Young Adult Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

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5 Life Skills Young Adults Need to Thrive

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Young adulthood is a time for growth, exploration, and new experiences. Cultivating necessary life skills can help your young adult flourish and grow into themselves while gaining tools to succeed in their relationships, the workplace, and at home. 

There are five main categories of young adult life skills that help them navigate independent living and maintain their overall mental and physical health. Here we offer an overview of the different skillsets young adults need to thrive, as well as ways they can build those skills.

Key Takeaways

  • Life skills help young adults thrive while gaining tools to succeed in their relationships, the workplace, and at home. 
  • Mental health life skills include self-care, emotional regulation, and mindfulness practices.
  • Relational skills include developing awareness around one’s beliefs and behaviors, fostering healthy and reciprocal relationships, and learning how to listen and offer support. 
  • Practical life skills include things like changing the oil on a vehicle, learning how to cook and organize, and paying bills on time. 

What Life Skills Do Young Adults Need?

The transition to adulthood can feel turbulent and murky. It requires things like accepting responsibility for oneself, making independent decisions, and achieving financial independence. These are big categories that often make young adults feel overwhelmed and underprepared. 

To thrive and grow, young adults need skillsets in these different areas:

  1. Stress management 
  2. Independent living
  3. Relationship building
  4. Upholding core values
  5. Executive functioning

Let’s break down what each of these categories looks like in a young adult’s daily life.

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#1: Stress-Management Skills

Stress management is arguably one of the most important sets of skills your young adult can learn. The number of stressed, anxious, and depressed young people has increased dramatically since 2020. In a recent study, nearly 50 percent of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. Of this number, more than one-third of young adults said they had unmet needs regarding therapy and treatment for their mental health issues. Young adult stress in college is particularly high, as students learn to navigate the stressors of rigorous academics, relationships, and hobbies. 

Developing strong stress-management skills can help young adults decrease mental health issues like anxiety and depression while improving overall well-being. Below are some important life skills for stress management.   

Emotional self-regulation

Emotional self-regulation refers to the capacity to navigate one’s difficult emotions in a healthy and productive way. This includes skills like:

  • Developing self-awareness around one’s thoughts and emotions
  • Finding healthy ways to cope with difficult emotions like anger and grief
  • Mindfulness practices to help you stay grounded in the moment, such as noticing your thoughts and environment
  • Cultivating skills to calm the nervous system, such as deep breathing practices

Emotional self-regulation can be a difficult skill to foster. A person’s brain continues developing into their mid-20s, and self-regulation is one of the last stages of brain maturation. There’s no doubt about the benefits of this skill, though; Learning to regulate one’s emotions is strongly associated with greater mental health and well-being among adults. 


Self-compassion refers to the ability to hold oneself in unconditional positive regard, no matter how difficult things may feel. It helps a person acknowledge and accept their own struggles without judgment or harsh criticism turned inward. 

People who demonstrate more self-compassion have higher overall health ratings and lower stress than people with low amounts of self-compassion. Higher levels of self-compassion are also associated with more kindness and empathy for others. This skill can be developed in a supportive therapeutic environment, as well as through meaningful relationships and healing self-care. 

Download our Resilience Toolkit to get practices for building self-compassion.


Self-care incorporates a wide variety of habits and skills that improve mental health and well-being and keep stress at bay. While this looks different for everyone, common self-care practices include:

  • Eating well
  • Staying physically active
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Listening to your body to meet your physical and emotional needs
  • Cultivating authentic connections and relationships
  • Asking for help and support when you need it

#2: Independent Living Skills

Independent living skills are a common source of anxiety among young adults. Many young adults don’t feel ready to adult. And this is sometimes due to a lack of practical skills around everyday tasks, like cooking and financial management. 

Developing practical independent living skills can help young adults feel more well-adjusted and better prepared for life on their own. Important life skills for independence include the following categories.

Being responsible for your own health

Maintaining one’s physical, mental, and emotional health is a crucial aspect of a young adult’s transition into independent living. Skills involved in maintaining health include:

  • Getting health insurance through work or a state program if they’re not on their parents’ insurance
  • Scheduling regular doctor and dentist appointments
  • Accessing therapeutic resources and support
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Understanding basic first aid skills

Household maintenance

Household skills include all the tasks that a young adult needs if they live alone or with roommates. These include:

  • Laundry
  • Cleaning shared and personal spaces
  • Knowing how to fix basic problems, like quieting a squeaky door hinge or resetting a breaker 
  • Grocery shopping and basic cooking skills
  • Simple car maintenance skills, like checking the oil and tire pressure

Financial management

Money management skills help a young adult figure out how to save, spend money wisely, and know where their money is going each month. These skills comprise financial literacy and can lead to improved GPAs as well as increased graduation rates and more success in finding a career. Financial skills consist of: 

  • Opening a bank account
  • Maintaining a job and steady income
  • Budgeting
  • Paying bills on time
  • Filing taxes 
  • Handling home or apartment rentals
  • Debt management and repayment
  • Proper credit card use 
  • Buying and maintaining a vehicle
Young adults doing laundry and meditating. Young adult life skills include household and stress-management skills

#3: Skills for Upholding Core Values

Core values are the deeply held views or beliefs that guide one’s thoughts, behaviors, and choices. Living a values-aligned life means choosing to prioritize the things that matter most to you, as opposed to prioritizing societal norms or expectations. 

