In a country still getting over the shock of terror blasts in Boston, people might be surprised to learn that our national stress level has actually been going down in recent years. Stress levels are lower for most of us with a single exception – young people ages 18 to 33 years. This age demographic known as the Millennials, recently ranked above the national average in terms of stress. Millennials also hear from their doctors that they have a diagnosable anxiety disorder or are depressed more than any other age group.
An online survey sponsored by the American Psychiatric Assn. gathered responses from more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 and above. According to the survey, almost 40 percent of Millennials said they were feeling more stress this year compared to last year and more than half said that their stress was robbing them of sleep at night. For the rest of us, stress has been going down the past few years.
Part of the survey included rating stress levels on a scale of one to 10 with one indicating little or zero stress, and 10 indicating a great deal of stress. The average general population score (2012) was 4.9, but for Millenials, the average score was 5.4. Stress factors were ranked as well. Leading stressors for most of us looked like this:
1. Finances (69 percent)
2. Work (65 percent)
3. Economy (61 percent)
For Millenials the stress ranking looked a little different:
1. Work (76 percent)
2. Finances (73 percent)
3. Relationships (59 percent)
Just why Millennials feel more stress or even that they do is still a bit unclear. One expert at Harvard said that stress follows a predictable cycle throughout a lifetime. While we are young, stress levels feel high, they dip during middle age and then start to go up again after age 70. Given the cycle, Millennials may be doing nothing more than reporting a recognized pattern.
It could be that Millenials are more aware of mental health and are more sensitive to how they feel than previous generations. On the other hand, the higher stress in this group is closely linked with the higher instances of anxiety and depression so it seems dangerous to brush the findings aside.
Some have suggested that the Millennial generation is leaving college with more debt than previous generations and facing less certain earning futures at the same time. The generation is also sitting at that uncomfortable stage when life is filled with major decisions and not much settled surety. It doesn’t help that 13 percent of this demographic is unemployed.
Young people report coping with their heightened stress by listening to music, playing video games, exercising and eating. Most Americans share some of these same coping mechanisms. If the Harvard expert is correct, Millennial stress should eventually go down and mental health improve as the economy picks up and major life decisions become settled.