Last year I celebrated my 30th birthday in lockdown. Just myself, my partner and my dog. Unlike my last milestone birthday almost a decade earlier, my 30th was understated — and I really loved it.
The disparity between the two had me thinking about the considerable shifts we experience between milestone years, decades or even over a lifetime. As humans our needs change. Our priorities are reconfigured. Our knowledge expands. Our self-identity becomes clearer. Our understanding of mental and physical wellness evolves.
We experience beautiful, remarkable shifts at every life stage, and yet most of us insist on living with auto-pilot on. As Socrates stated "the unexamined life is not worth living”, and as such it’s important to reflect upon our existence and life stages regularly. Otherwise we will wake up some decades on, realising life and it’s innumerable opportunities have passed us by.
The process of self-inquiry must examine where we are today. Who do we most care for? Am I consciously living my best life? Am I embracing the unique opportunities that come with this stage of life? Am I stagnant or am I evolving?
Now before you think you’re too old or too busy for reflection and mindfulness, it is cognitive and physical activity in the present that determines our wellness in the future.
In fact, according to neuroscientist Dr Michael Merzenich, “your brain — every brain is ‘plastic’. From the day we’re born to the day we die, it continuously revises and remodels, improving or slowly declining, as a function of how we use it”.
It serves us well to stay curious. To learn with fervour. To continue creating. To explore our passions.
And so, this article explores the theme of wellness at every age. We hope that it serves as a reminder of the many opportunities for self-care, self-inquiry, learning and life experience along the way.
This period of life is punctuated by narratives of growth, body image, independence, socialising, technology, and new pressures.
Now more than ever teenagers are plugged in to technology, often to the detriment of their mental and physical health. According to a study by The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne in 2017, almost half of all teenagers reportedly spend 6 hours or more using screen-based devices on a typical weekend day.
Creating healthy boundaries with technology is important to forge lifelong habits. Youth is so fleeting, so it’s important to make time for socialising with friends away from the screen. This thorough article on Women’s Wellness Collective (WWC) writes, “Socializing and connecting with friends while engaging in real life activities deeply nourishes the body and mind, as does spending long spans of time in nature. Camping and hiking are especially beneficial for teens.”
Learning mindfulness and breathing techniques is also essential for wellness at this stage of life given the pique in social and academic-related anxiety and pressures. There’s plenty of apps like Headspace which can be used for beginners. Otherwise, if you are trying to avoid devices, plenty of yoga studios and organisations offer classes specifically for children or teenagers.
Journaling is another way to reflect upon and process the whirlwind of events, obligations and emotions at this stage of life. We talk more about reflection and journaling in the context of lifelong learning here.
Exploration is also a major theme at this stage of life. Unfortunately as we enter adulthood many of us feel the need to quell our creativity and conform to societal norms. For teens, this is a unique time for self-exploration, developing one's identity and creative expression.
For many, our twenties is a time of transformation and ambition. Whether we are working or undertaking further studies, this life stage is according to WWC, “characterized by increased ambition, education, and competitiveness. Overworking, inflammation, and having a strong will can often accompany these areas of focus.”
As such, it is important to double-down on the mindfulness efforts undertaken during our teenage years to cultivate a sense of balance and calm to counteract the busyness of our professional, academic and personal lives.
Immense transformation is commonplace in one’s 20s, and often this can lead to a sense of pressure as we forge our paths, make large life decisions and mature into our adult selves. One extremely helpful tool to gain clarity at this life stage is a visualisation. Creating a vision board helps us to articulate our goals and aspirations through the collation of imagery, words and artifacts. Regular viewing of a vision board allows our conscious and subconscious mind to respond to the visual stimulation - eliciting an emotional response and igniting our motivation to work towards the goals at hand. Discover how to make a vision board here.
