The root of anxiety is fear. But what we afraid of? Or more particularly, what are Millennials afraid of?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), ‘Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.’
In a study conducted by the APA and Harris Interactive, Millennials showed higher levels of stress and anxiety than any other living generation. The main causes they gave for their anxiety were work issues (76%), money (73%), and relationships (59%). Their concerns are not irrational, Millennials make up about 40% of the nation’s unemployment, the majority of them graduate from college without a job and a burden of financial debt, and they live at home longer which may cause relational frustration and hesitation to make relational commitments. These are the realities that they face. But theses concerns are not unique to Millennials, nor are Millennials the first to transition into adulthood and meet with issues that pose threat and create anxiety. So why is this generation at a greater risk to anxiety disorder and depression?
There are many varying opinions as to the causes of this higher rate of anxiety. Millennials report higher levels of stress factors in their lives and the APA suggests that they are not managing those stresses as well. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy and regular meals, and maintaining a consistent exercise routine are effective methods for reducing stress and consequently levels of anxiety. But Millennials do not seem to be able to get a good handle on these routines. If not managed well, living with high levels of stress and anxiety result in very real physical disorders. Stress-induced gastrointestinal disorder, insomnia, chronic depression, hypochondria, panic attacks, high blood pressure, and eating disorders are just a few of the real consequences of anxiety that Millennials are experiencing.
There is a difference between stress and anxiety. The APA differentiates the two this way, “The difference between them is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.”
Stress is inevitable and even necessary in this life. High levels of stress, in short bursts, motivates us to get up and get moving, to work harder and more efficiently. It can be exhilarating and push us to accomplish great things. Consider the lives of olympic athletes, mountain climbers, novelists, politicians, lawyers, surgeons, nurse-midwives, sailors, etc. The stresses they face keep their senses sharp and inspire perseverance in the face of challenges and obstacles. I read that ‘good stress’ does not involve ‘threat or fear,’ but I beg to differ with that opinion. There are real fears and threats that lurk in the shadows for all of us. Athletes often face serious injury, climbers fall, novelists face writer’s block and missed deadlines, politicians sometimes face security threats, and the list goes on. About the only stress that I can think of that does not involve some threat or fear is that which you might feel on a roller coaster – but even then there is a possibility of accident. We all fear failure and do our best to avoid humiliation.
Fear of terrorist attacks, too many choices which leads to decision paralysis, FOMO or fear of missing out in regard to social media, and the blurring of reality online that creates in some an expectation that they must obtain perfection, are some specific stresses that Millennials feel are unique to their generation (and perhaps Generation X).
How we choose to react to or manage the stresses we face on a daily basis will determine whether or not anxiety and its host of consequences will result. I am sure that there are many that would disagree that they have a ‘choice’ in the matter. Nevertheless, many have found relief by changing lifestyle patterns and seeking help and support. Time with friends, healthy patterns of eating, sleeping and exercise, yoga, and engagement in religious activities have all been found to be very effective in reducing stress and relieving anxiety. I leave you with that which I have found the most effective means of reducing anxiety in my own life in closing, Philippians 4:6-7
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.