What Psychologists Want Today’s Young Adults to Know

The generation entering adulthood now faces novel, sometimes debilitating, challenges. Experts offer tools to navigate a “quarterlife crisis.”

Just like midlife, quarterlife can bring its own crisis — trying to separate from your parents or caregivers and forge a sense of self is a struggle. But the generation entering adulthood now faces novel, sometimes debilitating, challenges.

Many young people today struggle to afford college or decide not to attend, and the “existential crisis” that used to hit after graduation descends earlier and earlier, said Angela Neal-Barnett, a psychology professor at Kent State University who has studied anxiety in young people.

Experts said those entering adulthood need clear guidance for how to make it out of the muddle. Here are their top pieces of advice on how to navigate a quarterlife crisis today.

Take yourself seriously.

“Set aside time to be selfish,” said Dr. Neal-Barnett, who is also the author of “Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic and Fear.” She recommends scheduling reminders to check in with yourself, roughly every three months, to examine where you are in your life and whether you feel stuck or dissatisfied. From there, she said, you can start to identify aspects of your life that you want to change.

However, there is a difference between self-interest and self-indulgence, Satya Doyle Byock, a 39-year-old therapist, said. Investigating and interrogating who you are takes work. “It’s not just about choosing your labels and being done,” she said.

Be patient.

Quarterlifers may feel pressure to race through each step of their lives, Ms. Byock said, craving the sense of achievement that comes with completing a task. But learning to listen to oneself is a lifelong process. Instead of searching for quick fixes, she said, young adults should think about longer-term goals: starting therapy that stretches beyond a handful of sessions, building healthy nutrition and exercise habits, working toward self-reliance.

Ask yourself what’s missing.

Ms. Byock also said to take stock of your day-to-day life and notice where things are missing. She groups quarterlifers into two categories: “stability types” and “meaning types.”

“Stability types” are seen by others as solid and stable. They prioritize a sense of security, succeed in their careers and may pursue building a family. “But there’s a sense of emptiness and a sense of faking it,” she said. “They think this couldn’t possibly be all that life is about.”

On the other end of the spectrum, there are “meaning types” who are typically artists; they have intense creative passions but have a hard time dealing with day-to-day tasks, Ms. Byock said.

But quarterlife is about becoming a whole person, Ms. Byock said, and both groups need to absorb each other’s characteristics to balance themselves out.

Don’t be afraid to make a big change.

It’s important to identify what aspects of your life you have the power to alter, Dr. Brown said. “You can’t change an annoying boss,” he said, “but you might be able to plan a career change.” That’s easier said than done, he acknowledged, and young adults should weigh the risks of continuing to live in their status quo — staying in their hometown, or lingering in a career that doesn’t excite them — with the potential benefits of trying something new.

Know when to call your parents — and when to call on yourself.

Quarterlife is about the journey from dependence to independence, Ms. Byock said — learning to rely on ourselves, after, for some, growing up in a culture of helicopter parenting and hands-on family dynamics.

But even if you’re still living in your childhood bedroom, Ms. Byock said, there are ways your relationship with your parents can evolve, helping you carve out more independence. That can involve talking about family history and past memories or asking questions about your parents’ upbringing. “You’re transitioning the relationship from one of hierarchy to one of friendship,” she said. “It isn’t just about moving away or getting physical distance.”

Excerpted from “What Psychologists Want Today’s Young Adults to Know” in the New York Times. Read the full article online.

Source: New York Times | What Psychologists Want Today’s Young Adults to Know, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/29/well/family/quarter-life-crisis.html | © 2024 The New York Times Company

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