Coming to Grips with Unsettling Times as an Older Adult  

By Myra Strassler, LCSW-C  

As an older adult, which I do consider myself, changes in one’s life can be a bit more challenging to accept than when we were younger. Back then, our days seemed more planned to include some combination of family, work, and social occasions. We always had a plan B and chances are, we didn’t have to worry about our health. Our days were not always a breeze and included surprises, but we battled through. If we were lucky, interruptions came in the form of childcare disruptions, car trouble or a sick (but not TOO sick) child or parent. 

At any age, change has always brought with it some uncertainty but for older adults change seems to carry with it a more penetrating sense of anxiety. During these past few months, the pace of change has increased. Just planning to leave the house has become more of an adventure and challenge. But if we look closer, we know that change and the uncertainty that accompanies a new way of doing things, has always been part of an older person’s life.  We all cope with change and uncertainty differently. In a recent New York Times article, “In a Crisis, We Can Learn from Trauma Therapy writer Eva Holland says, “Emotional resilience can be cultivated. But it takes work.”  A garden does not grow itself.  It takes planning and effort. Our emotional responses benefit in the same way.

Resiliency expert Dr. Karen Reivich states that as a first step to responding to adversity in our lives, “assess what you are encountering, step back, and ask the question: What’s something I can I do today, even if it’s a small, that reminds me that I am not helpless?” You have the ability to move forward.  Your second step is to connect to others. The importance of maintaining and establishing social relationships is so you know that even if someone is not physically there, they are available to applaud your efforts and actions to move forward. Remember, your village is family and friends and they are there to support you. When you feel unsettled, and this will happen one time or another, you are not alone. Reach out to your support network. Sometimes even a voice on the telephone or seeing someone via FaceTime or Skype, is enough to allow you to draw from your inner strengths. 

Establish a realistic picture of what you are being called upon to do. Look upon every step or misstep you make to reach a positive outcome as you actively build new skills, like acquiring something concrete or a new physical ability. You may have to find a new way of thinking or make an emotional shift. It’s all part of skill-building. With each step and action, you are building resilience for now and for what you will encounter in the future.    

Myra Strassler, LCSW-C is a Therapist at Jewish Community Services. 

JCS provides individuals and families throughout Central Maryland with a broad array of services and resources for emotional and behavioral health, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, financial stability, and living with disabilities. To learn how JCS can help you live your best life, please visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200. 


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