Every new generation was eyed with some cynicism and criticism by the one before. Yet, possibly no other generation has been judged as harshly as the Millennials, the young adults that were born in the 80s and 90s. Lazy, selfish, entitled, immoral and weak are just some of the attributes many baby-boomers describe the generation of their children. No wonder that many Millennials are struggling with anxiety. A recent study revealed that between 30% and 50% of Millennials, suffer from anxiety disorder, trouble sleeping and have panic attacks.
Besides the general sense of being humongous failures, surveys found that the omnipresence of technology, lack of rest and bad eating habits are to blame for the prevalence of anxiety among Millennials. Others believe that the confusing mix of peer pressure, the unrealistic expectation to be special and the resistance to growing-up and becoming like their parents are the real reasons why Generation Y is freaking out.
To take the pulse of how Millennials feel, I asked a 30 year old client of mine, Sarah, a talented writer, to send me her thoughts and observations on why her generation is dealing with so much angst.
Here is what she wrote:
“Also, this is the perspective of a white, middle class millennial, a lot of what I came up with also applies to my middle class friends of Latino, African American or Asian descent.
Let’s start with technology. Technology altered unrecognizably the way things are done and the pace at which they are done (check your email 150 times a day, respond to everything in minutes). There are so many apps, fads, and trends to keep up with. God forbid you are using the wrong messenger app, or bitmojiing after it’s no longer cool. The news cycle moves like it’s trying to break the sound barrier, and if your friends don’t hear from you for a day or two they think you’re dead. The world appears so fast, there is so much happening and so much to do. And then there’s FOMO – the fear of missing out. Social media lets your friends advertise how much more fun they are having than you at any given moment. There is a lot of pressure to find the coolest thing to do, or at least to look like you did.
Life skills: I guess our boomer parents felt like they were never encouraged as much as they needed, so they taught us Millennials that we were each special and unique, that we should dream big, and that we could do anything we put our minds to. They didn’t teach us that we need to work really hard for the things we want, or make sacrifices. Each of us was told that we are so special and amazing and that, if we did what we were supposed to (get college degrees and don’t do drugs) we would inevitably find prosperous and fulfilling careers.
Despite all their good intentions by giving us everything they didn’t have, on some level our parents made us unable to cope with adversity, because they largely shielded us from it. I don’t think we were really encouraged to compete, even if we lost, or try, even if we failed. The effort to spin failure as a positive and give trophies for attendance made it hard to recognize when we were actually doing well, or cope when we actually lose.
If you raise someone to believe, really believe, that they matter and that they can change the world, then they will feel like they screwed up somehow when that just doesn’t happen.
Relationships: I think a lot of Millennials are lonely. While we place so much responsibility for our emotional well-being on finding a significant other, we are less involved in our communities and friendships. Add to the tendency to communicate via smart-phones, mostly in written messages, and Millennials just don’t seem to be spending enough time in each other’s company. Our generation is statistically hanging out with friends less, dating less, and getting out of the house less, meaning that we are physically safer than any generation before us, but are also more likely to be anxious and depressed. It feels like each of us is on our own, with our parents to fall back on if everything goes wrong.
The economy. The recession was an issue for my immediate age group. Many graduated from college with no job prospects, so they went on for grad degrees that didn’t help much in the long run, but did bury them under student debt. That’s something a lot of my friends are still really struggling with as they try to start families or buy houses (or even just buy cars).
So, we’re lonely, we have unreasonable expectations for romantic relationships, live far away from our families, and struggle to make friends or connections. We have crushing debt, useless degrees and unfulfilling jobs. There’s pressure to appear to be living a good life on social media, which is always there to show us the sparkling lives of our friends with their happy weddings and cute kids and cool jobs, even though we know it’s a show, it gets to us. In reality, many of us feel like we’re wasting lives that were so well set up for success, and that we are the only ones to blame for it not going our way. We’re supposed to go out there and change the world, when we’re actually just serving coffee and spend most of your nights binge watching Netflix.
At some point, we start to wonder, if maybe we aren’t the unique, world changing snowflakes our parents said we were, and if maybe the world doesn’t care if we feel fulfilled. But that’s too depressing, so we go back to binge watching Netflix.”
Sounds pretty bleak. Yet, is the deeper message of Millennial anxiety to stay away from technology or surrender to following in the foot prints of their parents? Or can anxiety lead to finding more meaning and purpose within?
Listen to this episode on Empowerment Radio and learn more about how the struggles Millennials are facing and ways to turn anxiety into an inner compass, which leads to greater balance, inner peace and self-empowerment.