I used to be a chronic sufferer of “old soul syndrome.” I was self-diagnosed, but the condition was easy to identify once I was aware of the symptoms. If you’re wondering if you are likewise afflicted, the signs include the following: the need to be home by 10 p.m., even on weekends, or I would feel very tired and grumpy the next day. The need to consume lots of herbal tea to soothe and calm my jangled nerves. The irrepressible urge to wear oversized sweaters about 95 percent of the time, because it’s comforting to cocoon yourself in soft fabric, and because you never know when it might get cold. The desire to listen to smooth jazz, soft rock, or really anything that sounds like elevator music, especially when driving in heavy traffic or otherwise engaged in a stressful situation.
This psychological disposition wouldn’t seem out of place if I was nearing retirement age, but I’m only 24 years old. However, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me I act like a little old lady, I could afford to quit my job tomorrow and buy a small house in the country. As an introvert, my love of quiet and calm pastimes really isn’t surprising.
Introverts Practice a More Mindful Way of Living
Many introverts naturally like to take things slower and practice a more mindful way of living. We don’t thrive on excess stimulation like our extroverted counterparts do. If you’re an introvert, and especially if you’re also a highly sensitive person (HSP), you probably become agitated or anxious when exposed to situations that overwhelm your senses — like being in a large crowd of people or being exposed to loud noises for an extended period of time.
It’s hard to admit this when you’re in your late teens/early 20s, because it seems like every pastime society expects you to enjoy involves a sensory overload. Just like we associate early bedtimes and quiet evening rituals with being an “old” person, we picture the quintessential millennial as a bar-hopping wild child who likes to dance on tables and is always on the go. From Facebook and Instagram to blockbuster movies and television ads, we are told to be young is to be always seeking adventure. To always be in the company of others. To always be where the party’s at.
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I don’t say this to malign my generation. I have many peers who work hard and play hard in equal measure, but for me, the balance between being productive and protecting my mental health is somewhat different. I like to think I’m not alone in this.
My Young Adult Act of Rebellion Is Different
What if my act of young adult rebellion looked a little different? What if I chose to ignore what society told me would make me happy, and instead just did what I actually wanted to do? I like to spend my Sunday afternoons going for walks. Not a run, or even a jog, just a walk. I do this partially for the exercise, but mostly because I want to be outside and simultaneously listen to some calming music or a podcast. As a creature of habit, I do a familiar loop down various streets in my suburban neighborhood. I typically pass people moving at a much faster rate than I am (or, I guess I should say, they pass me).
I commend these people for working on their fitness, but rarely do I find someone who is simply out for a stroll because they enjoy it. The exception is usually a neighbor of a certain age. The kind who always crosses my path with a nod and a smile, because they recognize a kindred spirit when they see one. If you guessed these certain neighbors are more than a generation older than me, you’d be correct. My fellow millennial jogger has probably already lapped me three times and is now on their way to a Pilates class.
Yet, I don’t feel these afternoons are a waste of my time because my muscle mass index is not increasing. It’s about the pure enjoyment of my surroundings. The pleasure I feel from the sunlight and the music I’m listening to. It’s about feeling refreshed and energized on a mental and emotional level. If this makes me an old soul, then so be it.
I will probably always have what society calls an “old soul.” But I no longer suffer from it. Instead, I embrace it. I embrace working on hobbies on my own that I find intellectually or creatively stimulating instead of socializing simply for the sake of socializing. I embrace making memories with other people, but I also embrace working on me. I embrace leaving the party early. I embrace just staying home completely. I embrace living in the moment, even if that moment is quiet. Even if that moment is so calm and serene that my elderly neighbor just passed me on her power walk.
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Image credit: Shutterstock/SunKids