Age and mental resilience – are they linked?

September 23rd 2022

Does age affect how we behave? Or does how we behave affect our age? That is the question!!


Age is a funny thing, especially when you start to connect age and mental resilience.

Some people avoid stating their age. Children are often proud of their age, even adding in those quarters and halves.  The age being discussed (or avoided) is the physical age.

When it comes to mental health, however, it is a whole new ball game.

I often get asked, “Can you work with someone who is ‘X’ age.”  And my answer is never related to how many years that person has been on this planet.

When we start to look at different measures of age, it becomes easier to start to make links with mental health and especially resilience – of ourselves and others.

1. Physical age

This is the most obvious one – the number of years since we popped out into this world.  And it is the measure society uses to judge whether you are ‘old enough’ to get married, get a driving licence, buy alcohol.

But is every 17 year old ready to have the responsibility of being in control of a vehicle? How many 18 year olds are ready to drink responsibly…?

We need these metrics to make society work, however the physical measure bares no relevance to that person’s mental resilience – their ability to make good decisions when under stress or to perceive risk in a way that will keep them and others safe.

Therefore, another measure can come to play….

2. Emotional age

This is a much more interesting measure as it starts to look into what has actually happened to that person in the ‘X’ years they have been on the planet.

I have met 40 year olds who have led very sheltered lives and emotionally have very low experience to draw on.  They will often have low mental resilience.  Whereas I have met 20 year olds who are widely traveled, highly independent and emotionally much older than their physical age. Their mental strength and self esteem is typically much higher.

This is the age measure that I become much more interested in when parents ask me if I can work with their 8 year old.  Does this child have an emotional maturity that goes beyond their physical age?

And then there is another layer to consider when it comes to behaviour…

3. How old we feel

This is the age measure that becomes really interesting when we look at mental health and behaviours.

There are times when I ‘feel’ like I am in my 80s.  When in this mode, I am typically tired, perhaps a bit grumpy, certainly not full of life!  The Caroline you would meet would be a different person to the one who jumps onto a netball court feeling like she is 16 and can keep up with all the youngsters on court!  It is still the same 50ish year old me, but the person you would be interacting with would be very different in their behaviour.

The 80 year old me would also have lower mental resilience, perhaps be more negative.  That 16 year old me would be full of optimism, laugh mistakes off easily.

Why is considering these different measures important?

Widening your perspective of these different age measures can really help us in managing the behaviour of others to the benefit of all – leading to less stress, or understanding why someone is feeling high levels of anxiety.

By noticing that your partner is in their ’16 year old’ head then that may mean you can put your teen head on as well and ‘play’ together.  Or it may mean that they need you to stay in your adult mode and do a bit of parenting because they may not be making good adult decisions!

With work colleagues, you may start to notice that whilst people may be mature physically, their emotional age is much lower.  This can lead to their comfort zone being smaller, resulting in anxiety when stepping out of that comfort zone – even if the expectation is ‘at that age’ they should be able to do XYZ.  Such people may need a different level of support.

And personally, by being more aware of these measures, you can start to understand why things may happen the way they do (especially if you spend a lot of time feeling as if you are 16!!)

So physical age is the measure we all use to start from and I encourage you to now move beyond that measure and explore these others and see what you notice!

My question to you now is – how old are you??

Let me know in the comments box below!!

Caroline Cavanagh is an anxiety specialist  and hypnotherapist in Salisbury, Wiltshire.  She is an author and public speaker and would love to talk to you if you would like to know more about her work

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