Leaving home and entering the adult world for the first time is a very stressful period in anyone's life. So many young adults, whether going to college or taking another step, find that as other issues in their life crop up for the first time, their wellness takes a backseat as they learn how to cope.
Of course, this has a knock-on effect – if you're not looking after yourself and your wellness, your ability to handle all other challenges goes way down. This in turn affects your wellness, which makes it harder to cope, and so on, in a negative feedback loop.
While it may feel like the harder choice at first, the best solution is to focus on your own personal wellness and use that to face the challenges that will come your way as a young adult.
These are the 11 biggest obstacles you and your wellness will face as a young adult and some advice on how to deal with each one.
1. Peer pressure will influence all your decisions, no matter how small.
For many young adults, going to college is the first time when you're consistently away from the one guiding force that has driven you since you were born: your parents. Even if living with your family drove you towards doing whatever they didn't want you to do, that pressure still pointed you in the direction you ended up going.
Now, away from your parents' influence, with the addition of lots of new friends you want to impress, it's easy to make bad choices. In this 2020 research project, adolescents were demonstrated to be more susceptible to both risky behavior and peer pressure.
Let me be clear: I don't want to shame people for making choices their parents wouldn't like, or for indulging in experiments with sex, alcohol or other drugs. What I'm talking about is when you choose something knowing it's not what you really want, or would normally do.
Giving up your personal guiding compass makes you feel lousy, and can seriously affect your own sense of self and personal wellness.
Instead of getting caught up in the moment, where it's easy to give in when you don't have a plan, try to decide what your lines are and what you are and aren't willing to cross before you meet up with friends. Peer pressure is not a bad thing in and of itself – humans are social creatures, and we look to the input of others to decide. Just make sure your own voice is getting a chance to speak up, too.
2. Your time management skills are struggling to find 24 hours.
With any change in routine comes a corresponding drop in time management abilities. Suddenly, the same 24 hours just don't yield the time you need to get everything done. This issue is compounded as a young adult because it's not just a change in routine, you're also scaling up your own life. You have lots of new responsibilities, interests, and friends – and no pre-existing schedule to fit them all into.
Previously, you might have had a relatively static routine that included school, sports, homework, dinner – you only had to self-manage your time on weekends, and sometimes not even then. Now, it's normal to feel like you're freefalling a bit.
To combat this, my recommendation is that you use what's called the Big Rock method, first created by Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. No matter what point you're at on your life's journey, you'll benefit from making a list of priorities and sticking to them.
The key here is to prioritize not how the task makes you feel in the moment, but how you'll feel after the outcome. For example, you may not feel like your job or homework is at the bottom, but instead of prioritizing it in terms of how it makes you feel when you're in it, remember what happens when you emerge out the other side of it. Use that to make a list of the biggest priorities, then medium, then smallest.
This will help you get a better sense of what matters to you, and get it done.
3. Your social circles are expanding and crisscrossing
One of the biggest challenges to personal wellness that young adults face is difficulty balancing social circles. This can seriously affect your wellness because your friends are effectively your support network now. If you aren't mindful about how you maintain relationships, you may find it harder to manage other challenges your friends could help you with.
Before this stage in your life, you likely had friends in one bucket and family in another. Maybe your friends were from school, activities, or your neighborhood, but for the most part, it was easy to balance them and continue forming meaningful bonds with everyone. Now you have friends from many different circles, both geographically and mentally distant. It's hard – and normal – to find it challenging, maintaining all these friend groups.
To address this, the best solution is to accept you will lose touch with some. It's really hard to admit this at the outset, and you may try to stay in contact with everyone, but accepting non-attachment will actually make it trickier to manage the relationships that give you the most meaning.
You should also understand that relationships do take work. Previously, you could maintain them by default because you had hobbies and location in common. Now, you have to understand that it takes regular phone calls, sending notes when you think of them, and planning to meet up when you can – and remember your friends are all also balancing new circles.
That's the only way you can make sure you keep in contact with the people who mean the most to you.
4. Your nutrition may start to slide.
Everyone is so aware of the "freshman 15" that it's a cliche at this point. But I'm not talking about weight gain: I'm discussing nutrition, which is much more important. When you start your life as a young adult, the pressure on you increases from both your new social circles, time challenges, and lack of routine. And one of the first pillars of wellness that falls is nutrition. You choose a granola bar for breakfast; you skip breakfast because you're at the library early; you have wine for dinner.
These events in isolation will not ruin your life, but there are two things that I urge you to keep in mind. Firstly, the point in your life that will eventually define your habits to come. Secondly, skipping meals or eating and drinking things that don't fuel your body in the right way will make it harder for you to face everything else due to lethargy, hunger, and just a feeling that you're not at your best.
