When do you truly start to feel old? The millennials, a term designated for those born in the 1980’s and 1990’s have some answers.
“When I stopped being able to understand a lot of the songs that kids and teenagers listen to,” answered 32-year-old Anahita Shukla, a Sharjah-based school teacher from India. “Ever since TikTok emerged on the scene and began dispensing medical advice,” replied Maryam Youssef, another millennial in her late 30s. “I think it was when I felt tired at 11 pm during a party. And I was a person who could stay up till 5 am,” says 33-year-old Natasha Sinha, a communications professional from Abu Dhabi. She says that she feels even older after having sudden backaches in the morning. “That’s the only time that I feel really old,” she says.
Age means different things to different people, clearly. For many, ageing means dealing with the constant flurry of changes in technology, snazzy new lingos, and slang and evolving popular culture. Was Backstreet Boys the biggest craze 30 years ago? Has it been almost 20 years since the evergreen sitcom Friends finished? That’s when age sinks in. Others look at the physical aspects; they are too exhausted to party after 11 pm and prefer to sleep at a human time. The doctor’s visits are more frequent than they would like. The grey hair, backaches, beginnings of wrinkles, are all signs of growing older.
But is that all?
What’s the age to start feeling old? Is there one?
According to Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research, this is also the year when millennials begin to turn 43, an average age when people stop feeling young. Apparently, as the early 40s, specifically 42 sets in, people start noticing physical signs of ageing.
However, there’s lot more to ageing than just physical signs. There are many factors to take into account. “Mental age is the developmental age that involves key milestones, which the brain overcomes in the course of its maturation. This includes abstract thinking that is not gained till the age of 12,” explains Reem Shaheen, Dubai-based counseling psychologist.
Mental age is the developmental age that involves key milestones, which the brain overcomes in the course of its maturation. This includes abstract thinking that is not gained till the age of 12. Emotional development on the other hand, refers to the maturity that person develops over the course of their life.
“Emotional development on the other hand, refers to the maturity that person develops over the course of life. Unlike developmental age, emotional age is not correlated with chronological age,” she adds. A lot of this emotional maturity depends on the experiences a person is exposed to. However, maturity can be more deeply linked to their emotional intelligence, rather than their age, according to Healthline, a US-based medical website. An adult can have a low sense of maturity, and a much younger person can be wise beyond their years.
Ageing, also largely depends on individual circumstances, explains Tatiana Rowson, wellness expert and lecturer in coaching at Henley Business School, based in the UK. “There is hardly any link between chronological age and psychological age," she says, complementing Shaheen’s point. While we use chronological age as a guide, biological age (our health) and social age (children, career) is more essential in how old we feel. “We don't necessarily feel old because we reached a certain milestone, if we are healthy and productive,” she adds.
Ageing can vary widely
Ageing can be contextual.
"Feeling young is subjective and maybe a different experience for people," explains Tara Wyne, a Dubai-based psychologist.
There is hardly any link between chronological age and psychological age. While we use chronological age as a guide, biological age (our health) and social age (children, career) is more essential in how old we feel.
For instance, 38-year-old Devika Mishra, an Abu Dhabi homemaker can’t relate to the teenagers in her building, or their fashion sense. “I feel so old when I try talking to them. The other day, they brought up the abbreviations of ‘OOTD’ (outfit of the day) and I couldn’t understand what on earth they were talking about. Neither do I get kids today’s obsession with Instagram reels or sharing dance videos on the app all the time.” Mishra is more confused by TikTok. “I still haven’t understood it, even though my friends keep explaining to me.”
She feels times have changed significantly from when she was a child. “I wasn’t allowed a cell phone till my first year of college. Now, I see kids getting phones and laptops at the age of seven, staying glued to them, instead of even playing outside. I’ve now become one of those people who say ‘back in my days…’” The age sinks in even more deeply for Mishra when she hears Gen Z listening to remixes of popular songs rather than ever listening to the original. “The other day, this batch of kids I tutor, were rather shocked when I played the original Bollywood songs from the 1970s and not the remixes. They told me that they had no idea they existed,” she said.
Nevertheless, when she is with her own group of friends or around her parents, she feels young again. “Whenever I am with my parents, I do feel like a child again. But also, I realise that I am young and need to help them around the house. They are older and they need me,” she adds.
Being wiser about your body’s needs…
Sometimes, your body will tell you that you aren’t so young anymore.
