Satya Doyle Byock, a 39-year-old therapist, has noticed a shift in tone in recent years in the young people who come into her office: frantic, worn-out clients in their late 20s or early 30s, nervous, insecure, constantly feeling that there is something wrong with them.
“Crashing anxiety, depression, distress, and disorientation are indeed the norm,” writes Byock in the introduction to his new book, “Quarterlife: The Search for Self in Early Adulthood.” adulthood).
The book uses cases from Byock’s work to explain the obstacles young adults face today – roughly between the ages of 16 and 36 – and how to deal with them.
As with middle age, the young adult phase – “a quarter of life” – can include crises: trying to separate from parents or caregivers and forging an identity of your own is a struggle. But the generation entering adulthood today faces new and sometimes debilitating challenges.
Many young people today struggle to pay for college or decide not to study, and the “existential crisis that used to occur after graduation is happening earlier and earlier today,” according to Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor of psychology at Kent State University who has studied anxiety. in young people.
“We were constrained by this myth that you graduate from college and start a life of your own,” she said. Without the social script that previous generations followed – graduating from college, getting married and raising a family. Byock said young clients of hers often remain in a state of prolonged adolescence.
In fact, according to a recent online survey by personal finance platform Credit Karma, nearly a third of Gen Z adults are living with their parents or other relatives and intend to stay that way.
Many find themselves so immersed in everyday monetary concerns, from endless student debt to the soaring costs of everything, that they feel unable to consider what they want for themselves in the long run.
This paralysis is often exacerbated by mounting climate anxiety and the protracted pandemic that has left many young people grieving relatives and friends, or minor losses like a conventional college experience or the traditions of starting on the first job.
Experts say those entering adulthood need clear guidance to get out of the mud. Here’s top advice on how to navigate today’s young adult crisis.
take yourself seriously
“Take some time to be selfish,” said Neal-Barnett, who is also the author of “Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic and Fear.” and overcoming anxiety, panic and fear, in Portuguese).
She recommends setting reminders about every three months to review where you are in life and whether you’re feeling stuck or unfulfilled. From there, she said, you can begin to identify aspects of life that you want to change.
Byock said to pay attention to what you are naturally curious about, and not dismiss your interests as idiotic or useless. Maybe it’s a place you’ve always wanted to visit, or a language you want to learn. Maybe you want to take up a new hobby or research your family history. “Start giving your inner life the respect it deserves,” she said.
However, there is a difference between self-interest and indulgence, Byock said. Investigating and interrogating who you are takes work. “It’s not just about picking your labels and that’s it.”
“Some people are still stuck with the idea that you become an adult at 18 and then you must be ready to move on,” said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a researcher at Clark University who studies young adult psychology. “I don’t know if that ever made sense, but it certainly doesn’t today.”
Young people in the “life room” may feel pressure to rush through life stages, Byock said, craving that sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a task. But learning to listen to yourself is a lifelong process.
Instead of looking for quick fixes, she said, young adults should think about longer-term goals: starting therapy that goes beyond a few sessions, adopting healthy eating and exercise habits, working to gain independence.
“I know this seems kind of absurdly big,” says the expert. “But it’s allowing us to move around and move forward in life, rather than just ‘check the boxes and get it right’.”
Ask yourself what’s missing
Byock also said to pay attention to everyday life and notice where things are missing. She divides these young people into two categories: “stability types” and “meaning types.”
“Stability types” are seen by others as solid and stable. They prioritize a sense of security, professional success, and may want to start a family. “But there’s a sense of emptiness and a sense of pretense,” he said. “They think this can’t be all that life is.”
At the other end of the spectrum, there are the “meaning types”, who are usually artists; feel intense creative passions, but have difficulty handling day-to-day tasks.
“These are people for whom doing what society expects of you is so overwhelming and so discordant with your own sense of self that they seem to be constantly struggling,” he explained. “They can’t quite understand.”
But early adulthood is about becoming a whole person, Byock said, and both groups need to absorb each other’s traits to balance out.
Stability types need to think about how to give their lives a sense of passion and purpose. And meaning types need to find safety, perhaps starting a consistent routine that can anchor and unlock creativity.
the Yoda channel
This process of putting the pieces of self-understanding together can seem useless in an unstable world, acknowledged the expert, and many young people are devastated by the current situation on the planet.
She draws on an inspiration that is perhaps the prototype of calm in the midst of chaos: Yoda. The Jedi Master is “one of the few images we have of how to feel at ease in the midst of extreme pain and the apocalypse,” Byock said. Even when there seems to be little outward stability, she said, young adults can try to create their own stability.
Gregory Scott Brown, psychiatrist and author of “The Self-Healing Mind,” said it’s critical to establish habits that help you establish yourself as a young adult, because transition periods make us more susceptible to depletion.
He suggests building a practical self-care toolkit, such as taking regular stock of what makes you feel grateful, practicing controlled breathing, and maintaining healthy eating and exercise routines. “These are techniques that can help you find clarity,” he said.
Don’t be afraid to make a big change
It’s important to identify which aspects of life you have the power to change, Brown said. “You can’t change a boring boss,” he said, “but you can plan a career change.”
Easier said than done, the expert acknowledged, and young adults should weigh the risks of continuing to live in their current situation — staying in their hometown or a profession that doesn’t excite them — with the potential benefits of trying something new.
Despite its confusion and restrictions, the “quarter of life” is typically “the freest phase of all of life,” Arnett recalled. Young adults may find it easier to move to a new city or start a new job than older adults.
Know when to call your parents – and when to call yourself
The young adult is on the journey from dependence to independence, Byock said — learning to trust ourselves after, for some, growing up in a culture of overly attentive parents and participatory family dynamics.
But even if you still live at home with your parents, Byock said, there are ways your relationship with them can evolve, helping you gain more independence.
Maybe it’s good to talk about family history and past memories, or ask questions about your parents’ education. “You’re transitioning from a pecking relationship to one of friendship,” she said. “It’s not just about pulling away or getting physical distance.”
Every person at this stage typically has a moment when they know they need to step away from their parents and face obstacles on their own, Byock said. For her, the realization came after a breakup in her mid-20s. She called her mother crying in the middle of the night, and her mother offered to visit and help her. Byock was tempted, but refused.
“It was so nice to have her offer to come to my rescue, but I also knew in that moment that I had to do it myself,” she said. That doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, still rely on parents in times of crisis, she said. “I don’t think it’s about never needing parents again,” she said. “But to do the subtle work within yourself and to understand: this is a moment I have to face alone.”
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves