Adulthood begins when growth is complete that is, when the body has grown to its full height and has also undergone the sexual changes that make adolescents physically mature. This stage is generally reached between the ages of 16 and 20. It occurs slightly earlier for females than males, who may still be growing in their early twenties. Today, a person legally becomes an adult at age 18 in most states of the U.S., in most Canadian provinces, and in most European countries.
Emotional maturity is not yet complete at the onset of adulthood, however, and is consolidated during the twenties. There is still great potential for learning and for improving society-related skills, such as independence and responsibility.
The peak of physical health, for both males and females, occurs in the last few years of the teens and in the early twenties. Furthermore, opportunities for maintaining fitness are readily available at school and college and in leisure hours. Work responsibilities grow, people marry and have children, opportunities for physical exercise become fewer, and many people even in their mid-twenties do not exercise at all.
Few people cut down on their food consumption in adulthood instead, it often increases as family life is established. At the same time, actual physical requirements decrease steadily, and as a result, many people eat far more than they need. This can rapidly cause overweight, which in turn contributes to numerous disorders, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and varicose veins. Smoking and drinking may also increase, contributing to unfitness and ill health. Regular exercise is therefore important, not only to maintain fitness and health, but also as a form of relaxation from stress. The need for a balanced and moderate diet is also essential.
During early adulthood, personal motivation tends to be at its strongest. A young adult may be keen to establish a successful social role and career, to build up satisfactory emotional relationships, to earn money for necessities and luxuries, and to explore new ideas in short, to define and fulfill ambitions, and to face the challenges that the adult world offers. So, providing the opportunities are available, many young adults tend to be ambitious, enthusiastic, zealous, and dedicated, whether in choosing a marriage partner, rearing children, or pursuing a career.
This motivation is likely to persist until at least the age of 35-40, but thereafter, there is a tendency for it to diminish. Although a few people find their 40s to be some of the most productive and energetic years of all, a typical 40-year-old has established a satisfactory way of life, which may include a home, a family, and a career, through a high level of output in the previous years. From this age onward, energy is more likely to be directed into consolidating these established positions, rather than breaking new ground. Consequently, if something goes wrong perhaps resulting in divorce, illness, bereavement, or unemployment people in mid-adulthood find it much harder than do young adults to start afresh.
Emotional maturity lags behind physical maturity because it involves some social skills and experience that can be gained only in the adult world. A mature adult has to learn to handle emotional responses, and how and when to show feelings or conceal them. Some emotional responses are expressed principally in social reactions, which come into play, for example, when standing up for one’s rights at work or coping with shyness in oneself or in others. Other aspects of emotional maturity are learned in interpersonal relationships, especially between marriage partners. The individual has to learn to deal with anger, fatigue, pleasure, frustration, professional or sexual jealousy, physical attraction, and many other emotions. Sexual maturity is reached physically in adolescence, but emotionally takes somewhat longer to develop as lasting sexual relationships are initiated and established.
Stress is a normal physiological condition that, to a certain degree, is both healthy and necessary for people to function at their best. Too much stress without relaxation, however, tenses the body chemically and physically, and, over a period of time, can cause significant harm.
Stress occurs particularly in people who work long or irregular hours and in those who are experiencing emotional difficulties. It can also be caused by poor working conditions, poor housing, poverty, and lack of satisfaction and can be aggravated by major incidents that are not unpleasant in themselves, such as moving home, getting married, or having a baby.
This condition contributes to many disorders, psychological problems, and emotional and sexual difficulties. A successful and relatively stress-free adulthood can often be achieved by balancing work, emotional life, relaxation, exercise, sleep, sexual activity, and leisure pursuits.