A lot of people seem to believe that their twenties are meant to be the best years of their life. This belief is perpetuated and exacerbated by traditional media such as TV shows and movies. The content displays young people excitedly developing incredible careers, exploring steamy romances, and engaging in exhilarating activities in their free time. Yet, with this population being the core focus of so much storytelling, there is very little emphasis placed on reality. It's hard to be in your twenties. Between discovering who you want to be, developing boundaries with family, trying to make a living doing something you enjoy, and all of the social pressures of still having fun all the time, and meeting your 'soul mate', it's no wonder so many twenty-somethings struggle. A core focus of my work with people in this demographic is self-care, coping mechanisms, and confidence building, in order to learn to regulate their levels of stress.
So let's talk a little about stress. I did a whole blog on stress a while back so check that out if you want to know more. Our body's ability to experience stress is a product of evolutionary necessity. Remember, there was a time when humans' biggest problem was woolly mammoths. Our body engages in a number of processes when we are stressed to enable us to survive stressful situations. First, our brain perceives the stressful stimuli and sounds the alarm bells. Next, our body starts pumping out our stress hormone - cortisol. Cortisol works to shut down non-essential functions, anything you wouldn't need to survive a life-threatening situation. This is why when we feel stressed our digestive system acts up, those who menstruate may experience a change in this cycle, etc. All our blood, oxygen, and energy go to the functions we need to survive resulting in increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, hyperventilation, etc. All of this was great when we literally had to fight or flight routinely, but not so great when we were just trying to work. It is well known that people who experience prolonged stress experience increased physiological ailments as a result of these processes. And when generally do we start experiencing stress and needing to learn how to manage it? Late adolescence and early adulthood when suddenly there's a whole new world of responsibilities and consequences to contend with.
A research article from 2015 (Doane, Drake, & Sladek, 2015) looked into the connection between stress and loneliness in late adolescence which I feel yielded important results. Remember, late adolescence is the stage when many young people move out of their parents' homes for the first time. The study asked these young people to answer a questionnaire about their experience of both loneliness and managing stress. The study also tested the cortisol levels of these participants over time. The study showed that the participants who reported high on both loneliness and coping efficacy were able to moderate their cortisol levels more quickly than participants who reported high on loneliness but low on coping efficacy. This article sheds light on the importance of young people learning about stress moderation to prevent future consequences of prolonged stress on both their physical and mental health.
I've also posted a number of blogs about self-care and coping skills which may be a good place to start when thinking about moderating stress levels. Seeking the help of a licensed professional can also be an excellent way to learn about your proclivity to stress as well as how you best manage that stress. Most importantly, if you are a person in your twenties that feels you are doing something wrong because you're not careless and having the time of your life - you're not. It's ok to not revel in this stage of life, it's hard. Life always has the opportunity to become immensely better the more intentional we are about it. Happy living!
Doane, L. D., Drake, E. C., & Sladek, M. R. (2015, April 22). Daily cortisol activity, loneliness, and coping efficacy in late adolescence: A longitudinal study of the transition to college. International Journal of Behavioral Development , 334-345.