We Asked A Shrink Why Your Twenties Can Be So Tough

Your twenties are a weird time. Full of changes, growth and some decidedly adult stuff. There’s a lot going on ­– some of it’s very fun and exciting, but for a lot of people, it’s a decade marked with a lot of… stuff. Heavy stuff.

When I was 25 my doctor diagnosed me with a Generalised Anxiety Disorder. After years of yucky weird feelings, it was a relief to find out that there was something I could name, and maybe recover from. And I wasn’t alone, either – Beyond Blue’s stats tell us that 1 in 4 young people in Australia have a mental health condition, and more specifically, 1 in 6 are like me: they have an anxiety condition.

These stats have slowly become more apparent for me over the past few years, with more and more of my friends admitting they’re struggling a little with life. Now, at 28, I sometimes wonder: is it the fault of this decade of life I’m in? Are our 20s to blame?

is it the fault of this decade of life I’m in? Are our 20s to blame?

Psychologist Melinda Rak tells me there’s a couple of big things that people in their 20’s are increasingly presenting with, and explained to me what psychologists are currently thinking is behind why so many young people are having a tough time.

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On a totally anecdotal level, anxiety seems to be the biggest issue my friends and I come across. I thought maybe it was just my self-obsession talking, but Mel agrees:

“Anxiety appears to underlie a lot of mental health concerns in individuals presenting for support. Stress, concern and pressure for people in their 20’s to have an active social life, a career they’re passionate about, a body that society views as ‘acceptable’…”

 “Moreover, anxiety underlies many mental health concerns such as eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, stress, insomnia, and often precedes the onset of depression.”

So anxiety is a big thing people in their 20s feel, because it’s behind a lot of other stuff that might just be starting for us. You’re in such a transitional phase: you’ve gotta be killing it at work, but you’re still young enough that you feel pressure to be making the most of the social scene as well, and keeping yourself looking fit and young. I don’t do any of these things, because I’m a slob with anxiety, but even thinking about doing them all is making me tired.

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Body Image Issues

While I thought anxiety was a big one- Mel tells eating disorders are on the rise for people my age.

“While anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder all feature in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, there has been further evidence to support the emergence of another problem eating pattern…”

“‘Orthorexia’, describes an individual’s fixation on righteous eating, which can lead to obsessions about healthy eating coupled with feelings of guilt and shame when the individual deviates from eating what is ‘healthy’.

I once wrote an article about how even though I felt like I was ‘smart enough’ to know that pictures on my telly and in my magazines were photoshopped and made up, that the images of ‘real people’ in the form of fashion bloggers and social media stars, were what was really stressing me out. These people were ‘just like me’ but looked so much better. Mel reckons this effect is behind a number of issues, body image being a big one.

“30% of all time spent online is using social media, with 25 minutes spent each day on Instagram and snapchat respectively. What’s interesting is that the rise of social media – in particular, Instagram – has further cultivated a warped perception of positive and expected existence.”

All those people you’re exposed to at our age – the hot insta models who live life on aeroplanes, are coupled with the generation above us telling us to stay healthy, cut out sugar, eat paleo, stop eating burgers – and that’s a lot of pressure.


As Mel explains, our access to the seemingly perfect lives of others leave us constantly comparing ourselves to them – and not just their bodies, but their whole lives. And that can leave us feeling inadequate. “The expectations we place upon ourselves can leave us prisoners of our own minds. The ‘standards’ we deem as acceptable, whether driven by social media or by parental, professional and self-expectation can lead to disappointment when not met.”

According to Sensis data, Facebook is far and away the winner for most-used social media site in Australia, with a whopping 95% uptake to Twitter’s 19%. That’s a lot of people scrolling endlessly through the lives of virtual strangers they went to school with who now are totally killing it, or got super hot, or just seem to have their shit together when you feel like you don’t. But Mel says we should be a little kinder to ourselves. “Being angry, sad, frustrated, anxious etc. are all normal and acceptable emotions. However social media distorts this assertion by equating positive emotions as acceptable and expected, and thus more valued.”

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People in their 20s have the highest frequency of use when it comes to accessing social media every day- 99% of us are on Facebook every single day, with 58% of us scrolling through the ‘gram. The data shows only 11% of people 50-64 are there with us – I wonder if they’re happier for it? As Mel puts it:

People in their 20s have grown up in a world that their parents didn’t. Being the social creatures we are, we compare ourselves to those around us. We are faced with 24/7 accessibility of images from the media, role models or peers, that encourage this process. Social media not only allows us to be up to date with what’s happening but often the images we see are posed, enhanced or created to show individuals in a positive light.

Being angry, sad, frustrated, anxious etc. are all normal and acceptable emotions.

Ultimately, life is a different journey for everyone. We each have a certain set of circumstances and experiences we take with us. For some of us, our 20’s might be harder than any other period in our life, while others might breeze through. But it certainly seems like the current climate can be tough for 20-30 year olds. So take care of yourself – spend less time on social media, less time comparing yourself to others, and less time worrying about what the future holds. Take some of Mel’s advice:

Educating people on emotional literacy and their self-talk can go a long way to building resilience and coping skills. In addition, understanding how the lens of social media used to view society is currently out of focus, and that developing skills to reframe how one’s self worth is not dictated by a photo.

 And go on – talk to a shrink if you have to, chat to your friends. Get it off your chest. We’re all in this 20s funk together.


Beyond Blue