The 20’s and 30’s are often considered to be the peak of life. It is a time marked by lifelong friendships, new and blossoming relationships, and even the beginnings of new families. However, studies show that roughly 18.7% of adults age 18-25 years old struggle with some form of mental illness, and that number is even higher including those individuals in their late 20’s and early 30’s. If this time is supposed to be filled with joy, why are so many struggling with mental health issues? In this article, we will reflect on the common struggles experienced by young adults, so they can successfully navigate this fundamental life stage.

Intimacy vs Isolation

Mental health issues often occur when we struggle to navigate life transitions or stages of development. For example, college can be a difficult time for many young adults because they may experience freedoms they were never given growing up. Instead of using their freedom wisely, they may stumble along trying to figure out how to best utilize this new-found freedom. The same is true for any other transition. As a teen transition into adulthood, they move into a new stage of development where finding intimacy and avoiding isolation is the major challenge of life.

Intimacy is marked by discerning one’s vocation and thriving in community life. Through this, young adults develop a deep sense of their identity, and they associate with others who share similar values. Their dating relationships revolve around getting to know the other and sharing their values and goals. Someone who is thriving in intimacy can leave a toxic relationship because they are able to identify incompatibilities and harmful behaviors.

Isolation, on the other hand, is the inability to form healthy connections with others. Anxiety and depression can come from struggling with isolation. Contrary to popular belief, isolation can be prevalent even when surrounded by others. An isolated person may lack the ability to be vulnerable, limiting their ability to share their true self with others. Overall, isolation can be marked by underlying negative beliefs or thoughts such as: “I must be perfect in order to receive love”, or “I cannot show sadness or anger because I will be judged”. These thoughts can paralyze us from reaching out for the help we desperately need. In failing to ask for help, we inadvertently perpetuate our tendency for self-isolation, furthering the cycle.

Boundaries

Successfully navigating young adulthood is rooted in healthy boundaries. Oftentimes, the underlying mental health condition, such as depression and anxiety, stem from a lack of boundaries. When it comes to community life (living with roommates, spending time with friends, and navigating romantic relationships), boundaries are necessary for young adults to thrive and find fulfilling intimacy. Boundaries are a way to allow good things in and release bad things. While some boundaries are easy to spot, many others are difficult to define or articulate. Learning to spot and define boundaries is important in creating a healthier lifestyle.

Categories of boundaries:

  1. Rigid boundaries: This kind of boundary keeps others out due to a fear of being hurt. This type of boundary has no way to release the negative emotions or to receive help from others.
  2. Porous Boundaries: This is the opposite of rigid boundaries. This person will be highly influenced by others and have a constant fear of being abandoned or rejected. These individuals will even compromise their beliefs and morals to be included. This person has no real way to release the negative emotions or take in affirmation because they are unable to be themselves.
  3. Healthy boundaries: This person has a healthy way to release negative emotions by establishing healthy relationships. They also set up boundaries when others conflict with their values. They are able to communicate what they feel and need in a respectful way. They also respect the boundaries that others set.

Setting boundaries and saying “no” can oftentimes come across as being mean. However, we often find that resentment rises when our boundaries are constantly crossed. Without boundaries, we cannot give to or receive from others in a truly Christian way. Boundaries allow us to recognize what is our responsibility and what is not. When we feel stuck with someone else’s problem, we are probably taking on someone else’s tasks. For example, if a friend has depression, we cannot take away those depressed thoughts by distracting them with constant communication. They have to experience their depression and be moved to seek the help they need. As we set boundaries with friends, especially those who are struggling with mental illness, we have to know our own limitations.

The role of a friend or loved one:

  1. Listen to their feelings
  2. Validate their feelings: wow that sounds difficult, I can only imagine what that must be like, I do not know what to say right now.
  3. Build the person up: Thank you for sharing your feelings with me, you are handling a lot; I am impressed, you are so strong.
  4. Ask what you can do to help, and be honest if you cannot fulfill their request
  5. Know your limitations and take care of yourself: If you are not a trained professional, you can put a lot of stress on yourself attempting to keep someone afloat. Know when it becomes above your pay grade.

Self-Care

Thriving in the young adult years means finding healthy ways to care for yourself! Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Prayer and Meditation: Taking time for quiet time with God allows Him to walk with us in our suffering. God is the Divine Healer, so we must allow Him to journey with us.
  2. Deep breathing: Slowing our breathing can help relax our body and mind.
  3. Gratitude: Gratitude for the little things can bring about great joy. Gratitude can help transform a depressed mindset because instead of seeing the world through a negative lens, we begin to search for the joy.
  4. Redemptive suffering: Offering our suffering along with Christ’s suffering allows us to pray for others through our sacrifice. Christ redeemed us with his cross, and he can redeem and transform us through our daily crosses.
  5. Journaling: Expressing our thoughts helps to get them out of our heads. Expressing the hard emotions is so important. As we talked about with boundaries, we have to release the bad, and journaling is a way to release the bad feelings. By releasing these negative feelings, they do not spiral around in our heads keeping us awake at night or distracted from important tasks.
  6. Artistic expression: Painting, drawing, singing, playing musical instruments have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.
  7. Exercise: Exercising provides endorphins which make us happier!
  8. Sunlight: Sitting outside in the sun has also been connected with happier mood!
  9. Changing your thoughts effects our feelings and behaviors: Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. By changing our thoughts, we can also change our feelings and behaviors.