There’s always been an inordinate amount of pressure you face in your 20s, the years when you’re technically supposed to learn how to adult successfully (Bills! Rent! Pap smears!), build a career, and save money—all while trying to locate the single person that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Like I said, pressure.
If you agree, take solace in the fact that things really can only get better from here. Chin up, solider! New research from app company Happify along with a handy video put together by Harvard Business Review confirms that the years between being a teenager and hitting 30 are irrefutably the most difficult.
By looking at how the emotional well-being of 88,000 users varied by age, researchers found that stress-levels skyrocketed in participants in their 20s. This increase in stress continues through your 30s and 40s, but much less dramatically than in earlier years, until at around retirement age when stress finally (unsurprisingly) begins to dip.
The reason your 20s feels so tough—even though stress is actually higher later in life—is actually because you’re not coping with all that added pressure just yet. Happify’s data shows people experience a spike in both negative emotions and mind wandering during their late 20s and early 30s, after which those feelings decrease. At the same time, positive emotions hit a low, and don’t pick back up until yours late 30s when “we learn to develop psychological mastery and to regulate and attenuate our emotions, or to dismiss them instead of dwelling and allowing emotions to take over,” as Ran Zilca, Happify’s chief data science officer explained for Harvard Business Review. He added: “As we age, we learn to put things in perspective, believe in ourselves more, and realize that the emotions that sometimes pierce our chests are temporary and do not have to consume us.” So basically, it takes us a solid decade to learn to chill the hell out when something doesn’t go to plan.
Zilca also writes that a lot of us will or have experienced a quarter life crisis, and that it comes in four distinct (and painfully familiar) waves. It begins with a feeling trapped by a commitment at work or home, followed by ending said commitment, a period of reassessing your life, and then finally taking up new relationships or hobbies you actually enjoy. “People take on jobs, rent apartments, and enter relationships, but then feel trapped in pretend adulthood,” he writes. “At some point, they leave their romantic partners, jobs, or social groups and become separated and lonely. They spend the worst part of this crisis reflecting and recalibrating their plans, alone and isolated, until eventually they go out and explore new hobbies, interests, and social groups, finally emerging at the other side of the crisis happier, more motivated, and with a greater sense of clarity.”
In case you need any further convincing that your 20s are literally the worst, check out all the research in the full video below.