For many young adults, graduating high school and living on your own is the first time in their lives that they have ever felt completely physically alone. They are halfway between being surrounded by their biological family and grade-school peers and forming their own social families, but being caught in the middle can feel overwhelming as they are forced to learn what they want for themselves and for their relationships. The prevalence of mental health issues in young adults is compounded by the lack of social support they feel they have, as they have been taught to turn to others to meet their needs.
Young adults are still learning how to be aware of their needs and rely on themselves to meet them. Self-reflection and alone time allows people to pay attention to their own values and goals and evaluate whether they are acting in line with them.
Pressure to Fit In With a Crowd
Although high schoolers experience more direct peer pressure, young adults feel obligated to finally fit in somewhere now that they have more freedom to explore things they are interested in. In college, there is so much social pressure to go out, make new friends, party, and hook up with casual partners and less emphasis on cultivating meaningful relationships. After graduating, there is pressure to date more seriously and settle down.
Social isolation is often stereotyped as a sign of poor adjustment and the inability to maintain healthy relationships. People assume that they should be ashamed for being more introverted and feel selfish for prioritizing their own needs when the messages they’ve internalized emphasize the importance of pleasing others, being surrounded by people, and belonging to a group. However, according to a study conducted by the University of Rochester, “approaching solitude for its enjoyment and intrinsic values is linked to psychological health, especially for those who don’t feel as if they belong to their social groups.”
Feeling Lost in a Crowd
Social loneliness occurs when people feel that they lack social relationships, while emotional loneliness occurs when people feel that the relationships they have lack sufficient closeness and intimacy. If you are struggling with mental health issues, you may feel like you don’t have anyone you can trust to talk about their emotions without judgment or concern, even if you have people you would reach out to just to kick it.
Even surrounded by people, it is easy to feel alone with your emotions. There is a difference between being alone because you are a introvert that recharges by focusing on internal feelings and spending excessive amounts of time alone because of overwhelming social anxiety. The reasons behind seeking out solitude affect the outcomes of time alone, depending if you are using it to reflect on a situation or escape from it.
How to Cultivate Healthy Aloneness:
Work on Your Relationship with Yourself. Many young adults dive into relationships to distract from their own needs. Romantic partners are often used as a way to feel loved, paid attention to, and heard. It is harder to learn what your needs are and to do things for yourself. Having a relationship with yourself is about awareness of yourself as an individual that deserves respect and love. Check in with yourself more often.
Hold boundaries with others. Learn how to say no. It’s a great word when used appropriately. Learn when to say yes too.
Find clarity in your personal goals when not intertwined with the goals of others. Identify how your personal values align with your goals. Ask if your friends have similar goals or if they are supportive of you doing your thing.
Spend less time on Social Media where you’re more likely to compare yourself with others. While social media can be a good way to stay connected to friends without having to make the effort in person, it can effect your self-esteem and contribute to self-defeating beliefs that you’re not doing enough.
Be Here Now. Don’t get too ahead of yourself. Instead of making plans for tomorrow or next year, focus on how you can let go of outside stressors and focus on what you need to do for yourself. Don’t let your fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.
Remember that you are not actually alone. Most young adults feel lost and alone, as they go through more changes during this period than most other periods in their lives. Naming your experience allows you to connect with others feeling the same way.
Momentum is a wilderness therapy program for young adults ages 18-25 struggling with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and self-doubt that have impacted their to transition to independent living. The program uses adventure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a strength-based approach. It is a small and nurturing community that focuses on goals of improved self-regulation and physical well-being. Momentum gives students the skills they need to lead healthier, happier lives.