Developing Anxiety in Your 20s: How Common Is It?

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Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Thursday November 8, 2018

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Does developing anxiety in your 20s happen because of biology or environment? You kick off into the world nervously as you enter your second set of double-digit years. Welcome to this thing called adulting.

It’s natural for you to feel lost, worried or nervous as you enter and exit college. You rush through all these milestones society, and perhaps family pressure, say you must accomplish by a certain deadline before you get too “old.” Then, you hear the fun, reassuring phrase, “Age is just a number.” But what about this anxiety? How common is developing anxiety in your 20s?

Your Brain Reaches Adulthood in Your 20s

Anxiety has no number. It affects everyone. By your teen years, your brain reaches the adult size of three pounds, and your brain prunes unused neural pathways. Your brain’s frontal lobes increase activity and develop the ability to analyze complex thoughts and emotions. Your brain is vulnerable to trauma as it is open to learning in the first years of life and teen hood. Many essential changes happen to your brain in a brief amount of time, and when trauma occurs, it can affect the wiring of your brain and its development.

Pair that with puberty, and well — your parents eagerly tell you to wait and see how it is when you have your kids. Now, you’ve got that added pressure on your adulting plate, too.

Researchers now place reaching adulthood within an individual’s 20s, extending adolescence until roughly age 24. Your body has milestones — your brain continues to grow into your 20s, and many people get their wisdom teeth around age 25. So, it makes sense many mental health disorders emerge during this vital decade of interesting brain chemistry, especially anxiety.

Developing depression and anxiety in your 20s is common, given the many life changes and transitions you go through. As you exit college, your life transitions continue to fire rapidly like your synapses, but now, you must deal with the quickly emerging burden of adulthood — without the life experience.

Some young adults have also experienced trauma in their youth and contend with reconciling that as they move forward with their adult lives and all the pressures that go with it. Some cope with unhealthy dependencies, like drugs and alcohol, and struggle to develop healthier practices. Developing anxiety in your 20s often happens because of environment and biology — they can interact to make you feel symptoms of anxiety.

Quarter-Life Crisis Is Real

The jokes about middle age crisis make your sides burn — everyone is trying to look a little too young, but the world worships youth and its limitless potential. Understandably, your quarter-life crisis is no joke when it strikes.

Six in 10 millennials experience a quarter-life crisis, and it makes you wonder what life has in store for gen Z. In one study, crisis points for millennials included 26 percent trying to find the right job, 24 percent dealing with working a challenging job, 22 percent wanting to buy their own place and 25 percent figuring out if they’re in the right relationship. The pressures drove 25- to 35-year-old millennials to spend more than they take home each month.

The average millennial also experienced a rock-bottom rut lasting over the course of six months as they struggled to sort out life. Old habits and coping strategies eventually fail, and that leads to developing anxiety in your 20s — and the resulting quarter-life crisis that goes with it. After this time, many millennials also saw the silver lining above the area of being between a rock and a hard place — a spark pushing them to explore and pursue new sides of themselves, relationships, careers and goals.

Clues You May Be Developing Anxiety in Your 20s

But isn’t having a quarter-life crisis short-lived? What happens if that quarter-life crisis persists a quarter of your whole life after your 20s pass?

One in six young adults will develop anxiety, and you may feel afraid of the stigma as much as the symptoms. It’s still vital to learn about anxiety and how it affects you, so you can inform others and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Anxiety symptoms come in both psychological and physical forms. The hamster wheel in your brain spins out of control, along with your heart’s rapid palpitations. You may feel nauseated, have tension headaches, be unable to eat or experience a “pins-and-needles” feeling.

Panic attacks make you feel like you’re dying, which adds to the level of anxiety you experience. Fortunately, anxiety is highly treatable. When you recognize your triggers and find ways to center yourself — even when the room spins and your heart threatens to burst from your chest like the Kool-Aid Man— you’ll reclaim pieces of your life and self, one at a time.

Dealing With Anxiety in Your 20s

Here’s a tip: When you feel the spinning, you become hypersensitive, so use that to your advantage. Study the tile on the floor or identify constellations in the freckles on your skin. This grounds you in the moment and brings you back into or slightly out of your body, depending on what you need to focus on to relieve your symptoms. Many find yoga, walks in nature, coloring and cuddling with a pet also help. Explore new and old hobbies, and discover a mix of solo and social time that works for you.

If you need to simplify your life through minimalism or reduced work hours, do it. A counselor can help you find what works best for you, and sometimes, all you need is a shift in your sleep schedule or eating habits to help take the edge off. Developing anxiety in your 20s is completely common, and with an increasingly connected world, know you’re not alone. Anxiety makes you even braver and stronger because you learn more about yourself as you meet the needs of your mind, body and soul.

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