Anxiety in the Adult Years: Anxiety Can Happen Any Age
Anxiety doesn’t discriminate and anxiety can happen in the adult years. It can strike all human beings, and anxiety can happen at any age. Humans progress through distinct developmental stages as they grow, and each stage is marked by specific tasks and characteristics. Sometimes, things go wrong at one or more stages of development. When a stage isn’t completed successfully, problems can occur (Anxiety Causes: What Causes Anxiety?). It is for this reason that anxiety can happen at any age -- including in the adult years.
The previous article, Anxiety Can Happen at Any Age: Child and Teen Anxiety, examined how and why anxiety can develop even in babies all the way through the teen years (Stages of Social-Emotional Development In Children and Teenagers). Now let’s glimpse into adulthood. Anxiety can happen in any age, including the adult years. What are the developmental stages and tasks, and how do they contribute to anxiety?
Anxiety at Any Age: All Stages of Adulthood
Psychological researcher Erik Erikson divided human life into multiple stages, each marked by developmental tasks that everyone, by nature, attempts to complete.1 Like the ages birth through 19, adulthood is broken into developmental stages. Each one has unique characteristics and each one has a unique potential for anxiety to develop.
Anxiety in Young Adulthood: Ages 20-40
As people progress through childhood and adolescence, they seek to create independence. In young adulthood, people seek intimacy and love. This is a time for considering life partners, but it is also a time for solidifying the sense of self and balancing self and relationships (Choosing to Love).
When the tasks of building intimacy and love aren’t met with success, people risk feeling loneliness and isolation, and this can contribute to anxiety and anxiety disorders. As in all stages, any anxiety disorder can potentially develop. What can be surprising to some is that separation anxiety isn’t just for kids; adults can experience it, too. This makes a great deal of sense when anxiety is considered in the context of our developmental stages.
Anxiety in Middle Adulthood: Ages 41-65
In this stage, we search for meaning. Children, grandchildren, and the elderly are all potentially in one’s life in middle adulthood so the focus in this stage is on caring for others, working, strengthening commitments beyond the self, and exploring things like spirituality.
Sometimes, problems occur, and people can feel stuck or have a hard time caring about others. Failure at work, in relationships, and even in developing a sense of greater meaning in the world can be significant sources of anxiety.
Anxiety in Late Adulthood/Old Age: Ages 66 and Up
This stage can offer further growth and success. People face the task of acceptance—accepting their own lives, their own experiences, and the lives and paths of others. People can continue connecting positively to others and their community.
Physically, people start to decline, and this can be difficult to accept as well as restricting. Sometimes, as people age, they face loneliness and isolation. They sometimes lose a sense of purpose. The failure of the tasks of this stage contributes to a great deal of anxiety.
Anxiety Can Happen at Any Age Including Anxiety in the Adult Years
Each developmental stages present challenges and opportunities, and anxiety can happen at any age. Problems progressing successfully throughout a stage can contribute to mental health challenges, including anxiety that ranges from mild to debilitating.
The good news is that humans are complex, and our developmental stages are multi-faceted. It isn’t a black-or-white, either we succeed in our tasks or we don’t type of thing. The stages aren’t tests. Using a developmental approach to understanding anxiety helps us look at anxiety with a new perspective. With insight into what our overall tasks and roles are throughout life, we learn why anxiety can happen at any age. Then, we can use that developmental framework to overcome anxiety.
Because anxiety can happen at any age, the next article will explore how to overcome it in the different developmental stages.
1 Broderick, P.C. & Blewitt, P. (2006). The life span: Human development for helping professionals, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson, Merrill Prentice Hall.
NCC, T. (2016, December 15). Anxiety in the Adult Years: Anxiety Can Happen Any Age, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/12/anxiety-can-happen-at-any-age-the-adult-years
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Your comments are always encouraging. Thank you. It' frustrating how anxiety can happen through our entire lifespan. Knowing what, in general, goes on with people in each stage can help us understand it, stop beating ourselves up for it, and use the info to overcome it. More on that soon!