“Y So Anxious?”: A Look at Millennial Anxiety

Members of Generation Y–commonly called Millennials–are those of us who were born between 1981 and 2000. And Millennial anxiety is on the rise. Some have speculated that this generation is becoming the new Lost Generation. The actual “Lost Generation” was that which came of age during WWI and whose life prospects looked dim. It could be said that Generation Y/the Millennials have a similar situation, with high hopes and few prospects.

In a 2007 study, Jean Twenge and Stacy Campbell found that GenY  “demonstrates higher self-esteem, narcissism, anxiety, and depression; lower need for social approval; more external locus of control; and women with more agentic traits.” Accordingly, Twenge and Campbell say that managers should expect to see employees who want a lot of praise, struggle with criticism, and demand creative freedom in their jobs.

While I have a natural urge to defend my generation, I can admit that I fit the bill for almost all of the traits that Twenge and Campbell mention. Many of my peers do too. But there is also an upside some of them. Demanding creative freedom could lead to more creative solutions for the many problems the world faces today; self-confidence isn’t totally worthless; and of course, more women in the workplace is unquestionably a positive.

At the same time though, the numbers show that a high number of my peers suffer from anxiety and/or depression. A 2015 survey reported that, among college students, 40.7% of males and 50.7% of females have “felt things were hopeless” in the last 12 months. The same survey also reported that, in the last 12 months, 45.4% of males and 62.3% of females have felt overwhelming anxiety during that time.

Now, some might say, “They’re college students–they’re supposed to feel overwhelmed!” But are they really? They should feel concerned about their classes and academic growth; they should probably feel nervous before an exam if they didn’t study enough for it. But should they really feel overwhelming anxiety? And as for feeling hopeless, I hope that we can all agree that approximately half of college students should not feel that all hope is lost. But I myself have felt that way many times–not just in the last 12 months but even in the last week.

So what gives? Why is my generation so worried and unhappy?

While I was researching this subject, the same answers kept popping up. Technology. Overly protective “helicopter” parents. An education system obsessed with exam scores.

One of the most interesting reasons for increased anxiety that I read about is the luxury of the many choices that we have as members of 21st society. This is really nothing new. Studies have shown that an increased number of choices can increase stress and in fact make people less likely to make a choice at all. I can personally attest to this. Part of the reason that I can be indecisive at times (despite the fact that I hate uncertainty) is that making a choice means potentially making the wrong choice.

Among college students and young adults, the pressure not just to make a choice but to make the right choice is strong. You have to go to the right college. Then you have to pick the right major. Do the right internships. And finally, the Holy Grail of college, you have to get the right job. (Or maybe even just get a job–that’s freakin’ hard enough.)

While I hated how quickly some people were willing to jump to the conclusion that “TECHNOLOGY IS RUINING THE YOUTH,” I agree that technology–and social media–can certainly contribute to anxiety. FOMO (fear of missing out) is facilitated by Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat. Those same sites also allow you to compare your own life to those of others–friends, acquaintances, Internet-famous people, and famous-famous people. Of course, most people only put the prettiest, most perfect, most photogenic parts of their days online. When was the last time you saw an Instagram of a girl shoveling Doritos into her mouth while sitting amongst piles of unfolded laundry and unwashed dishes? But I think, in real life, most of us have been there.

Lucie Russell, who works for Young Minds in the UK, has said that:

Young people have to almost become a brand – Brand Me: how I look, how I feel, what I am doing every day. We didn’t have that 20 years ago.”

I feel that pressure all the freaking time as a blogger. “Brand.” The word is everywhere, and the internet tells me that that’s what I have to make myself…well, the internet. And guess what? I have no clue what my brand is. I think it has something to do with college and psychology and personality and anxiety, but that’s all a little broad to be “Brand Me.”

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If you’re a member of GenY like me, then you are probably all too familiar with this Millennial anxiety. And, if you’re a narcissist like I and the rest of our generation supposedly are, then you might be interested in learning and talking more about it.

So I’m listing some books and other resources below that I’ve already been enjoying or am planning on checking out so I can blog about them!

  • Check out #TotalHonestyTuesday on Instagram for refreshingly real snippets of people’s lives.
  • If finances are a source of your anxiety, then I whole-heartedly endorse The Financial Diet. (And no, despite how often I mention them, I have no affiliation whatsoever with them nor do they pay me to sing their praises.)
  • YoungMinds has loads of information on mental health and more resources than I could ever hope to compile.
  • I’ve put Jean Twenge’s Generation Me  and Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other on my to-read list.
  • Is linking to myself in poor taste? Well then, call me tasteless! I feel like this whole conversation connects to my earlier posts on the culture of introversion–so here’re links to Part 1 and Part 2 of that.

Anything else I should be checking out? Leave a comment and let me know!

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