Competition can be a positive force when it spurs us on to try harder and improve ourselves. However, when young people are put under too much pressure, it can result in lower achievement, self-esteem problems, and anxiety instead.
Competition and Anxiety in Young Adults
Some of the most common triggers for anxiety in young adults are linked to the competitive environment that surrounds them. Young adults in the UK are surrounded by pressure to compete and succeed in every area of their lives.
At school and university, young people are placed under increasing pressure to perform in exams. Schools and parents can over-emphasise the importance of exams or push young people into academic courses that don’t suit their interests or talents. The academic pressure on young people today is much more focused on exam results than on trying hard, maturing as a person and building skills. Since it is based on getting results, it also encourages comparisons with peers that can leave many young people feeling like failures.
Another common source of competitive anxiety in young adults relates to social media. Young people are constantly being exposed to the perfect, carefully curated lives that peers and celebrities are sharing online. No one can live up to these false images, so many young adults feel as if they are failing.
Tackling Anxiety in Young Adults
Although there isn’t much we can do as individuals to change the competitive environment around us, there are things that we can do to counteract and cope with this pressure.
- Create your own definition of success: success is often defined in very narrow terms, such as getting good results in exams. If you aren’t academically minded or exams aren’t as important for your future goals then it can be better to decide on more meaningful goals for yourself.
- Focus on competing with yourself: comparing yourself to other people is a common source of anxiety, especially when you only see the positive stories that others post online or miss the hard work that goes into other people’s successes. Aiming to improve your own results or achievements can be a much healthier form of competition.
- Find ways to manage your anxiety: we can’t avoid pressure or competition completely, so it’s important to develop ways of coping with it. It’s important to take time to unwind occasionally, for example by spending time doing something you enjoy or practicing relaxation techniques. It’s also good to build resilience by taking on challenges and learning to cope with competition and failure, for example by joining a sports team or playing video games.
Changing the way you think about competition and learning to compete in a healthy way can help with anxiety, but it is also important for young people to be aware that support is available. Talking to friends and family can help. You can also find support groups online or talk to a doctor if anxiety is affecting your health or wellbeing in any way.