Millennials and Stress

Parents and pastors, friends and co-workers… this deserves our attention.

Stress levels for Americans have taken a decidedly downward turn across the USA — except for young adults, whose stress is higher than the national norm, says a survey to be released Thursday.

Those ages 18-33 — the Millennial generation — are plenty stressed, and it’s not letting up: 39% say their stress has increased in the past year; 52% say stress has kept them awake at night in the past month. And more than any other age group, they report being told by a health care provider that they have either depression or an anxiety disorder.

The online survey of 2,020 U.S. adults 18 and older, conducted in August by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association, has been taking the stress pulse of Americans since 2007.

On a 10-point scale, where 1 means “little or no stress” and 10 means “a great deal of stress,” the 2012 average is 4.9.

But for Millennials, it’s 5.4.

“Younger people do tend to be more stressed than older people do. It may be they are more willing to admit to it. It may be a phase of life. They just don’t know where they’re going in life,” says Mike Hais of Arcadia, Calif., a market researcher and co-author of two books on that generation, including 2011’s Millennial Momentum.

But for this group, there is more cause for worry, Hais says.

“Millennials are growing up at a tough time. They were sheltered in many ways, with a lot of high expectations for what they should achieve. Individual failure is difficult to accept when confronted with a sense you’re an important person and expected to achieve. Even though, in most instances, it’s not their fault — the economy collapsed just as many of them were getting out of college and coming of age — that does lead to a greater sense of stress,” he says.

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  • trev hoff

    Maybe our stress threshold is lower than normal people and we need to “suck it up,” as they say.

  • Nathan

    Teaching people they are special and unique and need to love themselves really hasn’t done anyone any favors.

  • Tom F.

    “Individual failure is difficult to accept when confronted with a sense you’re an important person and expected to achieve. ”

    Carol Dweck has done research on why complementing children (or anyone, really) as intelligent or whatever is not necessarily helpful. If you are “expected to achieve” because you are identified as having fixed talents, than your failure can only mean that you aren’t intelligent/special/whatever, and failure is thus inherently demotivating. If, instead, your effort is linked to success, and your talents are viewed in “growth” terms, than failure can be motivating.

    Perhaps this offers a way through these generational discussions that always seem to involve (older persons) leveling a critique of Millennial’s sense of entitlement or felt “specialness”. Older generations may not understand the anxiety that is lurking behind this entitlement; failure means a loss of identity at least partially because identity is found around these “fixed” talents and abilities. Millennial’s have carried that anxiety with them throughout their lives, and when others criticize their entitlement, I think we sometimes feel jipped. This particular kind of entitlement (call it fixed-talent entitlement) was earned, as it required putting on a performance that lives up to this identity, and which allows for no mistakes (even one failure might mean that you are not intelligent/special/whatever).

    This is not about telling young adults they aren’t special, or about telling them to “suck it up”. It’s (at least partially) about offering them this bargain; give up the fixed-talent identity, the fixed-talent entitlement, and all of that, and you also get to give up the fixed-talent anxiety and fixed-talent stress. Our identity is not in what we do or how well we do it (we are valuable and loved regardless, nay, even “special”), but our effort plays a large role in determining our success in the world (life will be much harder if we don’t put the effort in). In most fields, becoming a pro is about putting in the time, not about having the right genes (see the research on expertise, e.g., Ericcson, 2000). Failure means you should re-examine the process, it does not necessarily mean anything about who you are. And when it does mean something about who you are, those around you will love you and support as you put the effort forth to try and change it. (Because character/talent isn’t fixed!)

    I think this is what anyone who works with Millenials should realize; if you manage Millenials in the workplace or try to work with them in ministry or otherwise, expect them to adore you if you can help them get themselves out of the fixed-talent nonsense. Explicitly tell them about this research; and perhaps you might even hear an audible sigh of relief.

  • Aaron

    haha!! @Nathan

    Unfortunately true…

  • Or maybe it is the fact that we are confronted with a horrible economy, are drowning in student loan debt, are unable to find jobs, and have lived through one institutional betrayal after another.

    Oh, are we are the recipient of continued negative talk, stereotypes, and analysis that constantly tells us that we need to “suck it up.”

    I mean that’s what keeps me up at night, drives my blood pressure, and is giving me an ulcer, which I can’t get treated because even with most of a graduate degree (had to quite because I ran out of money) I can’t find a job where I can earn a decent living and have healthcare.

    But I’ll just “suck it up.”