What’s Worrying Millennials? Pretty Much Everything

Rachel Evans of Wheaton, Maryland, can tell you precisely when she reached her peak stress level recently: A customer at the pizza shop where Evans works was frustrated at the long line and took it out on her. Then, regretting her sharp tongue, the customer apologized, adding, “And I’ve bet you’ve got your high school homework to do after you get home.” In fact, Rachel is 29, has a B.A. and a masters in social work, and has been looking for a job for so long she finally took on some babysitting and a shift at the pizzeria to help pay the bills after getting married late last year.

Rachel is hardly the only Millennial—usually defined as adults ages 18 to 33—who’s stressed to the breaking point. A recent survey from the American Psychological Association (APA), titled “Stress in America,” found that Millennials reported an average stress level of 5.4 on a 10-point scale, exceeding the national average of 4.9. Of the four generations included in the survey, Millennials ranked highest; “Mature” adults (67 and older) ranked lowest.

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Other findings of the survey:

·      Nearly half of Millennials (49 percent) do not believe or are not sure that they are doing enough to manage their stress;

·      Few say they get stress-related support from their healthcare provider (just 17 percent say their provider gives them support for stress management); and

·      Only 23 percent think that their healthcare provider supports them a "lot or a great deal" in their desire to make healthy lifestyle and behavior changes.

And what are the causes of so much tension and worry? According to the survey, work easily topped the list (76 percent), followed, not surprisingly by money (73 percent). Relationships were a stressor for 59 percent of Millennials.  

Relief doesn’t look to be in the immediate picture for many Millennials. On the work front, according to Generation Opportunity, a nonpartisan millennial advocacy group, while unemployment for the nation as a whole was 7.7 percent in February, it was more than double that—16.2 percent—for young adults ages 18 to 29. For those with a job, but stressed by a killer workload, a dead-end position, and/or bosses, the APA offers resources for dealing with job-related stress.

A Harvard School of Public Health panel convened to talk about the APA's "Stress in America" survey noted the huge public health impact of so much worry: It's linked to heart disease, asthma, ulcers and beyond. One expert on the panel likened the effects of chronic stress on the heart to cigarette smoking.

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It’s easy to see why the burden seems heavy. In addition to the dire unemployment rate, people in their 20s carry an average of $45,000 in debt, largely from college and graduate school, according to Our Time, an advocacy group for young Americans. Our Time says the solution is lowering the cost of higher education, but that’s an idea that is of course much too late for people already in debt. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling offers tips for keeping credit strong while paying back loans and other debt.

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Antonia Baum, M.D., a triathlete and psychiatrist in Chevy Chase, Maryland, says that something as simple as daily exercise—which doesn’t have to cost much, or anything—can be a big help in cutting stress.  Baum goes so far as to take some of her patients for a jog or walk during therapy sessions. It doesn’t really matter what type of activity you do. “Any form of exercise that gives you discipline and structure can be a positive,” she notes. “In addition to physiologic changes that occur, you get your blood flowing, and your oxygen level increases to every part of your body, including your brain, which creates a sense of well-being and being powerful and strong.” And that’s got to be a good counterpoint to overwhelming stress.

Are you a young adult weighted down by worry and stress? How do you cope?

Related Stories on TakePart:

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• Blood Test for Depression Proves It's Not All In Your Head

• Is College a Huge Waste of Money?

Fran Kritz is a freelance writer specializing in health and health policy who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. Takepart.com