Here at Whil, we work with companies all around the world. One of the questions we get most often is, “What’s the right age for employees to try mindfulness?”
Getting into a mindfulness practice is like going to the gym. People generally start when they’re going through something difficult (e.g., a breakup, putting on weight, bad boss, death of a loved one, sleep issues, etc.) and they want to feel better. In my case, I was looking for relief from major back pain, insomnia, stress and anxiety from working in high pressure corporate environments.
Mindfulness is for anyone who wants to reduce stress, increase their resiliency or improve their sleep or “performance” - whatever that means for you. Whether you want to be better at parenting, running or creating art, there’s something for everyone. So you don’t have to be a certain height to ride. There’s no “right age,” but we do see trends where people need help at specific times in their lives. Here are the three life stages where people seem most motivated to manage the stress in their lives:
Millennials entering the workforce
It’s a highly stressful time for young people starting their careers. We live in the age of disruption, innovation and transformation. And that can suck for new employees. Many millennials are experiencing competition without guardrails for the first time. Things are ambiguous in the corporate world. And they’re no longer surrounded by teachers, family and friends who are confirming that they’re the best.
According to the American Psychological Association, millennials report the highest level of “extreme” stress of any generation. And it’s getting worse. Mindfulness can improve a myriad of things like sleep, building confidence and being less judgemental of the old heads, seniors and other people over 34. Mindfulness has also become a go-to strategy when millennials are “adulting” (for you other gens, that’s “when you’re doing adult things” like a 9-5 job, paying rent, raising kids, bills, etc.). Stressful stuff for every generation.
Getting married or settling down
At this stage in life, most people have a found a partner, settled down, bought their first home and maybe gotten married or had their first child. As wonderful as these events are, they’re also major sources of stress. In fact, they rank high in the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale… and they tend to come in waves. These new responsibilities are usually the first time in people’s careers when their paychecks take on new meaning. This is when most people come to the realization that “Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t tell my boss to go (blank) themselves.” It’s also when many of us start burning out because we haven’t learned the skills to power down and let the brain recover periodically. Mindfulness can teach us patience, curiosity and the ability to calm and focus the mind and relax the central nervous system.
People over 50 or nearing retirement
This is a new life stage where a lot of things that we pass over when we’re younger start to catch up to us. That includes our physical health, grief, regret and guilt relating to difficult life experiences. It’s no wonder that a lot of people over age 50 also start to suffer from insomnia; the mind just won’t stop regretting the past and worrying about the future. It’s easy to get caught into loops of thinking and worrying about the same issues, the same relationships and the same people that harmed us and/or left our lives over the years. This is the age where we also realize that life isn’t a dress rehearsal. The realization that we only have only a third of our lives in front of us, if we’re lucky, can be particularly hard.
Professionally, hitting 50 is also a critical juncture where many people stop learning. We can hit the pitfall of believing that we know everything. That can be the kiss of death to company culture, while simultaneously increasing the propensity to worry (because we all know the pace of modern business and technology can be scary). Mindfulness can help process regret, grief and anxiety, as well as change sleep habits to quiet the regretful mind.
It’s not coincidental that we human beings experience our greatest stressors with major changes in life. That happens normally when moving from college into the workforce, from single life into family life, from mover and shaker to moving more slowly and shaking our heads at everything that annoys us. No matter your age or stressors, mindfulness can provide access to a happier, healthier and more engaged life. Thousands of studies support the benefits of these practices; foundational skills that have become must-haves for modern times. Without these coping and resiliency skills, it’s easy to become overwhelmed at critical life stages.
But don’t worry. Everything's gonna be alright. One of the other things we can learn from mindfulness is that things are rarely as good or bad as they seem. When you understand the mind’s propensity to tell itself stories and to have a bias toward negativity (both true at any age), you can start to control those tendencies. And you’ll find comfort in the fact that this too shall pass, whether you’re a Millennial, Gen X’er, Boomer or from the Silent Generation.
Posted by Joe Burton- 28 March, 2017
Joe is an entrepreneur in the digital wellness space, former president of Headspace, and spent fifteen years as a global COO in public companies. He's an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and The Huffington Post. He's worked in over 50 countries and travels the world speaking on topics including disruption, culture, resiliency and mindfulness.