On the other hand, Mishra’s sister, Anjuri Mishra realised she had aged, when she couldn’t do the same things in her 30s as she had done in her 20s. It’s the frequent trips to the doctor that brought on the epiphany. “I find it hard to believe that I partied and stayed out late, every weekend. I had no care for my weight or health, and it took a toll on me when I was 35,” says Anjuri. “I used to eat without any qualms, not exercise. The medical problems started mounting. When I started making regular visits to my doctor, because of one complication after another, I realised that I needed to look after myself better. My knees couldn’t handle my weight, and I was huffing and puffing while climbing staircases. I had dark patches under my eyes. I needed to have better sleeping times, a full eight-hour rest. I understood that as I am older now, and I need to be better with taking care of myself. I am trying harder,” she says.
Feeling older after trauma and witnessing death
Negative thoughts, depression, anxiety, can contribute to a person feeling old even in their 20s. “People process traumatic experiences differently,” explains Rowson. “These experiences can impact our mood, motivation, but in certain people it gives them the desire to overcome the adversity and win. Studies with centenarians in Ireland found that positivity leads to healthier and longer lives. Having a negative outlook can impact the overall sense of well-being, health and therefore leads to someone feeling they aged,” she explains.
Wyne complements this point and says, "Trauma takes away our innocence and exposes us to harsh realities. Yet, if we still have the opportunity for some psychological safety or at least a healthy and secure attachment, we can still feel young, despite all that we've gone through."
For instance, the pandemic led to people of all ages feeling more weary and exhausted. Being surrounded by the threat of disease, living in social isolation and loneliness did fuel the ageing process for many. Twenty-seven year old Shaleen Bhatia discovered her first strands of white hair during the second wave of COVID-19 in India. The Dubai-based freelancing writer recalls her experiences. “I had gone to visit them, as my mother was unwell at the time. The COVID-19 cases began rising and suddenly peaked. It was mayhem and then I couldn’t return. Then my father and sister caught COVID-19,” she says. The memories of arranging hospital beds, oxygen cylinders still give her nightmares. “My sister almost died at that time, and I almost thought she would,” explains Bhatia.
Bhatia feels that she has never quite been the same since 2021. “Apart from the several white strands, I am more exhausted than I ever have been sometimes. That exhaustion just hits so suddenly, and I never had that before,” she says.
‘Age is a mindset’
You’re old, when you declare yourself as old, feels 47-year-old Arnab Ghosh.
The marketing professional, who also teaches Okinawan Karate, is deeply impressed and inspired by the people of Okinawa whose long lifespans are said to average around 92 years. Explaining observations from his frequent trips to the islands in Japan, he says, “People there live stress-free, eat a lot of seafood, and are engaged in a lot of physical work. They don't believe in procrastination, and mostly try to do their own work themselves.” He adds that he has seen martial arts demonstrations by people, who are well into their 70s and 80s. They don’t appear affected by their age; they have an impactful presence with their strides and clear voices.
For Ghosh, that’s what being young means. “That is truly staying young: doing one's own thing, living life the way one wants to, and not relying heavily on someone else to get one's own chores done.”
Staying young is doing one's own thing, living life the way one wants to, and not relying heavily on someone else to get one's own chores done. It's not about the number of years or the wrinkles and grey hair.
Ghosh is rather baffled when people in their 40s and 50s call themselves old. “There are octogenarians and septegerians who are doing so much more at their age, and leading by example.” For Ghosh, age is more of a mindset. “It's not about the number of years or the wrinkles and grey hair. We're old when we start declaring ourselves to be so. Till then, we're not young or old. We're just people living the life we want to live, the way we want to live it,” he says.
"It's important that we realise that we don't need to be young, or look young to feel young. A healthy state of mind, heart and soul can deeply influence how young we feel," says Wyne. "We can take deliberate action towards being childlike, playful and lighthearted. We can engineer experiences or be with people who bring this part of us to the surface," she adds.
Lebanase expat Houri Elmayi, a 42-year-old professional, has mixed feelings about turning older. While the mirror often gives her a reality check, she likes to believe that she has retained her childlike personality. “At the age of 42, I sometimes I feel like I am 32.” Yet, what really makes her feel older, is sitting with people in their twenties. “I feel far older when I sit with youngsters who think they have it all figured out. I actually feel happier to be more mature than them,” she admits.