Living with anxiety is feeling like you’re always walking on a tightrope. You’re aware of each step, and you have to be, as one misstep means everything is over. You second guess each movement, and you’re desperately grabbling for balance as you feel the weight of the world in your stomach. Then, when you let go, for just a split second, for just a harmless joke or rushed sentiment, you fall, and you keep falling, and you know that you were right to feel so anxious.
I am a Millennial living with anxiety, and I’m not the only one, far from it. Anxiety manifests in so many different masks. It’s the friend that consistently asks you if you’re angry at them, it’s the friend who googles their symptoms daily, it’s the friend you drinks too much at parties to feel comfortable, and it’s the friend who begs you to order instead of them. Anxiety is this underlying secret, lurking in too many of us, yet we still feel alone in our struggle.
We joke about our anxiety as if to dampen the blow, or maybe just to release this truth off of our tightened chests for a single moment. We are Millennials living with anxiety, and there are far too many of us.
We’ve all heard the jokes. That Millennials are too afraid to say they received the wrong dish in a restaurant. That we’re hopped up on ice coffees that cause a soaring heart rate, and too scared to make our own doctor’s appointments. Millennials are portrayed as the anxious generation, and to what extent is this an accurate portrayal?
Findings by the American Psychological Association reported that 12% of Millennials have officially been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This is approximately double the percentage of boomers who were similarly diagnosed. Millennials also displayed the highest average stress levels. They are reported to be the most anxious generation.
The rise of anxiety in Millennials is quickly dismissed, as individuals will label us ‘snowflakes’ and claim we were coddled too much as children, that we avoided the responsibility and independence that fosters mental resilience. This line of thinking suggests that we weren’t exposed to enough at a young age, unlike the generations preceding us, so we’re ill-equipped to handle normal events, which is why we struggle with workplaces or the simple act of a phone call.
But others, like Lisa Strohschein of the University of Alabama, disagree with this perspective. Lisa claims that Millennials really do have it more brutal than the previous generations, such as with employment prospects, homeownership, relationships and more. There is less work to go around, and the nature of this work has become more stressful and competitive, which limits downtime for young people. So you don’t get the same time off.
It’s difficult to pinpoint whether Millennials are more anxious or whether we’re the generation that can adequately vocalise this. We have the terminology to express our anxiety, which older generations may not have grown up with. We’re also fighting the stigma regarding it, aiming to provide the space to discuss such issues. This suggests that older generations may have similar rates of anxiety but not be picked up in such studies, or even be aware of it themselves and seek support for it.
“Millennials and Gen Z are far more conscious of mental health issues-and more able to articulate them-than their parents were” Sarah Flower, University of Alabama.
Being so in touch with your thinking, and having the space to do so, could also exasperate anxiety. It allows you to overthink in a way that wasn’t possible before. We no longer take things as they come; we ruminate, question, debate, theorise, fear and more. We are a generation of thought, and whilst it can produce many incredible things, it is also our downfall.
It’s also worth considering whether Gen Z will overtake Millennials in this title, which would support the idea that anxiety is increasing with each generation and related to the state of affairs and global issues.
Anxiety existed before Millennials, and it will exist long after us, but that doesn’t detract from the unique nature of Millennial anxiety. We are a generation that was raised in change and instability. We are the first generation to grow up with the internet, to have all of this information at our fingertips and yet still feel powerless to act upon it. We grew up with the fad of low rise jeans and the ‘heroin chic’ aesthetic that still makes us question ordering dessert. We grew up knowing jobs aren’t a certainty and that retirement is a luxury moving further away, and yet were constantly told that we just need to work harder. We were raised in the cracks of reality and history, and we grapple for the sense of it all.
“This generation has witnessed a significant shift in how humans understand distribution of resources, and they’ve seen the precariousness and limitations of the planet. The transformation of the world as we know it has had a big effect on millennials, and it’s evident in every aspect of their lives. Millennials have seen two major economic collapses, higher rates of divorce among their parents, a skyrocketing student loan crisis and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Altogether, these events have created a sense of uncertainty, doubt and fear for what the future holds,” he adds.” Kalev Rudolph, Byrdie
We were raised in uncertainty, yet this was combined with the constant barrage of information and possibility. We know that resources are limited, and yet one scroll of Instagram reveals dozens living lives in the lap of luxury. We were raised with tales of what we could achieve and yet knew that it wasn’t actually possible for us, merely for a select few.
“The millennial generation is often described as open-minded, self-expressive and sustainability-conscious. These words imply the generation's strong sensitivity towards their surroundings, and what goes on in the world. These global events have the tendency to affect them directly or indirectly, and it gets very overwhelming, often manifesting in form of anxiety disorders or existential crises.” Katherine Bihlmeier, Byrdie
Millennials are described as being too sensitive, as if our skin evolved to be thinner than the generations that preceded us. Maybe it’s true, maybe we’re too sensitive, and that’s why we seem to be more affected by things. Even the generation that follows us, Gen Z, seems more removed and strong to the events of the world. They appear like a generation of action rather than reaction.
We could start by fixing the world and cutting all the crap. But that might take a while, so in the meantime, we do this. We continue to talk about it, openly and without judgement, and we provide a space for others to do the same. We continue to read about these issues, to educate ourselves and those surrounding us. By removing the taboo surrounding mental illness, we take the first giant leap towards reducing it, as then people can seek help quickly and have a productive course of healing.
And for those of us that are anxious, we take it day by day. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; it’s trial and error. However, it is always worth speaking to a mental health professional as you deserve to be heard and helped. There is no shame in therapy and/or medication. Alongside this, it’s helpful to speak to someone in your immediate surroundings, to help friends understand how they can support you best.
Then there are small daily steps to take. Improving your sleep habits, reducing your caffeine intake, staying active and creating boundaries with work and relationships are all small steps that genuinely add up. Recognising what sets you off isn’t too hard; it’s the will actually to take action that requires effort. For example, several months into the pandemic, I realised that checking the daily stats and watching the press conferences made me so anxious. But it felt addictive and I continued to do this even though it would tear down my day. I’d hear of these insane statistics and think of each family that is now ruined, each child that will never see their parent again. So I finally took the plunge to ban myself from statistics and press conference coverage, instead looking up the regulations at a later point or asking a friend to share them. It helped me to focus on what was in my control and work from there.
It’s understandable to feel anxious in the world we inherited, but you still deserve to live your life and thrive despite this anxiety. Millennials are considered to be the most anxious generation yet, and one day we’ll see if Gen Z will knock us off this top position. It’s the subject of countless jokes, yet the effects remain. Whether your anxiety is instigated by an unknown phone number calling you, needing to ask for more napkins in a restaurant or talking to your manager about a difficult subject, you’re not alone in this struggle. All you can do is take your subjective experience and cater to it whilst also remembering that you’re not alone in this, you never are.
I started packing a bottle of ketchup to avoid asking for it in restaurants, so I doubt you’ll do anything more embarrassing than that.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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