GEN­ER­A­TION ANX­I­ETY

Mil­len­ni­als are the most tech-savvy gen­er­a­tion in hu­man his­tory, and the most anx­ious. Co­in­ci­dence? By Jody Scott. Il­lus­tra­tion by Chris­tiane Spangsberg.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

Mil­len­ni­als are the most tech-savvy gen­er­a­tion in hu­man his­tory, and the most anx­ious.

Keep­ing too many tabs open will drain your bat­ter­ies, my five-year-old daugh­ter likes to re­mind me be­fore help­fully of­fer­ing to close them. It might be a ploy to get her hands on my phone, but it is also a neat metaphor for mod­ern life: many of us are run­ning around with too many tabs open in­side our heads. We con­stantly tog­gle be­tween screens, com­pul­sively check so­cial media, multi-task and then can­cel com­mit­ments be­cause we are so ex­hausted.

So it’s no sur­prise re­cent stud­ies have de­clared mil­len­ni­als, es­pe­cially women, the most anx­ious gen­er­a­tion in his­tory.

Anx­i­ety comes in many forms, but the sim­plest way to de­scribe it is feel­ing wor­ried or ner­vous about the fu­ture or un­cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. In small doses, anx­i­ety can help mo­ti­vate us to get things done. How­ever, when it es­ca­lates it can be de­bil­i­tat­ing and have se­ri­ous ef­fects on our phys­i­cal health.

Anx­i­ety wasn’t of­fi­cially recog­nised as a con­di­tion in the Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Dis­or­ders (DSM) un­til 1980, so the record-keep­ing on men­tal health prior to that was patchy. What we do know is that it’s be­come more preva­lent. Ac­cord­ing to a Na­tional Health Sur­vey by the Aus­tralian Bureau of Statis­tics, anx­i­ety af­fected 3.8 per cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion in 2011–2012, and 11.2 per cent of us in 2014–2015.

Mean­while, for those born be­tween 1978 and 1999, Western life has be­come a per­pet­ual cy­cle of tech­nol­ogy, sleep de­pri­va­tion and spec­tac­u­larly high ex­pec­ta­tions set by so­cial media.

Like the rest of us, mil­len­ni­als are also deal­ing with un­prece­dented chal­lenges in­clud­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic un­cer­tainty, global warm­ing and rapid tech­no­log­i­cal change.

“All is clearly not well,” says so­cial re­searcher and au­thor Hugh Mackay. “We are a so­ci­ety in the grip of epi­demics of anx­i­ety, obe­sity and de­pres­sion – 20 per cent of Aus­tralians ex­pe­ri­ence some form of men­tal ill­ness. It’s al­ready clear that many of us are se­verely stressed by the strug­gle to keep up with the rate of change in our lives, and one of the con­se­quences of that stress is anx­i­ety.”

Mackay says that while anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion are not con­fined to any par­tic­u­lar so­cial or eco­nomic stra­tum, life, as a young per­son, is more dif­fi­cult for mil­len­ni­als than it was for pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

The cur­rent crop of Aus­tralian ado­les­cents are the off­spring of our most di­vorced gen­er­a­tion of par­ents, which means many of them are deal­ing with the con­se­quences of fam­ily breakdown.

“Typ­i­cally, if both par­ents are around, they are both work­ing, and there­fore more busy, tired and on a shorter fuse than in pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of par­ents,” Mackay says, adding that this gen­er­a­tion ex­pe­ri­enced more out-of-home child­care than in any pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, bring­ing new emo­tional chal­lenges.

And while they may be dig­i­tal na­tives, he adds that mil­len­ni­als have been con­di­tioned to con­fuse data trans­mis­sion with com­mu­ni­ca­tion and to as­sume that con­nec­tions via so­cial media are much the same as per­son-to-per­son en­coun­ters.

“The IT rev­o­lu­tion has ac­tu­ally made it eas­ier than ever to stay apart from each other, and that fu­els anx­i­ety too,” he says. A re­cent Deloitte Mo­bile Con­sumer Sur­vey found 18- to 24-year-old Aus­tralians check their phones up to 56 times a day and some check it more than 200 times daily. Sound fa­mil­iar?

