Stress-proof: How to Reduce Stress In Your 20s11 min read

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Somedays I wish it was all a dream. I wish I could wake up to a reality where I don’t feel confused and stressed out. 

Like a river, stress can be both a source of life and a destructive force that erodes your footing. 

It is possible to ride the waves of stress without being overwhelmed. But just as inexperienced surfers find it hard to offset the ocean waves, many twenty-somethings are not skilled in finding the balance, so they end up getting submerged in the worry and mental tension caused by the difficulties in life.

My 20s so far have been quite a surf through different waves of stress, from taking JAMB exams 4 times, to navigating college with about 40% help from my parents. Now I am out of college, but still struggling with the constant waves of stress. 

Why Your 20s May Be So Hard and Stressful 

In the latter half of my twenties, I realized that a significant source of stress, and sometimes even depression in your 20s stems from the differences between you and your peers in terms of identity and life experiences.

That said, there are two big reasons your 20s might be filled with so much stress. They are

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: When Your Different Life Paths Make You Question Yourself 

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory is usually used to describe the creative process in individuals. However, it can also suggest everyone starts life on the same path but eventually diverges and finds their unique route – and that is when the ups and downs begin. 

From birth until your late teens, you and your peers are on the same bus, same track and leading similar lives. 

However, as you enter your 20s, you start to see a divergence between you and your peers – some become intensely career-focused or start businesses. They become rich, with rich friends, marry young and start families, travel regularly and are idolized by many. 

They’ve found and taken a path to success – the dream life.

But, you feel stuck in a path of no success. You find yourself struggling to pay for food, rent, healthcare and transportation. You are in a relentless search for a better job, friends and helpers to help you achieve your success while also dabbling in and out of a series of toxic friendships and unfulfilled relationships. 

At the same time dealing with expectations from parents and family members – pressured to find a fulfilling and financially satisfying path, you are soaked with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. 

However, it is important to understand that no matter the path you take, no matter how beautiful or ugly your life is, you’ll still feel yourself missing out on some things that you think your peers are enjoying. You will question if you’re making the most of your time and youth, which leads you to more stress 

In other words, even the people you see who seem happy and successful still have their share of angst.

Societal Norms: The Invisible Rules That Make Your 20s Stressful 

Social norms are illusions – stories passed down from previous generations, that greatly influence us and are hard to escape. Social norms inevitably turn their adherents into a very organized flock that seldom questions their leaders. It declares what to do and when to do it, even if it may not be comfortable or practical for everyone.

For instance, social norms may decide when and how to have sex, make money, or seek power. It also places timelines and restrictions that cause stress and anxiety. 

Society holds certain expectations for individuals before they reach the age of 30. This heightens stress in your late 20s. As you confront the realization of closing doors and unfulfilled dreams. 

Thankfully, this stress can be overcome simply by disregarding social norms.

I often say to myself; No light at the end of the tunnel. Stress and suffering accompany everyone from cradle to grave. All you can do is carry your lamps at every step of the dark tunnel. 

How Can I Reduce Stress In My  20s? 

Nevertheless, the most constructive approach – to reducing stress in your 20s – is to channel your fears and anxieties into motivation, using them as a driving force to embrace the present moment and seize every available opportunity. Instead of obsessing over where you ‘should’ be, focus on making the most of the opportunities that currently exist. This will require radical acceptance and a commitment to focusing solely on the things you can control. 

Stop worrying about running out of time

Recognize that the path to success is unique for everyone, and there’s no universal timeline. Instead of fixating on arbitrary deadlines, concentrate on the progress you’re making and the lessons you’re learning along the way. 

Embracing the journey and acknowledging that growth takes time will alleviate the unnecessary pressure to conform to societal expectations.

Accept the reality of your own mortality.

Every movie has an end. Every story has a conclusion, and even the greatest show – “Life” – reaches its finale. 

Everything about you will come to a close – the challenges, demands, and stress will end because you and everyone will die. 

Embrace this perspective, it releases you from the fear of death (thanatophobia) and the relentless pressure to achieve more. It instils humility, empathy and appreciation for the present moment and the blessings we often overlook in our pursuit of endless goals.

Channel your thoughts towards positivity.

Your mind is a powerful tool, capable of crafting good and bad stuff.

Unfortunately, it’s wired to grab onto the negative thoughts faster than the positive ones. This can lead to a whole lot of stress.

However, you can train your brain to use your imagination for good. 

Imagination is the starting point for making things happen. If you can think it, you can feel it, and if you can feel it, then you will do it. 

