Navigating stress in your early 20s

Psychologist Khem Raj Bhatta explains the sources and coping strategies for stress that young adults deal with.


File photo of a youth in distress. PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK/ THE KATHMANDU POST

October 18, 2023

KATHMANDU – Transitioning from adolescence to early adulthood is a period filled with excitement and nervousness. As young individuals step into this new phase, life takes on a different course, marked by adventure, self-discovery and newfound independence. This journey into adulthood involves crucial decision-making and setting the groundwork for the future. However, amid the thrill, young adults often find themselves grappling with stress and uncertainty.

The pressure to excel academically or professionally, financial limitations, the pursuit of meaningful relationships, and the fear of making wrong choices can create overwhelming stress. Picture it as navigating uncharted waters, where waves of uncertainty and self-doubt can be daunting. Young adults are expected to sail through these challenges effortlessly, despite the turbulence.

During this uncertain period, having effective coping strategies is crucial to managing stress and understanding the different stressors is essential. Khem Raj Bhatta, a lecturer at Tribhuvan University’s Central Department of Psychology and programme coordinator at the master’s programme in counselling psychology, sheds light on this phase. Drawing from his extensive background—holding MA and PhD degrees in psychology from Tribhuvan University and having authored numerous research articles focusing on adolescents and youths—Bhatta shares insights on the sources of stress and coping strategies.

In their early 20s, many young adults face stress due to significant life changes. What are some common sources of stress during this period?

Young adults in Nepal often find themselves caught between the desire for independence and the familiarity of childhood, leading to stress. Additionally, issues such as internet addiction add to their challenges. Many also grapple with stressors like marital problems and financial pressures, especially those striving to fund their education. The situation is exacerbated by rising unemployment rates, and inadequate upbringing has left some young individuals lacking essential social skills.

How does stress affect the mental and physical health of individuals in their early 20s?

Stress silently affects the body, altering blood pressure and certain hormones. It has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, making it a primary risk factor for heart-related issues among young adults. It can also weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illnesses. However, as far as we know, stress doesn’t directly lead to any illness.

Mentally, stress takes a toll due to academic, career and social pressures faced by young adults. It hampers concentration, sleep and decision making abilities, impacting overall mental well-being and even lead to anxiety and depression.

What coping strategies do you recommend for young adults to manage daily stress effectively?

How someone copes with stress varies person to person—each individual employs different strategies for it. Some avoid stressors, while others confront them head-on. Some focus on solving the problem causing stress, while some work on regulating their emotional stress response. It’s essential to use a mix of these approaches for better mental health.

Firstly, managing time is crucial for young adults as they juggle many responsibilities. So, they should learn time management techniques to lessen stress—make to-do lists, assign priorities to chores, establish daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and reward yourself when you reach them. Also, setting priorities will help avoid overlooking important chores and reducing stress.

The second thing is to reflect positively on yourself by focusing on your positive qualities and acknowledging your abilities. Positive self-reflection is a good way to combat stress and feel better.

For young people, having a trusted group to vent frustrations can be invaluable. Sharing feelings with supportive individuals who offer kind words can ease stress.

Lastly, altering nervous thinking patterns can be helpful. For instance, when nervous about a presentation, say, “I will do my best, and the rest is up to the examiner.” This shift in thinking alleviates pressure, reducing stress.

Is it common for individuals in their early 20s to feel overwhelmed by expectations from family, peers or society?

Yes, many young adults today feel overwhelmed because they juggle multitude roles. Students often balance jobs, careers, and romantic relationships simultaneously, leading to burnout. The influence of social media and news intensifies social pressures. Peer pressure is also significant, as those in their early 20s often prioritise peer opinions over parental guidance. Family dynamics can be both a direct and indirect source of stress, with some feeling pressured to follow specific career paths against their own wishes due to parental expectations.

When should young adults consider getting professional help or therapy when dealing with stress?

There isn’t a specific moment to seek help, but professional support can significantly reduce stress and enhance well-being. Career counselling can tackle work-related stress, and early intervention in relationship issues can lead to resolution. Despite this, many hesitate to seek help. Raising awareness is vital; professional guidance aids not just mental health but also decisions about careers and relationships.

While there’s no fixed time, seeking help preventively or when feeling emotionally unwell is wise. Ensure you choose skilled professionals for quality support.

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