Turning 30: The Mental Shift

I’m not somebody who feels unhappy about turning 30.

After all, isn’t growing old a privilege? It’s the goal here, right? It’s what we’re all here to do. Yet, so many of us treat old age as the enemy, rather than the destination.

That said, it’d be naive to assume that nothing will change as I enter my thirties. I’ve already seen little shifts. My hangovers have taken a cataclysmic turn, for one. My need for eight hours sleep isn’t just a nicety, it’s a necessity. Oh, and if I’m being really picky, I’ve started to notice some fine lines around my eyes.

This isn’t just about me, though. It’s about us. As a collective, do we suffer a mental/hormonal shift at 30? I’ve seen people talk about it — some people develop adult acne, others have found their once thick hair now resembles a field of wheat.

Is it just our imagination – perhaps it’s our eagle-eyed approach to getting older pointing out things that don’t even exist? Or, is there something physically happening to us at this milestone?

Our mental health

I spoke to senior therapist and author of The Getting of Resilience from the Inside Out (out June 2020), Sally Baker, about the shifts women face mentally in their late twenties, which she described as “pivotal”.

“The reality is that for many in their twenties their decade is mired with statistical evidence of high levels of anxiety and depression.”

This is certainly true for both myself and a number of my friends. You can see why — the structure of the education system dissipates between 16 and 21, leaving us to navigate life alone for the first time in many of our lives.

“Poorly trained managers, unrealistic expectations, the pressure of work and a lack of duty of care all contribute to a crisis in confidence and trust in what they’ll be able to achieve in the workplace.” Sally explains.

“This decade of challenges and achievements are often measured against the benchmark of the professional promotions, house moves, long haul holidays, weddings and even christenings of colleagues and friends. Not forgetting the depression inducing social media posts designed to make anyone feel inadequate, too fat, not cool enough or simply a failure at everything.”

Generational shift

People turning 30 now are among the very first people to navigate this milestone with social media. We have constant reminders of what we have and haven’t achieved in comparison to not just our friends, but any old random person we find online.

I asked my mum and nan if they felt pressure when they turned 30 — they both said they felt none at all.

My mum, who is certainly more astute as far as social media goes than my nan, said it was unequivocally to blame for our generations pre-occupation with landmark birthdays.

Online (and offline) pressure

It was how quickly they both said “no” when I asked them if they felt sad about turning 30 that hit home for me.

It’s easy to blame social media in its entirety, but let’s not forget Rachel Green’s incensed speech about turning 30 in the Friends episode, The One Where They All Turn 30.

She reeled off things she had failed to do before 30 – serious relationships, marriage, children. This episode aired in 2001, long before social media reared its head and bore the blame for all of our comparison woes.

Maybe the real problem here is comparison. Pre-internet, people faced societal pressures (my mum and nan were both married with children at 30 and were therefore probably immune to these pressures).

Now, though, we feel societal pressures which are then exacerbated by constant reminders on social media.

Can’t afford a holiday? Your old school nemesis is in Bali. Just broken up with somebody? Well, your ex is the happiest person in the world. Struggling to have children? Everyone else has five each.

Drop the fantasy

You’re a stronger person than me if you’re not tempted to look at a random from university’s Instagram account once in a while.

Sure, blocking yourself from everybody you don’t want to see is a sensible step, but with retweets and likes and comments and stories, you’re bound to come across them at some point.

That’s where dropping the fantasy comes in.

“It’s not hard to see why many women reach 30 and want to have a firmer grip on the psychology of who they are and how they can look after their mental health better going into their next decade.” Sally Baker says.

“They maybe don’t initially articulate what they are looking for but putting boundaries in place for themselves plus dropping the fantasy of being perfect and building resilience in the face of ‘shit happens’ can all help build and strengthen strategies to protect mental well-being.”

The Sims mentality

Sally’s right, of course, and that’s where The Sims mentality comes in. Yes, I made it up but yes, it works.

When you play The Sims, you don’t build yourself as the person you are now, you build yourself as the person you want to be.

You build a nice house, you use the cheat code to get the fancier wallpaper (because nice walls make you happier on The Sims and happier in real life) and you drop yourself into the career you dream of. I was a writer every time, if you’re wondering.

Instagram is exactly the same as The Sims.

Nobody is taking the pictures of the tuna jacket potatoes they ate three days in a row last week because it’s boring.

Nobody is sharing how miserable the commute to work is because it’s boring. Instead they’re sharing the podcasts they listen to and latest Netflix originals worthy of our time.

For most of us, Instagram showcases the most exciting half an hour of our weeks and the rest is just life.

But wait, I am getting more spots now I’m 30

Maybe you are, but it’s nothing to do with us all turning 30, it might just be individual to you. Our hormones do crazy things at all ages, somebody might get oily skin at 30, somebody else might get it at 22.

It’s very easy to see a change, attribute it to this landmark age and then tell everybody you see that they will also have to deal with this change when they hit the big 3-0.

My advice, as somebody who hasn’t achieved everything (YET) she thought she’d achieve by 30; move the goal posts.

My brother once said me: “Isn’t the point of life to be always striving for a new goal? When you’ve completed one it’s not as though you’re just going to stop trying to do anything else for the rest of your life.”

He’s right. Once I get a literary agent, I’m not going to just stop striving for anything new. That’s just what life is and all growing older means is that you get to enjoy the rollercoaster for bit longer.


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