Developing skills based on one’s values and interests is an aspect that’s often overlooked in the journey toward adulthood. But is one of the most important factors in building confidence and alignment. A young adult’s interests, priorities, and values may all change and expand over time as they find their footing the world—and that’s okay. 

Skills involved in developing a values-aligned life are:

  • Reflecting on which core values feel most important
  • Honing critical thinking 
  • Cultivating hobbies that are fun and meaningful
  • Taking time to rest
  • Building in time for self-reflection, such as journaling or other thoughtful solo time
  • Being intentional about how you spend your time

Building a life in alignment with one’s values can improve self-compassion, empathy, relationship health, feelings of purpose, job satisfaction, and contentedness. Figuring out one’s core values isn’t always easy, however. It requires looking inward, challenging previously held assumptions and beliefs, and consciously choosing paths forward that may feel scary or unknown. 

#4: Relationship Skills

Cultivating healthy, authentic relationships positively impacts quality of life, mental health, and levels of happiness. However, forming those sustaining relationships isn’t always easy. Young adults may struggle with attachment styles that cause them to be anxious, avoidant, or some combination of both. Involuntary learned fears, such as fear of abandonment or fear of getting too close to someone, can be signs of attachment trauma that needs to be processed and healed. 

Becoming conscious of these patterns is the first step in creating resilient relationships. Forming nourishing relationships also requires being honest with yourself about what’s truly healthy. Some relationships may feel passionate and romantic at first, but then slowly degrade into abuse. Others may be on-and-off-again connections that feel exciting, but leave your nervous system wrecked. Yet others might leave you feeling unworthy or questioning your own reality. Learning to distinguish between supportive love and manipulation or abuse is an important life skill that contributes to safety and overall well-being. 

The following skills are invaluable for cultivating caring and reciprocal relationships.

  • Understanding your own attachment style and recognizing its impact on your behaviors
  • Learning how to be vulnerable
  • Developing listening skills
  • Asking for what you need in order to feel cared for and seen
  • Learning how to communicate honestly and directly
  • Stating when something has hurt your feelings in order to build trust and avoid resentment 
  • Taking personal accountability and apologizing for hurt caused
  • Selecting friendships and relationships based on care, reciprocity, and mutual respect
  • Setting boundaries

#5: Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning skills, controlled mainly by the frontal lobe of the brain, refer to a diverse set of skills like planning, organizing, multi-tasking, and time management. Factors like ADHD and unprocessed trauma can lead to difficulties with executive functioning skills. These skills are incredibly useful for success in college and the workplace and include: 

  • Planning and prioritization
  • Time regulation
  • Emotional regulation
  • Task management
  • Self-motivation
  • Organization

Need support with life skills in college? We’ve created a mental health checklist with everything college students need to get set up for a healthy and balanced school year.

3 Ways to Improve Young Adult Life Skills 

Life skills for young adults aren’t built in a day. It takes time, patience, and effort to develop and hone life skills. Here are three ways young adults can strengthen their everyday skillsets.

Get curious

Getting and staying curious is a skill of its own, and it’s incredibly helpful in maintaining a growth mindset. This mindset posits that we are adaptable and can change our outlook based on new information. And taking a growth mindset improves academic performance, mental health, and resilience.

Being curious can be as simple as staying open-minded to new experiences and possibilities. Asking questions like “What?” “How?” and “Why?” can help jump-start curiosity. These questions can be turned inward—for example, by noticing a difficult emotion and asking yourself, “What does this emotion feel like in my body?” 

Curiosity can also be turned outward, toward researching a topic of interest or learning about an opposing viewpoint. Such questions can help fuel insight, creativity, empathy, and optimism. 

Address mental health issues

Mental health issues like trauma, depression, anxiety, and loneliness reduce the ability to learn and gain new life skills. Addressing unresolved mental health problems opens up space for healthier habits and behaviors. Moreover, therapy or a young adult treatment program can help young people get in touch with their values and the way they want to live.

Seek support

We are not meant to learn and grow all on our own. Seeking nourishing support through like-minded community, mental health services, and trusted relationships improves young adult mental health and capacity. This can look like finding genuine connections with others, asking for help, and being honest about one’s struggles and challenges. 

How Newport Institute Helps Young Adults Gain Self-Knowledge and Life Skills

At Newport Institute, young adults address primary mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Guided by expert clinicians using modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy, experiential therapy, and Attachment-Based Family Therapy, our clients uncover and heal past trauma. 

Young adults and their families learn emotional regulation techniques to navigate ongoing challenges and improve resilience. In addition, they learn new approaches to cope with the stressors of their dynamic lives. Addressing root mental health issues helps young adults free up mental and emotional space to learn life skills. 

Newport’s integrated and tailored approach to young adult treatment also provides tools and skills for flourishing. Each client’s treatment plan includes individual and family therapy, as well as experiential modalities like art, music, and movement. Our whole-person philosophy of care addresses young adults’ physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs and helps enhance individual self-awareness and strengths. Treatment at Newport helps young adults find joy, connection, and long-term growth. 

Start the healing journey today: Contact us for a free young adult mental health assessment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are 7 basic life skills for young adults?
  • What skills should young adults have?
  • What are 10 life skills?

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Empowering Young Adults / September 11, 2023

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