The solution requires work and discipline, but like every other wellness habit, it's well worth the time. I'm a big proponent of the CDC's Reflect, Replace and Reinforce model. Reflect on your current challenges. What causes you to slip up? What are your main nutrition goals? Replace the things that are causing you to struggle by finding healthy foods that meet your busy lifestyle. Finally, reinforce your healthy habits with patience, grace, and understanding.
While you won't have perfect meals every single day, the aim is just to remove obstacles and make it easy for you to pick the best long-term choice.
Don't expect perfection from yourself, but do understand that a little bit of hard work here will make your life simpler down the line. Work with your limitations with recipes, snack foods, and meal prep that makes the right choice easy.
5. Romantic entanglements are harder than they seem in the movies.
In all rom-coms that feature young and beautiful people, the heroes fall in love, encounter and solve issues, and go on to their happily ever after all within about two hours. As you'd expect, things are trickier in real life. It's easy to get your feelings hurt.
Having hurt feelings is not a bad thing. It means you're open to committing to important relationships. Making yourself vulnerable in that way takes a lot of courage and bravery, as it's easier to shut yourself off and pretend nothing matters. But as a young adult, you might be taking these more seriously for the first time in your life.
You might discover your sexual preferences are different from what you always thought they were, or you might find yourself pressured into doing things you don't want to. These difficulties will all put your mental wellness under pressure that you're not used to.
There's no easy answer here. The very best thing you can do for your long term wellness is to be extremely clear on what your personal boundaries are. This will help you judge the severity of arguments with your partner, raise red flags when necessary, and stay clear on what your decisions should be, even under the influence of drinking and peer pressure.
6. Social media will affect all your interactions.
Social media affects young adults to an enormous extent. A 2017 study showed that 90% of young adults with access to the internet use social media and that this activity has a significant impact on how young adults explore the formation of their identities.
No matter what your situation is, you'll be handling tons of related issues like FOMO when you see a party on a Story that you weren't invited to, staying connected with your friends on various platforms, inevitably comparison yourself and your life to the highlight reel others post, and even handling concerns of validation based on how many likes you get.
The real issue is that for most people, it's just not realistic to ditch social media altogether. Nowadays, it's how folks plan events, stay in touch, and express themselves creatively. You can't just delete Instagram and be done with it.
To ensure you're focusing on your mental wellness here, the solution is twofold. First, limit social media. While you can't excise it entirely from your life, you can reduce the amount you use it. Can you limit scrolling to ten minutes a day? Would it be possible to post less? Can you minimize your friend circle on those apps to just those who matter most to you?
The second step is just to be mindful of how it affects you. Remember that while your feelings in response to what you see are very real, social media itself is not an accurate reflection of reality. If you get up from a scrolling spree and find yourself down, try to connect actions to reactions. You're not just sad for no reason; it's because you've spent time on an app that doesn't have your wellness as a priority. By connecting those, it'll be easier to focus on activities that do help your wellness.
7. Financial concerns are very real.
Some young adults are totally aware of how credit cards work, how they can manage their budgets, and where they need to get their income. But for a lot of people, it might be the first time you're on your own, supporting yourself and managing your own finances. And that's been proven to be a real stressor to mental health, as documented poignantly in this 2020 study looking at how demographics affect financial stress.
Additionally, you may find that your new money management demands coincide with an increase in conflicting interests that have to be funded – going to the movies with friends, buying your own groceries, and purchasing gifts for birthdays, for example.
A lack of financial balance will make you worry and stress.
The Big Rock solution works well here too, in addition to being a great model for time management. I don't want to suggest that learning to budget is easy – it isn't, and it can take years perfecting – but a basic awareness of your biggest priorities and the knowledge that you can get them taken care of will be an absolute boon to your mental health.
The second obvious suggestion is to get a part-time job if you have the time and bandwidth. Even if it's something home-based like tutoring or content creation, it is so helpful to have an income stream both for your finances and future career plans.
8. Your future career plans are at stake.
It can be scary to feel like every single thing you do now affects your job and future prospects. As a young adult, you're facing the reality that your adult life starts now. You may have to apply for and select from internships, lecture choices, jobs, and degrees. It's difficult to know what the best path is, and even more so because every choice you make has ramifications for your entire future.
Added to this is the stress of making these choices with all other pressures – what your friends are doing, what your parents may expect from you, the easiest lecture course for you to choose at the moment. While these may align with the right choice for you, it's also possible they don't.
It may be some comfort to know there often is no cut-and-dry "best choice." Every choice you make will have benefits and tradeoffs with other options, and that's okay. Instead of trying to get everything perfect on the first try, the solution is to focus on your priorities.
