I Just Can’t Adult Right Now

I Just Can’t Adult Right Now: 5 Reasons the Ages of 18-35 are Uniquely Challenging and What to do About it

Reasons why the ages of 18-35 are a uniquely challenging time:

  1. The ages of 18-35 are when most people are making major life decisions about career, romantic partners, starting a family, etc. Big decisions or life transitions frequently result in increased stress.
  2. Identity becomes a central focus. These early adult years are often when people are trying to figure out and solidify who they are, who they want to be, and how to be comfortable in their own skin.
  3. Often during the ages of 18-35, people begin to question the values they were raised with and clarify what they believe. This can lead to feelings of uncertainty and disorientation as well as conflict with family members who perhaps hold differing values or worldviews regarding religion, politics, and/or relationships.
  4. So much pressure! When you’re 18-35 it’s common to feel the pressure to prove yourself and it’s easy to get caught up in making comparisons between yourself and your peers. This can frequently result in a lack of contentment and feelings of inadequacy or shame.
  5. Expectations are either fulfilled or disappointed. The ages of 18-35 are often when we realize that parts our lives have not turned out the way we always thought they would. For example, you might be 30 and single when you thought you would be married. Or, you might be in college or graduate school and feeling disappointed because it is not what you thought it would be socially or academically. These unfulfilled or disappointed expectations can often lead to feelings of disillusionment as well as depression or anxiety.

What to do if you are struggling:

  1. Embrace your community – Join a group or team activity. Reach out to peers and family. If you are religious, connect with others from your faith. Find others with similar struggles who can support and encourage you. If you are a college student, your university might offer a group for individuals with similar struggles. No one can do this alone, we need each other when life gets hard.
  2. Turn to your religion/spirituality – For many this is a central aspect of making sense of life’s hardships. Putting them in perspective, coping, and connecting with something greater than one’s self can really help.
  3. Reduce anxiety/stress – This is always easier said than done, but is central to being resilient in the midst of difficulties. Try mindfulness meditation, yoga, aerobic exercise, deep breathing, therapy, etc.
  4. Realize life is a process and exercise gratitude– Don’t miss out on the joys of today simply because your life does not match your expectations! Try to find things to be grateful for rather than constantly focusing on the negative or things that are not going well. Gratitude has been shown to significantly reduce depressive symptoms and have a lasting impact on happiness.
  5. Patience – Give yourself time to engage in the identity formation process. Despite how it might feel, you don’t have to decide right away exactly who you are and what you are going to do with your life. Sometimes when we take the pressure off of ourselves, clarity and contentment follow.
  6. Ask yourself “who says?”: We place unreasonable expectations on ourselves for a variety of reasons. Often when we slow down and ask ourselves, “Where did that expectation come from, and who says I have to do or be that?” we realize that the pressure is either internal (often connected to our view of ourselves and prior expectations placed on us by others), or assumed though not directly stated by significant others in our lives (e.g. we assume our parents would be disappointed in us if we got a bad grade, or we assume our spouse will think we are bad providers if we don’t earn more money, etc.)
  7. Seek help – As previously mentioned, no one is able to manage all of life’s difficulties on their own and we all need additional support sometimes. So if life feels too challenging and you find yourself spiraling into negativity, depression, or frequent stress and anxiety, consider seeing a therapist for some additional support.

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