Beware, teenage readers – your 20s aren’t all milk and honey. (Wait, am I dating myself with that term?) Let me rephrase – Kanye West’s song “Good Life” is about being a rich rapper, not being 26.
In a New York Times article, “What is it about 20-somethings?” written last summer, Robin Henig posed this question: Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up? The article explored the theory of emerging adulthood, a new life stage between adolescence and adulthood. Traits for this new stage include identity exploration, instability and feeling in-between. Henig wrote: “Some 25-year-olds are married homeowners with good jobs and a couple of kids; others are living with their parents, working at transient jobs or not working at all.”
A 25-year-old woman named Jennifer is quoted in the article describing the 20s as “somewhat terrifying … to think about all the things I’m supposed to be doing in order to ‘get somewhere’ successful: ‘Follow your passions, live your dreams, take risks, network with the right people, find mentors, be financially responsible, volunteer, work, think about or go to grad school, fall in love and maintain personal well-being, mental health and nutrition.’ When is there time to just be and enjoy?”
With all the major milestones that can happen in your 20s, with change flying at you and life flying by even faster, how can a girl in her 20s make it to 30 (when most people agree adult status is cemented) and keep her mental health in check? (And btw, it’s a timely question, since May is Mental Health Month.)
Christine Linnehan, a licensed clinical professional counselor from Scarborough, aptly describes the 20s as a time of transition. You could be living in a new place, away from your family and friends. There’s lots of adjustment, added responsibility, more financial burdens – all of which add more pressure and stress. You’re figuring who you are and asking questions like, “Where do I belong and what do I want the direction of my life to go in?” Trying to answer these questions can trigger a mental crisis for some twentysomethings.
Linnehan’s career spans almost 20 years. She grew up wanting to help people and give back. She studied psychology and dance and enjoys using creativity coupled with therapy.
Mental health issues often present themselves during adolescence and young adulthood, usually between ages 16-25: including depression, eating disorders, self-esteem, anxiety and stress. One in eight women will suffer from major depression in her lifetime and women experience twice the rate of depression as men.
Adding to the situation is the economy, where it’s getting more and more difficult to find that first job after college. School and personal finances are the top stressors for twentysomethings, along with personal relationships and peer pressure.
Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are more treatments, strategies and community support systems than ever before. Linnehan points out some ways to deal. Balance is of the utmost importance. Support and connection with people (and the greater community) in your lives really helps, as well as a sense of belonging within your new workplace and friends. Support can play a huge part in getting through your 20s smoothly.
Talking to friends and family can be helpful for a lot of people, but if they aren’t enough support, counseling is a good option. Twentysomethings have access to career counseling, so why not take advantage counseling to maintain balance for yourself or your relationship?
“If people are depressed, friends don’t want to talk about it. Things happen in your 20s – you may need more support than your friends,” Linnehan says.
Linnehan also stresses the importance of simply taking care of yourself. Eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly can keep you balanced.
It’s also important to have healthy outlets to manage stress. A lot of people learn in their early 20s at college that heavy drinking and drug use are acceptable ways to cope and blow off steam. Linnehan instead suggests finding healthier coping strategies that can include being social with a group, but instead of paryting, take a hike, yoga class or attend church. Creative outlets are also very important as a way to stay balanced and cope with stress.
We twentysomethings today do have one thing going for us when it comes to good mental health – fewer stigmas surrounding mental health problems and more acceptance and openness. We grew up with guidance counselors in school, and came of age in a time of a major psychopharmaceutical boom. While Ritalin was prescribed starting in the 1960s, it saw a dramatic increase in prescriptions the ’90s, and Adderall came about in 1995. The ’90s also saw a new type of antidepressant that affected neurotransmitters in the brain in a way that wasn’t addictive. Medications like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Effexor could be safely taken daily, unlike other antidepressants of the past.
And finally, the twentysomethings’ ace in the hole: We still have so much life ahead to live. Yes, it is a crazy time and things can go wrong, but there’s plenty of time to make it right.
One interview with Linnehan and I already feel better about this turbulent time. It’s pushing me to try yoga, get back to painting, commit to vegetarianism and a more regular running schedule – all in hopes of being happier and better able to manage stress, which really weights me down. Maybe I’ll take it one step further and try therapy; it could be a new source of support that can only help me through this tumultuous ride known as being a twentysomething.
Katie Bell is a graphic designer with ?Current Publishing, ?and a freelance writer.