How would you rate your emotional health?
You’re not alone if you feel discouraged about the state of your emotional health. After years of dealing with negative emotions, my clients often wonder:
Am I just stuck with who I am?
Am I too old to change?
You might think that older adults are more likely to have these thoughts. Yet, people as young as 25 have sat in my office and declared, “I’ve been like this my whole life. It’s hopeless. I know I’ll never change.”
When is the cut-off point for improving your emotional health?
When should you concede defeat and accept that your chance for happiness has come and gone?
When do you lose the ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma and stress?
Thankfully, the answer to all three questions is: never!
You’re never too old to improve your emotional health. And no matter how challenging your life has been, you have the power to boost your mood and get more enjoyment out of life.
You’re never too old to change
If I were to give out an emotional health award, this month’s winner would be Janet’s 80-year-old mother.
Janet, one of my clients, was very concerned about her mother, who suffered from diabetes and never stuck to her diet. Since Janet had found my Mood Switch Method extremely helpful in changing her own negative thoughts, I suggested she teach the technique to her mother. Initially, she dismissed my suggestion, convinced that her mother was both unable and unwilling to change old habits.
A few weeks later though, she returned to tell me that her mother finally admitted she needed help to stop eating sweets. Janet took advantage of the opening and applied the Mood Switch Method. She knew that this wasn’t a matter of willpower. Her mother needed to change her emotional outlook in order to gain the confidence to change this damaging habit.
Together, they worked on identifying her mother’s automatic, negative thoughts about eating sweets.
Here are a few of the thoughts her mother uncovered:
- It won’t matter if I eat some sweets.
- I’ll just have one.
- I’m too old to change.
Janet then gently pointed out the “Thought Traps” (biased thinking patterns) in her mother’s thinking. Her mother quickly caught on to the fact that she was passing judgment (“elderly people can’t change”) and engaging in black and white thinking (“it won’t matter at all if I eat some sweets”).
Then, they came up with these positive, helpful responses to counteract her mother’s negative thoughts:
- Of course it matters whether I eat sweets. I want to be able to take care of myself for as long as I can. I don’t want to spend all my time in the doctor’s office. I don’t want to be a burden to my family.
- If I want to control my diabetes, I have to be realistic. It’s too hard to stop at one. I don’t like to feel guilty, so it’s better not to get started.
- Janet will help me change. I’ve learned to do lots of new things in the past few years, so I’m not too old to change.
Janet’s mother read over these statements whenever she felt tempted to eat sweets, and began to do a much better job of sticking to her diet. Both she and Janet were extremely proud that she was taking better care of her health.
So, if you ever think you’re too old to improve your emotional health, consider this: Some of my oldest clients are the most serious about making progress. They keep folders of my handouts, take notes, do all of their homework, and come to sessions ready to work.
There’s no age limit on living a happier, healthier life. Your best years are waiting for you.
If you know someone who’s made positive changes later in life, please share their story!