Everyone expects 20-somethings to be footloose and stress-free. But just because many of them aren’t yet saddled with the responsibilities of feeding a family or taking care of elderly parents doesn’t mean they aren’t immune to anxiety.
In fact, Generation Y, also called the "millennial generation," has been labeled the "melancholy generation" because of all the trauma it has witnessed: the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Virginia Tech.
"They’ve seen the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history and the worst mass killing ever," explains Dave Verhaagen in a USA Today story about Generation Y. Verhaagen is a child and adolescent psychologist and author of Parenting the Millennial Generation.
From this resilient generation has emerged leaders such as Christine Hassler, author of 20-Something, 20-Everything and 20-Something Manifesto. She recently featured "Tips to Survive Your 20s" on Beliefnet.com. Here they are:
* Up your financial IQ.
Hassler is absolutely right when she writes that the first few years after college are crucial to establishing your financial behavior. The sooner you get on a budget the better, because spending habits can get out of control. Fast.
* Spend some time doing self-investigation.
I think we Catholics have a head start here. I know my college years were a time of finding myself. For those who graduated from school without having cracked open a self-help book, they might want to visit a bookstore.
* Own your future.
Hassler talks about the needless weight of expectations and comparisons. I learned a helpful phrase early on: "compare and despair." There will always be someone who is a little better than you and has more than you. And there are always those who are worse off.
* Get your balance.
Hassler writes: "Real life is all about balance. You remember the old story about the tortoise and the hare? Fastest doesn’t always win the race."
* Take it one step at a time.
I try to remember this one when I get overwhelmed and frazzled. I look at my "to do" list and cross out two-thirds of it. There are different kinds of goals: today’s goals, next year’s goals and lifetime goals. Don’t think that you have to accomplish the lifetime goals in a day.
* Asking for help isn’t a weakness.
Says Hassler: "Don’t let independence become stubbornness. When you are lost or confused, start looking and asking around for information that can help you."
* Step up your physical health.
Take care of yourself. Start eating a healthy diet as soon as you move out of your dorm and don’t have to eat cafeteria food anymore. Get on an exercise schedule before you land your first real job.
* Get to gratitude.
Gratitude not only helps combat depression and anxiety, it has been proven to be good for your physical health. When you lose the first dream job and have to work in a stinky cubical with mean people, try to remember all the other blessings in your life.
* Know that "having it all" is a myth.
Here’s where priorities come in. You can’t expect to have a totally flexible job that is low-stress but offers a salary comparable to investment banking. That job doesn’t exist. (Sorry!)
* Know you aren’t alone.
It may feel like you are the only loser among your friends, but chances are they are all feeling as lost and confused as you are. If they aren’t, get new friends.
Therese Borchard is a columnist for Catholic News Service.