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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Stress, Millennials, and the Key to Happiness

The average level of human anxiety in today’s culture would have been enough to put millions of people away in insane asylums just decades ago. Stress, anxiety, and our collective response to seemingly innocuous triggers have somehow become misaligned over the years – and there’s one generation that’s absorbing more of it than any else.

According to the American Psychology Association (APA) and their annual Stress in America survey, millennials continue to be the most stressed generation in the world. While every generation experiences its own triggers and degrees of stress, it seems as if millennials are magnets for anxiety – lightning rods for mental anguish.

“Many of us are familiar with the trope of a mid-life crisis – a person in middle age who is feeling stuck in a rut, and who reacts by indulging in erratic behaviour like making spontaneous career decisions or buying a motorbike,” Sarah Young writes for Independent. “But now it seems more and more of us are evaluating our existence far earlier as a new study reveals more than half of millennials are experiencing a ‘quarter-life crisis.’”

You read that right the first time – a quarter-life crisis. In fact, the survey Young is referring to suggests that 6 out of 10 millennials in the 25-35-year-old age bracket are going through a self-diagnosed quarter-life crisis at any given moment.

The question is, where does this stress come from? And why does it seem to produce chronic anxiety in millennials who are still relatively young?

As we delve a little deeper into this topic, you’ll discover that these unhealthy levels of stress stem from a number of unique sources – some serious and others more trivial. And to learn more, let’s explore a few of these factors in play.

  1. Job and Career Factors

According to a study from the Mental Health Foundation, 27 percent of millennials say stress bothers them at work (compared to just 12 percent of baby boomers). Some take this stress home with them and allow it to impact their mindset around the clock.

“Millennials are more likely to have insecure contracts, low rates of pay and high entry-level workloads,” says Richard Grange of the Mental Health Foundation. “The pressures they face in today’s employment market are very different to past generations.”

Perhaps most alarming is that millennials – like other generations – don’t feel like they have anyone at work that they can talk to about their stress. This makes them feel alone and stigmatized.

  1. Pressure From Parents

Millennials are earning 20 percent less than baby boomers did at the same stage of life (despite having more education and access to opportunities). This makes millennials the first generation to have less financial success than their parents.

Whether blatantly or subconsciously, pressure from parents takes a significant toll on many millennials who feel like they’re living in the shadows of their parents. (In fact, millions of millennials are still living at home with their parents.)

  1. The Need for Connectivity

Millennials have more access to technology than any generation in the past. They’ve been raised on social media, cell phones, and SMS. As a result, they experience a constant need to be connected to others via their smart devices.

Believe it or not, research reveals that losing or breaking a smartphone is as stressful as a terrorist attack (in the millennial mind). Despite the fact that phones can be repaired relatively easily, the mere thought of being disconnected can become an extreme source of anxiety.

  1. Activism and Exposure to Political Turmoil

Another side effect of around-the-clock connectivity is constant exposure to the news. And if you’re constantly exposed to the news, it’s easy to feel as if the world is falling apart. Media companies prefer to push divisive politics and troubling news stories because they drive up ratings. So even though there’s plenty of good happening in the world, the average millennial media bubble feels like it’s imploding – further driving up stress and anxiety about factors that can’t be controlled.

  1. Debt, Debt, and More Debt

Then there’s debt. Millennials between the ages of 25-34 have an average of $42,000 in debt – most of it coming from credit cards and student loans. And when you consider that they aren’t earning lucrative salaries, this creates a financial crunch that fuels even more anxiety.

Discovering the Answers to Happiness

There’s no perfect solution for achieving happiness. Every individual faces a unique set of triggers, experiences, strengths, and weaknesses. Some people will respond to very minor situations with overwhelmingly negative responses, while others have the mental fortitude to withstand significant stress before cracking under the pressure. So rather than write a prescription for your happiness, we’ll explore a few habits and solutions that psychologists and therapists recommend.

  • The best thing you can do is disconnect from social media and overexposure to news. For starters, this insulates you from incessant negativity that has no place in your life. Secondly, it allows you to stop constantly comparing yourself to others – something that quickly zaps joy.
  • Practice self-care. When less energy is directed towards negativity and comparison to others, you’re free to spend time loving yourself. Self-care – as hokey as it may sound – is a key source of happiness. Discover what this looks like for you.
  • Make sacrifices. It’s important to maintain perspective. You’re still very young and have many decades ahead of you. Make sacrifices now so that you can be in a better place in three, five, or 10 years.
  • Find purpose. Look beyond yourself and this moment and find a greater purpose or calling in life. When you have something bigger than yourself to focus on, all of your petty problems seem less troublesome.

Stress is a normal part of the human existence. Chronic stress and perpetual anxiety are not. If, like millions of other millennials, you’re experience significant levels of stress and anxiety on a daily basis, it’s important that you look for answers and seek out professional help.

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