What makes young adulthood so hard? As a young adult, I had a hard time putting my finger on it. I could sum it up in what is our most common method of communication (the meme), but I doubt that’s what you’re here for. Here is what I found: modern young adulthood is a time of pretending you know what you’re doing, putting an extreme amount of effort into saying the right thing, trying to make a decision but not knowing where to start, feeling alone but constantly connected, pretending you know how to fold a fitted sheet, and using your peripheral vision to see if everyone else is as freaked out about adulting as you are. How did I know you ask? I did my research, or rather, Dr. Arnett did. Psychologist and researcher Dr. Arnett, explains young adulthood as a time of identity exploration, instability, self-focus and possibilities (Munsey, 2006). Let’s break that down a little bit by looking at some of the more specific challenges young adults face.
Who am I, and where am I going?
Today’s young adult has far more options than generations before. In the 1950s, most young adults went from high school to the work force and marriage. In the 1960s and 1970s, more women joined the workforce and machines started replacing assembly line workers. Jobs were moved overseas, and the job market begin to change. There aren’t a whole lot of available jobs for individuals without a degree, and the ones that exist don’t always offer a livable wage. I’m sure you’ve heard people say that a Bachelor’s today is equivalent to a high school diploma 50 years ago. That’s because the current job market often requires a secondary degree, which explains the influx of students in higher education. To put it in perspective, the population grew by 72% between 1959-2010, but the number of full time college students grew by 430%! This leads to many young adults getting married later in life, meaning that the two roles that were previously obtained right after high school, marriage and career, are now being pushed back and many are left feeling behind. (Schwartz, 2013) To compensate, we fake it ‘til we make it, and try not to do anything too embarrassing until we do.
It turns out, many young adults also feel lonely in this increasingly connected world. Cigna published a study in May 2018 which states that 18-37 year olds are the loneliest population in The United States, and that students scored higher on loneliness than retirees. Cigna also reported that in terms of mortality, loneliness has the same effect as smoking fifteen cigarettes each day, which means loneliness is more dangerous to our health than obesity. I know what you are thinking...I was suspicious too, so I did some more digging. It turns out, when a person is lonely, their cortisol level (a stress hormone) goes up. High cortisol levels can compromise our immune system, increase our risk for vascular issues, heart disease and inflammation, and impair our cognition. It’s all starting to make sense, right?
Then I wanted to know why we are so lonely. It has been hypothesized that social media is making people lonely, and while social media can increase feelings of insecurity, recent studies have found that there is no correlation between social media and loneliness. Studies have found that the feelings of loneliness come from a lack of meaningful interaction. We’re with people all the time, but the nature of our interactions are goal oriented. Our main sources of interaction are things like meetings, conferences and school projects, because many young adults feel that a less than packed schedule means something is wrong with them. It seems that unless our lives appear close to unmanageable, we aren’t working hard enough. (Simmons, 2018)
The Cigna study also confirms that engaging in frequent, meaningful interactions decreases feelings of loneliness. Great news, right? Maybe, and maybe not. Many young adults find it hard to initiate meaningful interaction. So, let’s first define what it is. A meaningful interaction, is a face-to-face conversation that is deeper than pleasantries or small talk. It is an interaction where people share personal information and talk about the things that matter to them. For example, a group of friends getting coffee and chatting about life. Here are some ways to increase meaningful interaction in your life:
1. Take the time to ask your loved ones about their day, and tell them about yours.
3. Join a group or a team. (Psst…check out our groups page.)
4. Do some of your online shopping in person, and bring a friend.
Now that we know social media isn’t the root of ALL evil, let’s see how we can use it for good. We can use technology to increase meaningful interaction by using it as way to connect. That isn’t always realistic, though. We’re still going to be on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to see what other people are up to. That’s okay, but it is easy for that to lead to social insecurity if we are comparing ourselves to others (Simmons, 2018). Here are some ways to make our technology use healthier:
1. Select a time of the day to allow yourself to be on social media.
2. Unfollow people/accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or your life. For example, if you find yourself comparing your body with Kylie Jenner’s, maybe it is time to unfollow her. Remember, you control what information you fill your feed with.
3. Talk to other’s when you find yourself with a “social media hangover”, as I like to call it. A social media hangover is that feeling you get after you’ve been down the social media rabbit hole and come up to find yourself feeling not good enough. You’ll likely find that other people have the same experience.
4. Remember, social media is a place for people to showcase who they wish they could be, not necessarily who they are.
5. Video chat to have some of those meaningful interactions we were talking about.
This stressful life stage is also wreaking havoc on mental health. About 22% of today’s young adults have a mental illness, which is more than any other adult age group. However, only about 51% of those individuals received mental health treatment. Why are young adults struggling with mental illness more than any other adult group, and what can we do about it? (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016)
Many mental health conditions arise in young adulthood simply due to biology, but some arise due to the emotional challenges of young adulthood. This tumultuous stage of life is comprised of finding one’s identity, which can often lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. However, young adults do not often seek treatment, and when they do, they don’t always find the right match. We provide a safe and understanding environment for clients to navigate the difficulties in life. (Good Therapy, 2017)
Chatterjee, R. (2018). Americans are a lonely lot, and young people bear the heaviest burden. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health- shots/2018/05/01/606588504/americans-are-a-lonely-lot-and-young-people-bear-the- heaviest-burden
Cigna (2018). Cigna U.S. loneliness index. Retrieved from https://www.multivu.com/players/English/8294451-cigna-us-loneliness- survey/docs/IndexReport_1524069371598-173525450.pdf
Good Therapy (2017). Young adult issues. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/young-adults
Munsey, C. (2006). Emerging adults: The in-between age. PsychExtra Dataset, 37.doi:10.1037/e512802006-035
National Institute of Mental Health (2016). Mental health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml
Schwartz, S. (2013). Why are young adults so darn confused? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/proceed-your-own-risk/201308/why-are-young-adults-so-darn-confused
Simmons, R. (2018). Why are young adults the loneliest generation in America? Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2018/05/03/why-are-young-adults-the-loneliest-generation-in-america/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.17467fa64b9a
Team Family Health (2018). What happens in your body when you’re lonely? Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-in-your-body-when-youre-lonely/