Our twenties are an opportune time for risk taking before we settle into the rhythm and commitment of adult life (ie. children, mortgages, full time employment). Take that job opportunity overseas. Meet people who are like minded (or different) and inspiring. Discover new things about yourself. It is truly an incredible stage of life for adventure, exploration and growth. Just don’t forget to reflect and take stock along the way.
This stage of life is underscored by physiological changes as the body naturally begins to slow. Some may experience the expansion of families, and others may feel vulnerabilities and societal pressures if they struggle to conceive or choose not to have children. No matter the path you take, a support network can be immensely helpful during these years.
In these decades of life we experience both a liberating carelessness (whereby we no longer stress the small things that we agonised over in our teens and twenties) and a newfound sense of carefulness (as we tend to children, aging family members and develop heightened empathy and awareness for the world around us).
Debunking the silicon-valley myth, during this period we may find greater satisfaction and success in our professional lives as data suggests the average age of a successful start-up tech founder is 45 years old and a 40-year-old entrepreneur is twice as likely to find success as their mid-20s counterpart due to experience.
As journalist and author Rich Karlgaard writes, “late bloomers are those who find their supreme destiny on their own schedule, in their own way.”
With this in mind it’s important to make time for lifelong learning and the earnest pursuit of our personal and professional passions despite the increased responsibilities borne by many during this time.
Your 50s and 60s are a lifestage defined by freedom, confidence and happiness as some of us begin to shed the responsibilities of work or transition into ‘empty nesters’.
Dr Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, writes “as you get older, you know that bad times are going to pass. You also know that good times will pass, which makes those good times even more precious. There's an emotional savoring that comes with age.”
And so with a greater surplus of time, this stage of life allows for unhindered exploration of creative pursuits and passions. Most of us will continue to have healthy brain function during this stage of life meaning our creative output remains unaffected by age.
Author Mark Walton states in the Washington Post “what’s really interesting from the neuroscience point of view is that we are hard-wired for creativity for as long as we stay at it, as long as nothing bad happens to our brain”.
What is important to preserve creativity is that we continue to use our brain, diversify our interests and show a willingness to try new things. Returning to Dr Laura Carstensen’s point, now is a time for savouring. Slow down and practice gratitude with each of your pursuits.
As we move into our later years of life there is no reason that our lifelong learning, creative yield or curiosity should diminish. Infact, with the perspective from an examined life of reflection and experience we are able to ideate, produce and master to greater depths than at any other stage of life.
To quote author Rich Karlgaard again, “everything we know about the human brain and aging tells us that we have a remarkable capacity to stay creative and innovative deep into our lives.”
In addition to staying both mentally and physically active during our 70s and beyond, it’s important to remain social and engaged with friends and family for our mental and physical wellness.
According to studies shared in The Atlantic, in 2011 the 74+ demographic was the fastest growing demographic among social networks. The article continues, “as adults move into older age, the spatial and social barriers they encounter start taking their toll. Isolation, loneliness, and depression are commonly experienced as family and friends move away and are less accessible, and as individual mobility and independence start to decline.”
In the years since this publication the issues with social media have become more widely understood. As it is important for us all (especially those of us at this stage of life) to maintain human connection, there are alternatives to social media like myhaventime which provide a calm, secure and safe alternative for communication and collaboration. With the advent of COVID-19 there are also brilliant initiatives like The Letterbox Project which foster this important sense of connection in times of physical distance.
No matter your stage of life we hope this has served as a reminder of the unique opportunities we are presented at each age, as well as a few ways to cultivate wellness during these periods. As humans we have a magical ability to experience, learn and create throughout the entire duration of our lives provided we stay curious, passionate and committed to lifelong learning.
It is with time and experience that we expand our awareness and grow emotionally. More so than in youth, with age we become ever more empowered to surround ourselves with those we care for, live our best lives and embrace the incredible opportunities that are presented to us. It is those of us who discover this early that will live the fullest, most enriched lives.
Don’t let life pass you by.
Learn to live consciously and embrace all that life has to offer — at every age.