By Shira Lee Silver, LCSW
If the answer is yes, you are certainly not alone. If you are in your mid-20s to early 30s, you may be feeling immense pressure to land your dream job, find a life partner, identify what brings your life meaning, and perhaps have a kid or two. A LOT to do in a short amount of time!
Many individuals in this age cohort experience additional stress when they become aware of built-in conflicts between their goals. For example, you may ask yourself “how can I discover a job I am passionate about and still have time to find a mate?”, or “how can I start a family while also advancing my career or launching my own startup?”
Stress is further compounded if millennials ask themselves, “why did my parents have it ‘figured out’ by the age of 25?” Of course many parents of millennials faced their own struggles in their 20’s and 30’s, but one reason for the notable increase in anxiety and depression in this generation is that millennials have so many options that prior generations did not have. Ironically, having more choices often produces greater anxiety. Many millennials feel overwhelmed by the countless paths to choose from and decisions to make after college graduation. From an early age, the message to this generation has been that they can do anything and to pursue their dreams. This idealized assumption leads many millennials to believe that they must be completely passionate about whatever they are presently doing and, when that feeling is absent, they often experience anxiety, sadness, lack of motivation, and isolation. According to the American Psychological Association, on average millennials experience the highest level of stress compared to any other generation.
So, what to do when all these feelings arise?
1) Stop comparing yourself to others. It can be emotionally damaging to constantly be comparing yourself to others, and it typically doesn’t help accomplish your goals. Social media is an easy way to keep tabs on your friends’ vacations, birthday parties, and at which taco truck they ate lunch. However, the ubiquitous status updates of glowing smiles in picturesque locations can easily persuade you that everyone is happier, prettier, and more successful than you can ever hope to become. It’s important to keep in mind that what others present on the outside leave out important aspects of their lives. These photos represent curated moments of how someone wishes to appear to their audience and do not capture the full variation of experience that others have let alone the unavoidable “downs” that occur in the course of all human lives.
2) Unplug. Excessive screen time and less face-to-face communication can trigger anxiety and depression. According to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association, attachment to electronic devices is associated with higher stress levels for millennials. “Unplugging” for extended periods of time can bring greater calm, improve ability to focus, foster more meaningful conversations, and create deeper connections with friends.
3) Exercise. Exercise and other physical activities stimulate the body to produce endorphins, improve ability to sleep, and reduce stress. For some people, walking briskly for 30 minutes three times a week can combat depression as well as antidepressants. And while people vary in how much they benefit from exercise, everyone can experience some physiological benefits from even modest steps to increase activity levels.
4) Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness means bringing your awareness to the present moment in a curious, open, and nonjudgmental manner. Practicing mindfulness will enable you to become more attuned to your thoughts, emotions, body, and environment. This increased awareness can help you manage stressful situations better and tolerate discomfort more effectively. For some, practicing mindfulness is done by listening to a guided meditation whereas for others mindfulness may be cultivated by bringing greater awareness to parts of your daily routine. For example, being mindful while you make your morning coffee could include noticing the smell of the grounds, the sound of the coffee machine, the warmth of the cup, and the taste of each sip. Focusing your attention on these very basic things can help you to stay focused on the present and not get hooked ruminating about something in the past or worrying about something in the future.
5) Focus on what matters. In the fast-paced environment we live in, we don’t often slow down for long enough to reflect on or remind ourselves of what is most important to us. However, taking time to slow down and be introspective, and not losing sight of what you care about, can help you find the energy and willingness to pursue your goals, no matter the challenges. This can also help you feel more confident in yourself.
6) Consult a psychotherapist. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your emotions, having difficulty coping with day-to-day stressors, noticing increased sadness, loneliness, anxiety, or anger, acting in ways that are not consistent with your core values, or simply feeling as if you could use a little more support in your life, consider talking to a psychotherapist. Working with a therapist can help you gain new insights and perspectives on your quarter-life crisis and help you find ways to get unstuck and move towards a more vital and rewarding life, whatever the particular challenges of your quarter-life crisis.