had an elevated risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, infections, cognitive degeneration, and inflammation, while loneliness was linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and a poor immune response to stress.”9
Loneliness was most common among women.10
I can’t say I ever really feel lonely, but as someone with social anxiety, my inclination is to avoid people at pretty much every turn (as I did here). So I’m further inspired to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s comfortable.
The privilege of time
This is another important takeaway of The Longevity Book – the privilege of time – citing the fact that in 1850, women in the U.S. usually lived to about 40 years old.11
“The fact that we can grow old enough to look old, in droves, is far from a failure. It happens to be the end product of arguably the biggest success story in human history.”12
Aging anxiety, be damned
For the privilege of growing older, I’m going to have to look older. Thankfully, the operative word there is growing.
I turn 44 years old this month.
Telling you that feels like growth to me.
- Diaz, Cameron & Bark, Sandra (2016) The Longevity Book, p. 19, HarperCollins.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 171.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 163.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 171.
- Diaz & Bark, pp. 169-170.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 169.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 167.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 192.
- Diaz & Bark, pp. 2oo, 202.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 202.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 22.
- Diaz & Bark, p. 24.