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Here’s What to Do When You’re Newly Overwhelmed with “Adult” Responsibilities

When the clock struck twelve on my 18th birthday, my calendar was magically filled with appointments to schedule, work meetings, and bill due dates  even though it seemed like I was just sitting in a high school classroom never having to worry about any of these things. The need to call my landlord about a leaky pipe definitely was not something I envisioned as part of my glamorous adult life.

Becoming an adult and having to navigate the many responsibilities that come along with growing up seems to happen overnight (I, for one, didn’t expect all of these tasks to come so quickly!). It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed by your new adult independence, but it doesn’t have to be a completely negative experience. So whether you’re a recent grad, subletting an apartment for the first time this summer, or thinking ahead to the next school year, here are a few tips to take these feelings of stress or nervousness and use them as an opportunity to learn how to approach adulthood in a way that works for you.

Take a step back

When it seems like adulthood’s being thrown at you all at once, it’s essential to take a step back from your daily reminders and the emails in your inbox, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Consider time dedicated to self-care as important as anything else on your to-do list. You could even schedule it into your calendar like any other task!

Samantha, a junior from the University of Ottawa, says that finding self-care methods can help you feel less overwhelmed when things pile up quickly. “For me, doing some origami, cooking, or having any kind of project helps me get my mind off the responsibilities that overwhelm me,” she says. “Distancing myself from the cloud of ‘adult’ stuff is so important when I’m feeling stressed or anxious.” 

Whether it’s journaling, watching a movie, or even doing nothing at all, taking a step back when possible and prioritizing self-care will make “adulting” a lot more manageable.

woman sitting at window reading book
Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels

Break down your to-do list

So you have a mental checklist of everything you need to get done ASAP, like rescheduling an appointment, asking your boss for a raise, taking your car to the mechanic, or even buying a new shower curtain. It’s easy for these things to suddenly feel like a lot, and that’s okay! One way to handle these responsibilities is to break down your list into bite-sized tasks to help you get them done without sacrificing your wellbeing. 

After organizing your tasks by priority, try further organizing by the amount of time it’ll take to do them. For example, if rescheduling an appointment is low priority but takes less than five minutes to do, you can weigh whether it’s worth pushing to tomorrow or finishing today. Similarly, if asking your boss for a raise is high priority, but you know you’ll need to prepare for it, make sure you give yourself some breathing room before it’s time to meet with them! Taking the time to assess what you can realistically get done during your day can ease the pressure of checking off every item on your list.

Talk to those you trust — including mental health professionals

If you’re in college, chances are you’re not the only one feeling overwhelmed with the joys of adulthood. Talking to a roommate, classmate, family member or friend can definitely help you feel less alone when trying to “figure things out” — and you might be surprised to learn that no one really has everything “figured out” at all!

It’s completely natural to feel uncertain when faced with new responsibilities, so speaking to someone who has had similar experiences can help you navigate them with more confidence. They might even be able to offer you some advice — truth be told, I definitely didn’t know how to renew my passport until a friend walked me through it.

If your responsibilities have you consistently feeling overwhelmed or anxious, speaking to a mental health professional might be the right route for you. Most college campuses offer mental health resources which can be a great way to start forming healthy coping mechanisms when managing adulthood. 

Three women talking with flowers
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash

Let yourself be a kid again

Almost every adult feels nostalgic for their childhood hobbies, but society tends to put a lot of pressure on college students to “grow up” in order to avoid being seen as immature. The truth is, there’s absolutely no shame in enjoying activities from your youth, especially if it helps you unwind from a day of “adulting.”

Morgan, a junior from Carleton University, says partaking in her childhood passion outside of school and work is helpful for grounding herself outside of adult responsibilities. “Art is something that I’ve been into since I was a kid, so painting is something that’s fun and really relaxes me!” 

While there’s a time and a place to be an adult, there’s always a time and a place to be a kid, too. It’s important to give yourself the space to indulge in the childhood activities that bring you joy, so go ahead and switch on those old Disney shows without guilt!

Forgive yourself — and be proud of how far you’ve come

When your to-do list of “adult” tasks seems impossibly long or when you’re feeling exhausted at the end of a busy day, it’s important to forgive yourself if you feel like you haven’t done enough. It’s easy to set a high standard for yourself when faced with a lot of responsibilities, but what really makes someone an adult is not their ability to cross off items on a checklist, but their ability to be proud of themselves no matter what!

It’s natural to feel like you’re falling short, but remember that there’s no competition or straight path when it comes to adulthood. What really matters is realizing how far you’ve come despite the challenges you’ve faced. It’s a huge accomplishment to be where you are now! While it’s not always easy to recognize your own efforts, know that adulthood is something that can and should be celebrated.

woman smiling at reflection in mirror
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
If you’re feeling stressed about the responsibilities of adult life, it doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of handling it. In fact, feeling a little scared shows that you care about the goals you’ve envisioned for yourself in adulthood, which in itself is a sign of growth! Even though becoming an adult comes with a lot of new experiences and challenges, what you’ll learn about yourself in the process of “adulting” will go a lot further than you think.

Rianna Lim

Carleton '23

Rianna Lim is a journalism and political science double major at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. She is a former Her Campus National Writer and the 2022-23 editor-in-chief of Her Campus at Carleton (and loving it!). She is a passionate reader, London fog lover, and baseball fan. Follow her on Twitter @riannalim02!