The 20s are a time when society expects us to define who we are, how we want to live and what we want to do with our lives. I cannot count the occasions I wish I had a guide for navigating my twenties, luckily for you and me, DreamGirls Academy has granted the alumni access to mental wellness expert, Gabriella Koopman, who has allowed me the privilege to pick her brain. Consider this a free mental wellness guide to refer to whenever you hit a bump on the road.

‘’Hoping my 20 somethings won’t end, hoping to keep the rest of my friends, praying the 20 somethings don’t kill me’ – SZA

Managing Anxiety

DGA: I know so many of my peers that are struggling with anxiety, what are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

Gabriella Koopman: I think that although there are so many people who are struggling with anxiety in their 20s, we don’t always acknowledge it. I do believe that the drastic life changes, expectations, and uncertainty for the future are some of the main causes for anxiety in this age group. I also think that society expects those with anxiety to just get over it and grow up. Recently there is an increased advocacy around anxiety, depression, and mental health in general. However, so many are still hesitant to seek help.

DGA: Do you think the pressure that society places on this stage of our lives is necessary?

Gabriella Koopman: No, I believe that during this time we are still learning, developing, and growing into who we are. It’s unrealistic to expect us to have everything figured out in our 20s. We spent our teenage years being told what to do, how to do things, and had minimal responsibilities. I think that it is important during this time to take the time to explore who you are, what your purpose is, and what your dream life would look like. Our 20s is the time where we develop our skills, our knowledge and explore the opportunities we have available to us.

DGA: What are the practical tips you can share for managing anxiety at this stage of our lives?

Gabriella Koopman:

  • Taking the time to breath.
  • Develop a sleep routine.
  • Plan your day, month, year, and set goals.
  • Making the time to exercise.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Introspection: Journaling, joining a support group, going for therapy, or counselling.

‘’As in most of life’s stages, bad things happen to you in your 20s. Exhilarating, life-affirming things happen to you in your 20s. – Nomali Cele, journalist & blogger’’

Navigating Relationships

DGA: What advice can you share for navigating long-term romantic and platonic relationships at this stage of our lives?

Gabriella Koopman: I think it’s important to know your values, boundaries, and intentions when you are in a relationship. Make sure you respect your values, boundaries, intentions, and your partner’s. It’s also important to love and respect yourself, because that’s how you will treat the other person in the relationship. I think it’s also important to remember that your relationship does not define you. Also, know you have no control over the other person’s thoughts and actions, you only have control over yours.

DGA: Do you have any tips that will help us maintain our individuality and hone self-love/ a relationship with ourselves?

Gabriella Koopman:

  • Schedule a me time slot every day.
  • Take yourself out on a date.
  • Understand your love language and use it on yourself.
  • Start hobbies or doing things you enjoy.
  • Self-care is vital.
  • Thank your body daily.
  • Communicate with yourself.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ― Maya Angelou

Overcoming Hardships

DGA: Is there a sure way of getting rid of bad habits/ breaking toxic cycles?

Gabriella Koopman: Yes. First you need to identify what the bad habit or toxic cycle is and decide to change it. If you have not decided that it needs to end, then whatever effort you make to end it or change it will not be sustainable or work. After you’ve identified it, depending on how bad the habit it is, seek support through therapy or counselling. They will help you understand the steps you need to take to break the habit and cycle. You can also replace the bad habit or cycle with a healthy one, but I would suggest doing it with a professional. The process can be difficult, and it requires support, but it is possible.

‘’Don’t lose sight of the beauty of living too focused on the past and the future. Focus on the now.’’ – Gabriella Koopman

DGA: What is the number one advice you give to clients that come to see you when things do not go according to the ‘’plan’’ i.e., a break-up, a job ends etc?

Gabriella Koopman: The first thing I do is try to help the client understand that they are doing well, everything they are feeling is valid and real, but that emotion and situation will not last forever. Unfortunately, with life there are many things that are out of our control and interrupt our “plans”. The important thing to understand is that change is inevitable, we can learn from it and grow, and just because it didn’t workout doesn’t mean you are not worthy of being in a relationship, or a job. Believe in your worth, capabilities, and the endless possibilities out there.

DGA: Words to live by?

Gabriella Koopman: Remember that life is a collection of moments. Appreciate every moment and everything in that moment.  Don’t worry about things you have no control over. Focus on the now. 

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