Mid-twenties loneliness and how to navigate it
Loneliness is a complex experience that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or social status. A common misconception is that loneliness mainly affects older people. But, research shows that it’s actually adults in their mid-twenties who are particularly vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and social isolation. But why do we feel lonely, and what can we do about it?
When I was younger I also used to associate loneliness with age. I believed that when you get older and lose people along the way, you must naturally become ‘lonely’. The thought of having to experience loneliness myself upon entering my mid-twenties never crossed my mind. But young people are in fact more likely to feel lonely than any other age group, says a study from the BBC and the Wellcome Collection.
Youth and happiness are not necessarily positively correlated for everyone. Just because we’re young, and have friends, a family, or a partner, does not exempt us from loneliness and feelings of social isolation. And that’s contradicting what we were raised to believe. It took me a while to understand and come to terms with the fact that experiencing loneliness is actually a natural part of maturing. It is so inherent to being in your twenties, and more of us experience loneliness than we would assume.
Mid-twenties are for most people marked by significant social transitions. Graduating, starting a new job, forming new relationships, moving to a different city, or finding a partner. Although these are very exciting changes, they can also be quite overwhelming and cause social isolation. We move out of the environments where our activities were naturally centered around community, to environments where the individual is more at the forefront.
The people that we surrounded ourselves with on almost a daily basis are now entering new life phases of their own. There are no more shared classes or after-school hang-outs, and our environment of familiarity and stability is disrupted by these social transitions and new stimuli.
But belonging somewhere strongly benefits our well-being and stimulates a healthy mind and body. It is such a fundamental part of being human, that not having a sense of belonging can even be a predictor of depression, according to Forbes and studies by MIT and the University of Michigan. Being part of a group and feeling like you belong somewhere is so vital to our survival, that it’s no surprise we experience loneliness when our environments drastically change upon entering our mid-twenties.
Who am I?
Another factor that contributes to loneliness is trying to figure out who you are as a person. Because while you find yourself, you sometimes lose parts of your identity along the way. As we grow older, we start to enjoy different things. This might be a change of hobbies, different interests in friends, or perhaps even a change of physical location.
Being in your mid-twenties means all of a sudden you need to think about what you want to do, where you want to work, where you want to live, who you want to be, or who you want to spend your time with. These are things you never really had to think about before because they developed in a natural way over time. But now that you are getting older they might feel like life-changing questions. And to make matters worse, for some reason, it appears as if everyone around us has it all figured out.
But I realized that shaping our identities is an ongoing process. It’s not that we weren’t discovering ourselves before our mid-twenties. The only difference now is that the speed of the process is much higher.
Although social media and technologies undoubtedly changed and improved the way we communicate with others, they are also part of the reason why we experience loneliness and social isolation. The constant connectivity that we have with online spaces comes at the cost of our authenticity. I catch myself many times comparing myself to random people on the internet. I look up to these people who I consider to be successful and feel as if I have catching up to do. That’s when the self-sabotaging voice in my head tells me to go faster, run farther, reach higher, and achieve bigger.
Social media make these highly curated and almost ‘perfect’ lifestyles appear to be very accessible, which probes us to try and achieve similarly. But that’s not what living is about. We’re young, in our mid-twenties, and we need to live like our age. When you’re in your mid-twenties there is absolutely no need to know what your passions are, what your dream job is, where you want to live, or who you want to settle down with. Your mid-twenties are for exploring and making mistakes. As Beyoncé once said: “Livin’ in the fast lane, see you when you crash, babe.”
Lonely vs alone
Feeling lonely while young used to give me a sense of guilt. It’s almost like a taboo. Because why would I feel lonely when I’m rich in the connections that I have with other people? It took me a while to realize and accept, that feeling lonely is not the same as being physically alone. It’s actually very much possible to feel lonely while being physically surrounded by many people.
Throughout the first phases of loneliness, I found myself trying really hard to make more friends, be more approachable, and never spend a night alone. I can already tell you that this doesn’t work. Instead, focus on yourself for a while. Find out what makes you happy and doesn’t require the participation of others. For me, this was writing and cooking. These are two very simple things, yet they helped me focus on the happiness I could generate myself.
It’s also important to be vigilant of your mental health. Young adulthood can be a time of significant stress and pressure, which can cause mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Most of us have not yet developed the right coping mechanisms to deal with these challenges effectively. Which is why it’s wise to reach out for professional help when you think you need it.
Once we (re)discovered our interests and hobbies, it’s time that we find those communities again that we talked about earlier. We all fit into a community, regardless of our backgrounds. We just need to find the people that we feel comfortable around and with whom we can re-establish this sense of belonging. By actively working to build this sense of belonging, we can transform feelings of loneliness into feelings of joy, connection, and fulfillment.
And belonging doesn’t necessarily refer to tangible things. Belonging can also be found in a cause or a sense of purpose. But we won’t know until we open ourselves up to experience life as it is. Not anyone else’s, but just our own.
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