Age-Related Anxiety, or What Should I Have Done Already?
I understand age-related anxiety. I’m going to turn 25 on the 21st of January. This is, of course, hardly an advanced age but, still, it feels like kind of a landmark birthday. The Internet is littered with lists of things that you should do and places you should travel to by this age, almost as if it is some sort of cut off date for being young and reckless. And I've never, in all honesty, been all that good at being young and reckless. I’m incredibly cautious and am terrified of most things so the thought of dropping everything and going backpacking in some faraway country is beyond my comprehension. This is, of course, difficult, as photographic depictions of youth in the media generally focus on perfectly slim, young things with seemingly limitless bank accounts leaping from waterfalls and laughing in exotic locations (Body-Image Distortion a Growing Problem Among Women and Men). Age-related anxiety is something I'm experiencing.
The Pressures of Time and of Society
I graduated right at the peak of a global recession. I was a humanities graduate who had been cheerfully advised, pre-recession, to study what I loved. Moreover, I was suffering from a depression and anxiety disorder that manifested itself, alarmingly, in my speech and in my actions. I simply wasn’t cut out for the ruthlessness of the job market.
My own early 20s can, therefore, be characterized by paralyzing self doubt, dreary temp jobs and even drearier unpaid internships. Ive battled with depression, crushing debt and endless rejection. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve been too poor to catch the bus and even worse phases where I’ve broken down crying in public with sheer frustration. It’s been pretty difficult, therefore, to “live my best life.”
I’ve always suffered from, perhaps humorously premature, age-related anxiety. The photograph here of me grappling with being seven with a grimace and a drink in hand, in the throes of an apparent existential crisis, perfectly illustrates what was to come.
Age-Related Anxiety Throughout My Lifetime
When I turned 13, I was devastated at the prospect of crossing over into my teenage years and moving away from the romanticised, cosiness of my childhood. Similarly, I found myself sobbing hopelessly the day of my 20th birthday, angry at the Faustian clock that just wouldn’t stop ticking. I felt so frightened of the prospect of going beyond my teenage years and going into the unknown territory of my 20s.
On both these occasions I felt absolutely certain that life would never be quite as good again, that part of me was gone forever. However, my feelings are more complicated when I examine them further. When I turned 13, I felt heavy with the regret that I hadn’t been the ideal child. I hadn’t had any real adventures. There had been sunny days wasted by staying inside drawing quietly when I could have been playing outside with a last burst of unsuppressed liberation before my body became strange and alien. When I turned 20, I felt a genuine pang that I hadn’t been the ideal teenager. I hadn’t taken any risks or done anything even remotely interesting. I had been introverted when I should have been spontaneous and daring.
Now I am 25, I can feel the pain of regret begin to rise, familiar and sickening, in my chest once again. I have to admit to myself that I haven’t been the ideal young adult and this is the regret that surprises me most of all. After all, I always presumed that this would be the period when I would finally excel.
When I was younger, if I had been told to imagine my life as a 25-year-old, my prediction would have been far different from the outcome. Back then, I would have imagined a sitcom sort of lifestyle where I worked in a shiny office and lived in an even shiner apartment. The reality is that I live in a cramped bedroom at my parents house, supporting my part-time writing through low paid, low status work. Acquaintances will often ask if I am engaged yet and I will find myself laughing at the baffling implausibility of me affording a wedding dress when every single pair of my jeans have holes in them. The gap between these two scenarios is startling, but of course it is completely unfair to hold myself up to the naive scrutiny of the teenage me whose entire concept of being a 20-something was modelled upon reruns of Friends.
My anxiety, at this point, is a double-edged sword. I’m anxious that I’ve wasted so much of my life being anxious and this, in turn, makes me anxious that I will one day look back on my youth and feel that it was somehow wasted by being overly anxious. Even writing that sentence, admittedly, makes me feel a little bit anxious. Sometimes I outright beat myself up internally. I hate myself for not picking a more career-focused subject at university. I hate myself for blowing various interviews with nervous stuttering and mind blanks. I hate myself for not taking the chances that now seem plausible with the cruel gift of hindsight. I basically beat myself up for being a human being, with vulnerabilities and messiness and complex issues to work through. I judge myself more harshly than I otherwise would for any of my friends, who for the record, I would never judge against the immature standard of my fantasy sitcom girl.
Overcoming Age-Related Anxiety: The Role of Self Acceptance
I have found that the best first step in overcoming age-related anxiety is self-acceptance and (without sounding too much like your mother) this begins by counting your blessings. I know from experience that this can be difficult as anxiety can blind you from seeing your true blessings. You have to dig deeply and take some time out from your day to think calmly. I am, personally, grateful that despite suffering from mental illness, I am taking steps to tackle this and am no longer ashamed to be open about my struggles. I am grateful that, despite socialising being difficult for me, I have come to terms with that and don’t beat myself up about it as much. I am truly grateful for my partner and for my friends. We may not be backpacking across the tropics like in a travel agency advertisement, but we are truly happy when chatting and laughing together in our local pub.