To use your imagination to ease stress:

  • Practice positive visualization. Picture yourself in a peaceful place, like a beach or a forest. Focus on the details of the scene, like the sound of the waves crashing on the shore or the chirp of the birds. The more vivid your imagination, the more relaxed you’ll become.
  • Get creative. Write, paint, sing or dance. When you’re creative, you’re letting your mind positively express itself. This can help take your mind off your worries and stresses, and it can also boost your mood.
  • Reframe your thoughts. When you’re feeling stressed, it’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts. But you can use your imagination to challenge these thoughts and replace them with more positive ones. For example, instead of dwelling on the fear of being wrong, ask yourself what the worst-case scenario is. Chances are, it’s not as bad as you think. 

Also, force yourself to look for the bright side of events, as they are often cloaked by anxieties. For example, when you work out to lose weight but have not achieved it, instead of worrying, look on the bright side that you’re gaining fitness. 

Remember, “Everything you can imagine is real.” – Pablo Picasso 

Don’t fear failure

From the moment you enter this world, you’re subtly indoctrinated with the notion that failure is the mark of the unworthy – a brand of inferiority.  In other words, you’re not scared of failure itself but rather what other people will say or think of you.

Undeniably, failure is an unpleasant experience, a bitter pill to swallow. However, no game allows you to breeze through every level unscathed. 

And just as in any game, life demands a certain tolerance for setbacks, and a willingness to embrace the occasional stumble.

Your twenties, then, are another stage in this grand game of life. Like a novice gamer, you’ll fumble your way through the initial stages, pressing the wrong buttons, misinterpreting the rules, and inevitably encountering crashes and game-overs. But with each attempt, each failure, you gain experience, you refine your strategies, and you inch closer to mastery. 

And this evolution is only possible if you’re comfortable with the occasional misstep and uncertainties. You can only win if you learn to restart, rather than turn off the game.

Imagine a gladiator who has made peace with the chances of defeat, who steps into the arena not with fear and trembling, but with a quiet acceptance of all that is possible. It is this acceptance that allows the gladiator to fight with unwavering courage, to fight bravely without succumbing to fear and running for their life inside the arena. 

So embrace the possibility of failure and liberate yourself from the shackles of emotional and mental fatigue.

Constantly upgrade your mind

It doesn’t become easier; it’s you who grows stronger and more capable of making decisions, building relationships, taking care of your health, acquiring the necessary skills, and earning a living. 

To excel in these areas, you must hone your intellect through critical thinking and self-awareness. This involves ruthlessly shedding your outdated limiting beliefs and preconceptions through self-education.

Knowledge is abundant and readily available. 

Books, podcasts, websites, YouTube videos, and seminars are almost free. The only cost is your time and dedication.

Utilize these resources to question everything, seek understanding, develop your skills, and form your own unique and enhanced perspective of the world. All these will be your power-ups.

And, your new power-ups will help you scale through life better, and reduce your stress – just like a weapon powerup makes it easier for you to destroy your enemies.

Practice Gratitude

Blaming external factors for the challenges of our 20s serves only to blind us to the blessings scattered along our path – blessings that await our recognition and embrace.

Gratitude is not a mere religious gesture or a passing sentiment; it’s the natural consequence of self-awareness, a byproduct of humility – the profound understanding that we are all imperfect, vulnerable beings, striving to navigate life’s labyrinth with the best of our intentions and capabilities.

You can be grateful for the;

  • Unwavering love and support of your parents, siblings, friends and colleagues who have been with you through life’s storms and celebrated your triumphs with unwavering enthusiasm.
  • Resilience of your spirit, capacity to rise from adversity, reshape your narratives, and emerge stronger from life’s trials.
  • Beauty that surrounds you, the symphony of nature, the tapestry of your experiences, the endless creative expressions that enrich your life.
  • Opportunities that lie ahead, the chance to learn, grow, and contribute to the world in meaningful ways.
  • Every gift of life itself, the privilege of breathing, feeling, loving, and experiencing the vastness of human existence.

Be grateful for the difficulties and stress,  they are perfectly normal. This struggle going on in your mind will make you stronger to deal with bigger and tougher challenges waiting ahead for you.

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Conclusion: Don’t Ask For A Stress-free Life 

While everyone wants a life spent sipping coconuts on pristine beaches, indulging in spa massages, and exploring vibrant hangouts, a degree of stress (or even anxiety) is essential for meaningful progress and preventing apathy (chaos).

After countless failed and stressful attempts, the lighting bulb was invented. 

Hilda Baci endured 93 hours and 11 minutes of stress, cooking to secure her place in the Guinness Book of Records.

The process of writing this piece was mentally stressful, too. 

Don’t ask for a stress-free life, you will become ineffective and unproductive. Rather, be more intentional about the things you choose to stress about, avoid comparison, and be patient with yourself. Doing this will squeeze out your potential and help you achieve your dreams without destroying you.

If you enjoyed this or have a question, please leave a comment. 

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