Navigating the Challenges of Emerging Adults

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Navigating the Challenges of Emerging Adulthood

Emerging adulthood is a season of life marked by self-focus, instability, identity explorations, feeling in-between, and a sense of possibilities.1 This stage occurs from age 18 to 29, when you’re finishing grade school and transitioning into a more ambiguous season.  

Experiencing a new level of freedom and choosing what path you want to take is exciting! But with freedom comes responsibility, and the uncertainties that every emerging adult faces can cause anxiety, relationship discord, stress, and other challenges. In order to learn navigate emerging adulthood well, you’ll need to understand the three major points of tension for emerging adults: 

Tension Point 1: Rapidly Changing Identity and Expectations

You’re no longer able to rely on or rest in your past identity as a good student, star athlete, club president, you name it. A new world has opened up to you; you have a “blank slate” in some ways. Your identity will start to change, and it will continue changing as you enter a field of study, go to your first job, begin a marriage, start new friendships, or engage in any number of new endeavors during this transitional time. These changes can certainly be positive, but the unknowns and the “newness of if all” can lead to tension.

Tension Point 2: Uncertainty About Responsibility

Emerging adulthood can cause uncertainty when it comes to our responsibilities, too. Coming back home for the summer after your first year of college is a great example. You’ve had a full year of being “out on your own,” but suddenly you’re back in an environment where the expectations may be different than what you’re now used to. You didn’t need to tell anyone where you were going or when you’d be home, and you probably ate whatever and whenever you wanted to. There may be some tension with your parents as you readjust to being under their roof and work out the new responsibilities you have as an emerging adult in their home. 

Becoming an adult involves a new level of responsibility for taking care of yourself – but how those responsibilities are divided isn’t always clear. Who is responsible for your finances, and to what degree? If your parents are supporting your educational endeavors, what is their role and what’s your role? As an emerging adult, you’re becoming more involved in handling your money, health, chores, education, career, and more all on your own. This responsibility is necessary for you to learn and grow but there can be confusion that comes as responsibilities are transferred between parents and emerging adults.

Tension Point 3: More Choices and Options that Create more Anxiety and Insecurity

Up until now, it was pretty easy to follow the path laid out in front of you. You had to be in school – so there were only so many choices you could make. But now what? 

The next step isn’t so clear anymore. Maybe it’s college. Maybe it’s the military or a trade school. Maybe you jump into the workforce, take a gap year or do a combination of work and night classes. But what do you study, and where do you live, and how do you pay for it all, and how do you decide between a seemingly-endless list of possibilities?

Opportunities are good. But for someone who isn’t sure what they want to do, who lacks confidence, who is pressured by family or friends to choose one path over another, or who over analyzes the options in front of them, opportunities can be paralyzing. The result is anxiety and insecurity that continues to snowball. For that reason, it’s important that we learn to navigate emerging adulthood in a way that eases the tension and gives us the appropriate perspective.

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Navigating the Tension

Here are some ways we can navigate the tension that naturally comes with emerging adulthood.

  1. Normalize the process. Every person who lived through their twenties went through this time. We all go through this in some way or another. The tension and the uncertainty are completely normal! Normalize your expectations for what this time is supposed to be, and what is going to make it successful. You are going through a process and learning a new way to do things. You’re not going to know everything, and you must be patient with yourself. You will stumble and times will feel awkward – but that’s okay.
  1. Enhance your self-efficacy. Instability and a world of options can reinforce feelings of helplessness. Recognizing your strengths and what you do well can build your confidence to take on the challenges you face, and empower you to understand that you can navigate through this part of your life.
  1. Differentiate from the identity you think others expect from you, and explore your identity. Work through the expectations that you think others have for you. Clarify what you want from your life. What are your values, loves, desires? What would it look like to pursue those, rather than trying to fit an expectation that may not be right for you who are? 
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The best thing you can do for yourself as an emerging adult is give yourself grace. Try to make the best decisions you can with the information you have. Seek advice from those who have traveled this road before. Think about what success means to you. But if you start down a path and it doesn’t work out, view this as a learning experience rather than a failure. Be proud of yourself for trying. Giving yourself grace will make this season more fruitful and enjoyable!

Don’t let the challenges of emerging adulthood consume you.

If you’re struggling to sort through the uncertainties of this season, you’re not alone – but you don’t have to struggle through this season! Read more about counseling treatment for anxiety, or contact us today to learn about our counseling services in Greenville, South Carolina. We would love to be part of your journey and help you become the best version of yourself. You can email us at, or call our Intake Coordinator at 864-214-2084 (Option 1) to schedule an appointment.