Another important step is to take the meaning out of arbitrary ages. No, you aren’t “sweetest” when you are 16 (And, indeed, why is this seen to be a good thing?). You don’t actually get the “key of the door” and the magical ability to be grown up, mature and independent at 21. Sometimes it takes a little longer and that is totally okay, or maybe you have had to be self-sufficient for years and that is also absolutely fine. Don’t try and live your life according to the arbitrary and stress-inducing timelines drawn up by others. In all honesty, there isn’t anything more dull, and false, than the person who is completely certain that they have their whole lives sorted at a precociously young age, or, indeed, at any age. It is completely natural and healthy to have areas of your life that you would like to improve upon. This, after all, encourages learning and development. It is absolutely fine, and maybe just a little bit exciting, to consider yourself to be a work in progress.
An Age-Related Anxiety Video
Banim, J. (2016, January 16). Age-Related Anxiety, or What Should I Have Done Already?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/01/age-related-anxiety-or-what-should-i-have-done-already
Author: Julia Banim
I know I've come across this quite late but I just want to say that I haven't come across something that so well sums up the fear, shame and anxiety I've felt around my age and guilt about that anxiety. People close to me are somewhat aware of it but don't realise the extent to which it actually plagues me - they think of it more as I'm scared to get old and sick, rather than my being anxious about turning one year older..
Anyway, just wanted to say thank you for sharing this, it's genuinely helped me.
what age can a person be diagnosed with anxiety
I was first diagnosed at 18, but it can happen at any age. Anxiety doesn't discriminate - it can happen to anyone, of any age, race, socioeconomic status, etc. That's why it's important for all of us to be as accepting as we can.
TJ is right that it can happen to anyone at any age; however, medical and mental health professionals are often reluctant to assign a diagnosis to a younger child, but it can and does happen when having a diagnosis would be helpful to the child. People can experience anxiety from a very young age. It's often noticeable around age 5, but can be earlier. Separation anxiety is experienced by babies who have begun to realize that there is a difference between "parent," "others," and "me." This separation anxiety is a normal part of development and there is concern if a baby does not have separation anxiety. If this anxiety lasts, worsens, and transfers to other situations, then it becomes cause for concern. Basically, people can be diagnosed with anxiety in early childhood or any time through the life span.
When reading your story just now and noticed it was nearly two years ago you wrote this, I’m wondering how you are today, (2 years later), and I’m also glad to see comments here. (So often the old posts go without replies).
Well, I’m 57, and didn’t suffer like you in my early years, BUT it was a prelude to the years to come. Almost crippling anxiety and major depression since 2006, then after a divorce from a covert narcissist nearly 4 years ago, and the diagnosis of C-PTSD during that time, I’m still struggling horribly to pick up my pieces, or rearrange them with new pieces I’m hoping to pick up along the way somewhere. My family and friends basically abandoned me when I needed them most, and with a mother who’s also a controlling woman with narcissistic traits, (93 today), I’m the black sheep, the disappointment, the shame and the embarrassment. How could I do this to HER she always wanted to know? That’s about the same time frame I stopped contact with her, (never once did she ask how I was. NEVER. Yet, I’m sitting here totally alone with only my dog. (Thank GOD for her), because I’ve also pushed the few people away from me who have made attempts to “get this” and me. They never will. I isolate myself and know it. I didn’t used to be this way but suffering from the affects of narcissistic abuse is not the simplest thing. I don’t trust anyone. Including myself.
I wish you all well and as several of us are at all stages of our lives, we still ended up here to support each other and to me that’s priceless.
really all mental disease are very harmful so i made that mental health blog
Now, girls, think of how painful it is to be in your 70s and having this condition as long as you can remember. I get so sad wondering how I'll feel on my deathbed not remembering any really enjoyable experiences from my past. I really hurt thinking about it.
Happy birthday :) My daughter-in-law, age 22, was also feeling a bit like this on her birthday. You aren't alone!
Thank you Kellie! I can completely relate to your daughter in law. When I turned 22 everyone kept saying things like "oh 21 again is it? *wink wink*" and making age related jokes. This really hurt at the time but is laughable in retrospect! Julia x
At least you are recognizing anxiety disorder at an early age. You have time. You really can't look back--I know that is easier said than done. Feeling good and confident are definitely traits in the right direction. Good luck.
I startle very easily and my age is 66. Take Buspar - 30mg AM & PM.
Hi John, thank you for your comment and for the good luck! And you are absolutely right... if only feeling good and staying confident were as easy as being worried all the time how much happier we would all be! Julia x