No matter your age, your relationship status, your job title or your Instagram following, there’s one underlying factor that connects all of us: happiness. As life naturally ebbs and flows, there are bound to be times—whether they last for months or years—where we don’t feel 100 percent. Even if you aren’t clinically depressed or diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, learning smart coping skills to not only manage but flourish through these stages is what will keep you mentally happy and healthy.
“We go through life cycles in a fairly predictable manner. For the most part, we can assume certain factors that are at the forefront of our lives during those life cycles,” explains Dr. Colleen Mullen, Psy.D., LMFT. “As a therapist, we don’t necessarily treat our clients differently during those different life cycles, but we do need to tailor our work to meet our clients where they are at emotionally during those cycles. There are cycles during each decade that affect both our personal and professional lives.”
If you’ve ever considered therapy, let these tips on how to stay centered and calm inspire you to take the next step. After all, seeking a professional doesn’t mean you’re throwing in the towel, it means you’re brave enough to improve the quality of your life.
Start to make mindfulness a habit
When you consider where you are at the start of your 20s and where you end up by the time you reach 29, you’ll encounter a lot of changes all packed into one fast-moving decade. From moving out on your own, getting your first job, to dating as an adult, 20-somethings often feel pressured to go-go-go when taking a moment to pause could be more beneficial. Even in a small way, like carving out five minutes a day to journal or getting up early enough to enjoy coffee before rushing into the office. Incorporating mindfulness from a young age will ensure you maintain that habit down the road.
“Try to go easy on yourselves as you attempt to figure this all out. Begin practicing mindfulness now so that you make living in the moment a habit, not a chore. And try to teach yourselves how to manage life’s transitions successfully; you are faced with a lot of changes and transitions in your 20s, but that is just the start of many more to come. If you can learn to ride the waves of life effectively, they will be less scary and jarring,” suggests Dr. Lindsay Henderson, PsyD., a psychologist who treats patients virtually via the app LiveHealth Online.
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Allow yourself to change
Dr. Kevin Gilliland, Psy.D., executive director of Innovation360, says that being in your 20s is a challenge to discover every single day. What do you love? What do you enjoy? What are you good at? And not just in your career, but in your friendships, your relationships and even your hobbies. As you start to discover what brings you joy and what brings you down, Dr. Gilliland warns that your friendships and relationships will inevitably change as you transform. Instead of getting hung up on having a certain number of friends or having an engagement ring by 30, focus more on the quality of the connections you’re building, romantically and otherwise.
“The right kind of relationship helps to insulate us from the challenges of life, like depression and anxiety. You will absolutely have times of struggle, but don’t be afraid of it. You can handle it, but you don’t need to handle it alone. Life is also a lot more meaningful and fun with other people,” he says.
Do what feels right to you
Though peer pressure might not be something everyone grows out of completely, as you begin to define what matters to you and build your life around it, you might not want to party-hardy as much as you used to. You might also find yourself more attracted to healthy choices, like a yoga class or a cooking demonstration, than ragers that go until 3 a.m. Psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. says allowing yourself to be an individual will help relieve the anxiety that comes with keeping up with friends or activities you’ve outgrown.
“At this point in your life, you are needing to become clearer than ever about carving out your own identity rather than worrying about keeping up with everyone else,” she says.
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Prioritize staying active and social
These days, the average age of becoming a parent is inching closer and closer to 30, meaning that by the time you arrive at this decade, you might be looking at a very different view than you did at 21 years old. Dr. Henderson says that while it’s normal, social activity starts to decline in your 30s and connecting with friends becomes more difficult to manage. Even so, those close relationships will help you maintain your sanity, especially if you have a toddler (or two). “Social connection has tremendous mental and physical health benefits,” she explains.
Those pals might also be your motivators to stay active while trying to run a household. “Keeping ourselves in shape is inherently harder as we grow older. Building healthy eating and exercise habits early in life gives you a fighting chance of keeping up with it over time,” she adds.
Invest in a mentor
Your mom might have all the right answers and your best friend can probably find the perfect meme to tag you in when you need a laugh, but finding a mentor who you’re that close to can be beneficial to your mental health, explains Dr. Gilliland. Because your 30s is a time when your career takes off, your family grows and you start to change your mind about certain habits or ideas you had in your 20s, it can be beneficial to chat with someone outside of your immediate circle to guide you through the chaos. “The words and time with someone that has travelled this path before us and survived to talk about it can do wonders to calm an active mind or lift a heavy heart,” he explains.
If you thought your 20s passed by quickly, throw in a more demanding job, a screaming child, a marriage that has good days and bad ones and your 30s will be here and gone before you have a second to apply mascara. Dr. Mullen says that your 30s can be a pivotal time to plan for happiness, health and prosperity in your 40s, 50s and beyond. “Life is actually much longer than we anticipate and having some security and plans for your later years can help reduce levels of stress, which can help keep environmental depression and anxiety at bay,” she says.
Make time for yourself
Dr. Henderson explains that your 40s are considered the “sandwich generation” because not only are you taking care of your children, but you might also step into a role where you have to take care of your parents, too. This can become very stressful and as a result, many 40-something forget to add self-care to their growing to-do list.
“Though it may feel selfish at times, we cannot effectively care for others without caring for ourselves first. Ask someone for help in this; it is often quite difficult to see opportunities to prioritize ourselves when in the thick of stress, so an outside perspective can be helpful,” she says.
Help a 20-something
When you’re in the thick of getting your kids through middle school, while helping your partner through a sudden career change, seeing through the clouds can require more than sunglasses. Dr. Gilliland says that one way to balance your anxiety or stress is to give back and help others. By sharing your knowledge with a 20-something, you’ll be reminded of how you once dealt with the worries that come with being young, only to make it to where you are, now. “You can share how you managed it, what helped and how this shaped who you are today. If we keep our pain to ourselves, we pay a big price. When we share it to encourage and help others, somehow it feels like we didn’t pay as big a price because it has helped someone else,” he explains.
Find happiness right now
Mullen explains that being in your 40s can feel like an in-between placeholder in life. You might fluctuate from feeling youthful to old and even find yourself relating more to a 30-something or even a 50-something, depending on the situation. The key to not letting this scare you is to simply live in it.
“It’s important during this time to just appreciate where you actually are, right now—not where you’ve been or where you may be going. Staying present helps us stay calm and deal with stress much more easily. Staying present also helps us experience and process things for what they are, without the perceptions we can bring to situations based on past experiences or projected expectations,” Mullen says.
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