An Integrated Approach to Young Adult Mental Health Rehab

5 Strategies to Help Young Adults Navigate Change

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Whether they’re heading into their freshman year at college, getting ready for a new dorm and new schedule, or preparing for a new job, many young adults are anticipating change as summer heads inexorably toward fall. Those professional or educational changes might come with relocation to a new city, as well as changes to social life and romantic relationships.

For emerging adults, change is often the only constant. Fortunately, this generation may be better equipped than other age groups in terms of how to navigate through change.

The 4 Stages of Change

Experts have broken down the process of change into four stages:

  1. The status quo—life as usual
  2. Disruption of the status quo by an inner or outer force
  3. Adjustment and uncertainty
  4. New normal.

The most difficult stage, of course, is the third one. It’s in the adjustment and transition process that we must face our own resistance to change, and feel the sadness of having lost the status quo.

Why Young Adults Are Better at Navigating Change

Young adults have no choice but to learn how to navigate through change. But fortunately for them, their brains are better suited to adaptation than the brains of older people. A 2016 study zeroed in on a specific brain circuit that helps mammals adapt to change, and found that this circuit becomes less active with age. Therefore, the researchers concluded, younger people find it easier to cope with change by finding new behaviors to help them achieve their goals.

An earlier study found that younger adults are faster than older ones in responding to unexpected events. When younger adults (ages 19–36) were given new information during a routine task, they were able to quickly change tactics as requested. Older adults had a slower reaction time.

To put it another way, young people are more flexible and malleable than older people. They’ve spent most of their life learning new things, first as children and then as teenagers. They’ve experienced new schools, jobs, friends, classes, and ideas. So they’re wired to find ways to adapt to and navigate new experiences and situations. 

5 Strategies for How to Navigate Through Change

Here are a few tips for how to navigate through change as a young adult.

Embrace change instead of resisting it.

Research shows that people who embrace change instead of yearning for the past are able to adjust more easily. In a series of studies over 30 years, Roxane Cohen Silver, Professor of Psychological Science, Medicine, and Public Health at the University of California-Irvine, looked at which groups of people do better after trauma. She discovered that two-thirds of trauma victims—people who had suffered child abuse, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, or terrorism—tried to find explanations for what had happened to them. However, the one-third who moved forward and looked for meaning in the present rather than the past were more well-adjusted, both immediately after the traumatic event and years into the future.

Know the Facts

Research shows that people who embrace change instead of yearning for the past are able to adjust more easily.

Allow yourself to grieve what you’re leaving behind.

In order to embrace change, you might need to first grieve the loss of what used to be—whether that’s your high school experience, living at home, or your local friendships that will now be long distance. It’s okay to feel sad about what you’re leaving while also being excited about what’s to come. Once you fully acknowledge what is changing, it will be easier to access all the positives and possibilities of your new situation.

Establish a routine.

In order to stay balanced in the midst of change, it’s helpful to be able to create a day-to-day schedule that creates comfort and consistency. Create a routine that incorporates evidence-based self-care approaches, like eating well, exercising, and spending time in nature. What healthy habits do you want to build? What are you ready to let go of? Research shows that the “hardiness” provided by daily routines helps us to enhance well-being and health, despite stressful changes. Hardiness is similar to resilience—the ability to bounce back more quickly from challenges.

Build a foundation of connection.

Authentic connection to self and others helps create a foundation of well-being that will support the process of change. Practices like yoga and meditation foster connection with oneself and with a sense of gratitude and mindfulness. Stay in good touch with old friends while creating new, positive connections with classmates or co-workers.

Seek meaning and purpose.

Adjusting to a new normal is easier when we have the anchor of meaning and purpose in our lives. This may come from career goals, from a spiritual practice, from a passion for activism, or from an artistic endeavor. Think about what brings you joy and investigate how you can bring more of that into your daily life.

In conclusion, learning how to navigate change isn’t easy. But young adults are built to adapt and find new ways to thrive.


J Hum Psych. 2004 July;44(3): 279­­–298.

Neuron. 2016 April;90(2): 362–373.

J Geront. 2011 Mar;66B(2): 185–194.

APA; The psychology of meaning: 237–255.

Mental Health / July 26, 2022

Newport Institute

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