Dolly Doctor

What To Do If You’re Hella Stressed About The Future

No matter whether you're 16 or just finished the HSC, COVID-19 has completely halted our plans for the future.

Okay, let’s get real for a second: the future is a scary thing. But, that fear has been supersized by the world’s events. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely halted international travel, left some of us in lockdown for months and doubtful of our future careers, universities in jeopardy and significantly affected our mental health—and that’s before we even talk about what’s happening in the U.S. right now.

New research from ReachOut, an Australian mental health service for young people, shows that “50 per cent of young people living in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia are worried about their future” but “only 62 per cent would talk about it.” And, while young people in Metro areas like Sydney and Melbourne are more likely to get help, all of us are still grieving a future we aren’t sure can still have. 

So, to help us all out, Girlfriend spoke with Senior Manager of Digital Content at ReachOut, Annie Wylie, to learn more about why you’re stressed about your future and what you can do to ease your fears.

What exactly about the future are young people most worried about?

“Young people are telling us that they are worried about their short term futures such as will they be able to get a job, will they have enough money to pay the bills, along with longer term concerns like will they be able to buy a house and what kind of lifestyle will they be able to afford,” explains Wylie. “Of course, another big concern about the future which is front of mind for so many young people is anxiety about climate change.”

What are some of the conditions that have led me feeling worried about their future?

“It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, but young people across Australia in particular have been really impacted by the pandemic. This is the first time young people are experiencing an economic recession, unemployment levels are high and they are living with a high degree of uncertainty, so it makes sense that stress about the future is also high.”

How much of this is exasperated by social media?

“Being constantly exposed to other people’s highlight reels on social media can add to stress about the future by way of comparison,” explains Wylie. “It can make you feel like they need to be working towards a lifestyle that is ‘perfect’ and also often very expensive.” 

“What’s important is that you feel empowered to use social media in ways that lift yourself up and don’t stress you out. For example, that could be connecting with friends, following causes and creators you feel passionate about, or sharing what’s important to you. Curating your feed is key.”  

How can I mentally grasp the fact I might not be able to control my future?

“It’s really challenging to feel like we don’t have control over our future and it can make us feel really stressed, in particular when we have to live with so much uncertainty and constant change. Everyone who’s experiencing this stress will have something different that makes them feel a little or even a lot better everyday.”

“Getting support from a professional can be a really important step to getting your mind around this. It’s also important to remember that the little habits we adopt everyday can really impact how we feel.”

“One of my hacks is to look at what you can control today or this week and build on that. It might be something as simple as waking up at the same time everyday or scheduling in time for a hobby that you love.”

What are some ways we can alleviate our stress about our future career or study? Should we be setting  more achievable and local goals?

“For lots of young people, what can really help when you’re feeling stressed about the future is to break down bigger goals into smaller practical steps,” says Wylie. “I don’t think we necessarily need to change our goals or make them smaller, but for some people they might need to adjust them as we live through this period of ‘COVID normal’.”

“For example, if your goal is to work overseas, that might not be achievable in the near future, but it can really help your mindset to think about what you can do right now. Maybe you can start a savings plan, start learning the language of the place you dream of living in and start networking with other people who have done something similar to get their tips and advice.”

Beyond that, what can I do to help change my feelings towards my unknown future?

“One of the statistics that we see time and time again is that one in four people in Australia aged 14–25 live with a mental health difficulty, however that 70 per cent of those living with a mental health difficulty don’t get the help they need. We know that there are many young people across Australia who could do with some additional support.”

“There are three main aspects to changing these stats including: taking a proactive approach to looking after our mental health, looking out for those around us when it comes to their mental health and also seeking professional help when we need it.”

What can speaking to an adult or counsellor about these concerns do for me?

“Speaking to an adult that you trust, your GP or a mental health professional can be really helpful when it comes to stress about the future,” explains Wylie. “You might feel like your problem isn’t important enough or daunted by speaking to someone but talking can really help. You might pick up a new tip that helps you feel a bit more excited about the future.”

“If you’re not ready to speak to someone IRL, ReachOut can be a great place to start by reading articles, checking out videos, joining the discussion in our peer support forms and also getting some ideas about where to go for further support if you feel like you need it.”

What additional advice do you have for people who are stressed about the future?

“Everyone will deal with stress about the future differently and it’s important to get the support that suits you if you feel like your stress about the future is really getting to you. For some people that will look like speaking to a friend, their GP or a mental health professional, calling a helpline or you can check our ReachOut’s online peer support forums.”

If you are stressed about the future and need to talk, ReachOut offers online support that’s available for free, online and 24/7. Or, contact Beyondblue (1300 22 4636), Kids helpline (1800 55 1800) and eheadspace (1800 650 890).

Header image source: Iris Wang (Unsplash).

Related stories