Why is There So Much Anxiety Around Adulting?


Long before the word “adulting” entered our vocabulary, there was anxiety about the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Perhaps we have a separate word for it now because, well, things have gotten trickier in a lot of ways. In a 2021 study, 70 percent of Americans said today’s young adults have a harder road than their parents did.

In any generation, it’s not that you magically turn into an adult on a specific birthday. Some folks don’t feel like an adult even into their 40s! But today, in the face of higher rates of anxiety, depression, and trauma, the equation is even more out of balance.

Is There Really a “Failure to Launch”?

How you answer this question depends a lot on your perspective. Are there cases in which young folks seem unable to move forward into adulthood? Absolutely. However, assigning the word “failure” appears harsh — particularly in 2023. This generation of young adults is:

Dealing with debilitating levels of anxiety

The first to be raised in a tech-centric society 

Facing economic realities unlike anything seen before

Being stuck under these circumstances is no surprise, and it’s not fair to deem it a failure. That said, none of this is meant to say young people cannot overcome their situation and thrive. But it requires new ideas and perceptions from everyone involved.

What’s Changed?

Previous generations followed more of a universal template. It didn’t always include college. Rather, you’d leave home, find work, get married, and start a family. This is an oversimplification in some ways, but the basic blueprint was the norm. If emerging adults today opt not to do any of those things, they may unfairly be judged as falling behind. A far more accurate and fair set of criteria will be to ask young adults if they are:

Taking responsibility for themselves

Making decisions on their own

Achieving some level of financial independence

We might find that more young people than we imagine are adulting when viewed through this lens instead of the traditional path. However, this shift doesn’t automatically add up to less anxiety and more confidence. The fear of adulting is now engrained in the culture and thus needs active steps to quash.

How to Manage the Fear of Adulting

Maintain Perspective

You’re not alone, and you’re not uniquely flawed. Adulting is a challenge for everyone — including long-time adults. So, identify the eternal factors for your angst and cut yourself some slack. At the same time, do just as much work to discover what is under your control. Aim your focus and energy primarily in those directions.

Connect With Others

Since this is a widespread issue for humans, it makes a lot of sense to talk about it with others. Normalize such conversations. If the people in your life realize that they are not alone and not “failures,” it will facilitate crucial discourse. These connections and conversations could be precisely where new ideas will arise.

Follow Your Heart

As highlighted above, some longstanding traditions are shifting. Use this as motivation to feel less constrained by societal (or familial) expectations. Brainstorm with others. Study broadly to see what lights you up. Look for role models who have blazed new paths. Seek out avenues that spark passion in you and see where they take you.

Help is Always Available

Adulting may be harder than ever before. But there’s a positive parallel trend. Therapy has never been so available as it is now — in-person or online. If you sense there are factors and issues that are contributing to you feeling stuck, confront them now before you move more deeply into adulthood. Our caring and supportive therapists can help navigate the challenges and struggles that young adults face. Contact our office and get connected with a best-fit therapist.