Millennials are more stressed than other generations. All generations worry more now than in the past when the economy looked more promising, but young adults feel the blues the most. With current unemployment and underemployment rates, soaring student loans and generally bleak opportunities, it is hardly surprising that young adulthood in the 2010s is stressful. The reality today is in stark contrast to MTV’s happiness study from half a decade earlier, which found the corresponding age group to be far more optimistic back then than they appear to be today.
It’s not cool to have your dreams messed up before you even got a shot at them. But from my generation X perspective I am somewhat surprised that millennials are walking off with the “stress award”. A fact less known than the oft-cited injustices experienced by millennials these days is that generation X was the hardest hit by the recession and it’s aftermath. Think being underemployed and underpaid is hard in your 20s? Try that in your 40s! All while warding off house foreclosures and figuring out how to fund your children’s orthodontic treatment and skyrocketing educational expenses.
So while millennials worry about not getting around to live the American Dream, gen-X got to live it for a while – until they lost it all to the bank. But somehow they just trudge along, often too exhausted to notice or say anything. Maybe it’s the nihilist in us. The self-loathing cynic. Or maybe there are simply too few of us to get much press.
Anyway, here are a few reasons I think might help explain why you millennials are more stressed out than the rest of us:
1. You are young – and you want to burn brighter than the sun. The band Fun. sings to you about setting the world on fire. Yes, we too see this catchy sing-along of youthful exuberance as a sarcastic anthem to the disconnect between the hopes and aspirations that envelop your cohort and the morose reality you now realize you have to adjust to. You can embrace it or mock it in you post-ironic hipster ways, but you were indeed raised by cheering helicopter parents who told you the sky is the limit. “We are young” – when Pat Benetar sang that same refrain for us gen-Xers back in the ‘80s before irony became a mainstream communication style, she just told us straight out that love is a battlefield and that “there are no promises, no demands”. We learned not to expect too much from others, nor from ourselves. We X’ers might be self-loathing gluttonous materialists, but when it comes to the end of the American Dream as we know it, maybe we’re a bit more hard-nosed about it after all?
2.You are more connected. Why is this a bad thing? Constantly comparing yourself to other people’s self-projections of’ happier more successful lives can be unhealthy. We literally and figuratively filter the pictures and snippets we want to share with the world, and it’s easy to feel like a miserable loser in times driven by digital one-upmanship. Likewise, cyberbullying, sexting and ostracism started with your generation, at least among it’s youngest members. 24/7 reminders that you’re only so-so or even fallen off the social ladder can’t be good for your sleep quality.
3.Are you lonelier? No, really! I know millennials are more “social”, but are they more social? Is your touch screen a good replacement for eye contact? Do your Instagram followers and Facebook friends think of you as a genuine friend or mainly as “Klout capital”? Possibly the most extreme example of isolated but connected millennials is the Japanese Hikokomori, the young man of Japan’s ‘Lost Generation’ who hibernates inside his boy rooms long into adulthood.
Long before baby boomer Steven Tyler went under the knife, he sang to us about all those lines in his face getting clearer every time he was looking in the mirror. Ironically while we young gen-x’ers were sitting around moping and stuffing our CD players and our youth’s ennui with melancholic musings and angst filled screams, our emo attitudes might have been just what saved us. We learned to keep our expectations down. We weren’t told that life would be easy if you just “do your best and believe in yourself”. At least few of us really bought into those catch phrases. We weren’t really expected to raise our countries’honor by competing with whiz kids from competitive STEM-countries. We weren’t expected to be heroes. Not even just for one day.
And maybe that’s just it. We don’t have these lofty expectations connected to our generation as you do. So dream on, millennials. Adjust your expectations, but don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Alright, that’s it. Obviously everything I’m writing here has already been said or sung before. Time to say good night.