Navigating Mental Health in Young Adulthood

Navigating Mental Health in Young Adulthood – Tips for a Balanced Mind

Young adulthood is a pivotal time in life, marked by the pursuit of independence, career development, and for some, selecting a life partner. While these years can be exhilarating, navigating mental health in young adulthood can be a time of stress and uncertainty.

In our work as Psychologists, we regularly explore some of the key mental health challenges faced by young adults and provide actionable strategies for maintaining a balanced mind.

The Unique Stressors of Young Adults

We know that expectations to ‘succeed’ can be overwhelming. These may be internal, or external pressures, linked to beliefs and expectations about the self, and what’s expected.

This often leads to feelings of inadequacy and stress, which, if not managed, can manifest as anxiety or depression. The constant comparison facilitated by social media can have a negative impact on self-esteem and create a tendency towards perfectionism and self-criticism.

Understanding your self-identity involves recognising your values, interests, and emotional needs. Having a clear sense of self can guide you in making relationship choices that align with your true self. This becomes particularly important in emotionally draining situations, where there might be external pressure to conform to family expectations, peer norms, or workplace standards.

Balancing friendships, family expectations, and romantic relationships can be emotionally draining. Understand that not all relationships deserve the same level of emotional investment. Your well-being should be the ultimate yardstick. With a strong sense of self, you’re more likely to be drawn to friendships that genuinely enrich your life, rather than seeking approval from peers who might not share your values. As you explore romantic relationships, a clear self-identity enables you to begin partnerships that complement rather than consume you. You’ll be equipped to maintain your independence while also nurturing a meaningful connection.

Emotional Regulation: The Cornerstone of Mental Well-Being

Continually assess how interactions with friends, family, and romantic partners make you feel. This emotional check-in serves as a real-time indicator of your well-being. Learning to be present and to pay attention to how you feel can help young adults manage emotional highs and lows.

Methods like mindful breathing can work as quick calming strategies. And for bigger challenges, learning to challenge and reframing negative thoughts can be a helpful way to shift your emotional state and overall outlook.

Setting Boundaries

In psychology, we often talk about boundaries. We know that learning to say no is empowering. Setting boundaries in our personal and professional lives can significantly reduce stress, and often boundaries need to be revisited as we grow and change. As you move into adulthood, your relationship with your family changes. Recognising your individuality allows you to set boundaries that respect both your needs and those of family members. Rules may need revisited. If a family gathering is causing you undue stress due to contentious relationships, it’s acceptable to limit your time spent at the event or even skip it altogether.

Post pandemic, being overcommitted socially can lead to burnout. Politely declining invitations when you’re feeling overwhelmed is both acceptable and necessary for self-care.

And in your professional life, think about your workload: when we are early career, it’s tempting to take on too much, and to work extra hours. If you’re constantly staying late or working weekends, it might be time to discuss your workload with your supervisor. Saying no to additional projects until your schedule lightens is reasonable.

It’s also easy to be so helpful in the workplace that others may inadvertently taking advantage. Practice building a bank of phrases you can use such as: “I’d love to help, but I need to focus on my own tasks right now.”

Take time out to Exercise

Use the mind-body connection to build wellbeing. Exercise isn’t just good for your body; it has a profound impact on mental well-being. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, which act as natural mood lifters.

A simple 30-minute walk every day can do wonders for reducing anxiety. Incorporate it into a routine, perhaps as a lunchtime activity or a way to wind down in the evening. On days when you really don’t want to exercise, commit to just five minutes. Often, once you start, you’ll want to continue.

Make it a social activity. Whether it’s a dance class or a weekend hike, pairing exercise with social interaction can make the experience more enjoyable and sustainable.

If you get stuck, don’t forget the power of professional guidance. Therapy or counselling can offer personalised coping strategies and tap into concrete skills like CBT or DBT to help manage concerns like anxiety, mood, or big emotions.

Young adulthood is complex, but it’s also an incredibly special phase of life. Prioritising your mental health during this time can lay a strong foundation for the years to come.

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Dr Amanda Mullin, Founder of Mindworx Psychology & Doctor of Clinical Psychology

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