No matter what your passion in life is, there is a way to do it as a living. Turn your attention to finding that path, and the other chips will fall into place. If you try to force yourself to do something you don't enjoy just for the money, you run the risk of wasting time and energy on something that isn't worth it, for you, only to make others happy.
Remember that there's always room to mess up and learn from it. It's okay to still not know what you want to be when you grow up. As long as you're clear on what you want, and how you can take the next steps to achieve it, your choice will always be the best one for you.
9. Culture shock will catch you by surprise.
Lots of young adults move from home to somewhere else, sometimes a different country, but even if it's just 50 miles down the road, you'll still feel like things are different from how you do them at home. This can make you feel very lonely and misfitting.
No matter where you start and where you end up, you're liable to face culture shock. Culture shock is defined by the University of Kansas's Counseling and Psychological Services as "a time when a person becomes aware of the differences and/or conflicts in values and customs between their home culture and the new culture they are in."
This affects your wellness through a series of compounding factors. You may feel more lonely, more pressure, and less capable. This in turn will affect your ability to prioritize long-term goals and make it simpler for you to take the easy-right-now path that will cause more hardship for you later on.
To conquer culture shock, I recommend that you dive into your new environment head first. Don't view things as right vs. wrong. Instead, try to view them simply as what they are: experiences. The more you get hung up on the differences, the more you'll suffer. Instead, treat it as an adventure. You're here, you're trying new things, and that's exciting. You will mess up, sure, but you'll also experience something brand new to you.
This level of perspective will let you keep your cool when you inevitably make mistakes, offend someone, make an error in judgment. This will help you stay in balance with your priorities, which will help your wellness stay on track.
10. Regularly sleeping well can be elusive.
As a young adult, time management affects another issue: sleep. You're probably excited about lots of new hobbies, friends, jobs, and priorities. The way our culture views sleep means it's easy to let sleep go first as a low one because you think caffeine will solve this.
Our culture glorifies all-nighters, nose-to-the-grindstone behavior and encourages us to sacrifice sleep at the altar of productivity or being sociable – after all, you can just have an extra-large coffee in the morning, right?
Tufts Journal does a great job explaining how caffeine just blocks the receptors in your brain that tell you you're tired, rather than actually giving you energy. Screentime, stress, and new interests will stop you from getting this most fundamental building block to wellness, and it's important to know that coffee won't solve it – only proper sleep will.
To make it easier to make the best choice for your own wellness, build a ritual that lets you know it's time to switch off. Brew a comforting cup of herbal tea, settle in with a book, take a bath, set your alarm, and create a to-do list for tomorrow. There are lots of ways to do this in a way that makes sense for you.
By building a ritual catered to your needs and tastes, you maximize the likelihood that you'll actually do it. Make it easy for you to prioritize sleep, and everything else will become easier too.
11. Loneliness will knock you down.
Finally, loneliness is one of the biggest challenges you're going to face to your personal wellness as a young adult. Even when you're surrounded by a ton of new people, you can feel like you're alone. In new environments, young adults often don't have the childhood connections that have carried them till now. It's hard to go from a full support network to having very few physically and mentally close friends.
One of the basic human needs in society. We're a social species, and loneliness is what happens when we feel the gap between what we need and what we have.
It's vital to note that these needs can be met while mostly isolated, or not met at all even when surrounded by people. So even if you have a ton of new friends, you can still feel very lonely, which will have a knock-on effect on physical and mental health, as documented in this paper from the University of Chicago.
The answer, in many situations, is counterintuitive: get used to your own company. It is scary to have this support network removed, but it's also a good chance for you to get to know the adult you. While you can and should address this need by forming meaningful relationships with the people around you, it's important to know that this is possibly the first but certainly not the last time in your life you're going to experience loneliness.
What do you enjoy doing? What do you think about when you're alone? By cultivating a relationship with yourself, you're going to be better set for your future life, no matter how many or few friends you have.
Wellness affects every part of your life. Prioritizing will help you balance it.
It's hard to make this sort of article into a list because the truth is that wellness affects every part of your life and vice versa. A lack of sleep will affect your ability to make friends. Social media will play a role in your choices for a future career. Nutrition choices will impact your ability to regulate your own loneliness.
Your wellness depends on many different factors, and as a young adult, the way you respond to these new challenges will in turn depend on and affect your personal wellness.
Young adults face more struggles to their personal wellness than almost any demographic because all the familiar restraints and supports are gone. You're experiencing new things, with new people, in potentially new places with new challenges, and that all takes a toll on you trying to do things to the best of your abilities.
By addressing each issue as it comes up, you can make sure you put your wellness first, which in turn will let you be better able to handle the physical, mental and spiritual obstacles and challenges that will come your way as a young adult.