More than 80 per cent of Aus­tralians can’t last an hour af­ter wak­ing be­fore check­ing their phones, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey of 2,000 Aus­tralians aged be­tween 18 and 75. And half of 18 to 24-year-olds check theirs within five min­utes of wak­ing.

Just don’t as­sume they want to talk to you. In­stant mes­sag­ing us­age sur­passed voice ser­vices for those un­der 24 in 2015.

So we are high on Wi-Fi, tex­ting like crazy and liv­ing in an al­most per­pet­ual state of “fight or flight”. It’s no won­der then that con­ver­sa­tions about men­tal health are more com­mon.

Lena Dun­ham, ac­tress, pro­ducer and cre­ator of the HBO se­ries Girls, for in­stance, has been very hon­est about her anx­i­ety dis­or­der. “Part of be­ing hu­man is that you’re in a con­stantly tran­si­tional place,” Dun­ham once said in an in­ter­view. “I think some­thing that can be hard is the idea that peo­ple would say: ‘I used to have this and now I’m cured.’ And the fact is, I still go through phases of crip­pling anx­i­ety.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Beyond­blue sup­port ser­vice for de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, Aus­tralian data sug­gests that among 10- to 24-year-old fe­males, seven to 14 per cent will ex­pe­ri­ence an anx­i­ety con­di­tion in any given year. “Men­tal health is com­monly ranked as a top con­cern for young peo­ple, and they are more likely than older gen­er­a­tions to recog­nise the signs of anx­i­ety, talk about it with their friends, post about it on so­cial media, look up in­for­ma­tion on­line and seek pro­fes­sional help,” says Beyond­blue CEO Ge­orgie Har­man.

Anti-sugar cru­sader, au­thor, en­tre­pre­neur, blog­ger and former jour­nal­ist Sarah Wilson’s lat­est book, First, We Make The Beast Beau­ti­ful: A New Story About Anx­i­ety (Macmil­lan Aus­tralia), is a brave deep dive into her life­long bat­tle with anx­i­ety, in­som­nia, teenage bu­limia, ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­der, de­pres­sion, hy­po­ma­nia and bipo­lar dis­or­der that has at times made her sui­ci­dal.

She knows a thing or two about men­tal health and has some the­o­ries on why anx­i­ety is on the rise among oth­er­wise “nor­mal” peo­ple. “The lives mil­len­ni­als are liv­ing is very con­ducive to turn­ing up the dial on anx­i­ety,” says Wilson, a 43-year-old Gen Xer. “For those of us who might have an anx­i­ety dis­or­der, the con­di­tions are not con­ducive to han­dling it well,” she says. “And there are more peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing panic at­tacks who in the past prob­a­bly would not have, be­cause life would not have put them in that po­si­tion.”

Liv­ing fur­ther away from fam­ily and a lack of com­mu­nity are also hav­ing an im­pact, ac­cord­ing to so­cial psy­chol­o­gist Dr Jean Twenge, au­thor of Gen­er­a­tion Me: Why To­day’s Young Amer­i­cans Are More Con­fi­dent, As­sertive, En­ti­tled and More Mis­er­able Than Ever Be­fore. “Just a few gen­er­a­tions ago, de­pres­sion and sui­cide were con­sid­ered af­flic­tions of mid­dle age,” she wrote in a 2011 ar­ti­cle for the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Orthopsy­chi­a­try. In her book, she ar­gued an­other fac­tor was the dis­con­nect be­tween ex­pec­ta­tions and re­al­ity – young peo­ple were told: “You can be any­thing you want to be”, and then found that re­al­ity was not quite so easy.

Mackay says Western so­ci­ety’s “me” cul­ture en­cour­ages anx­i­ety-in­duc­ing in­di­vid­u­al­ism and ma­te­ri­al­ism. “Think of the pri­mary uses of so­cial media – not to com­mu­ni­cate but to brag,” he says. “Think of the grow­ing em­pha­sis on per­sonal en­ti­tle­ment rather than civic re­spon­si­bil­ity.” He ar­gues hu­mans are so­cial crea­tures who have evolved to co­op­er­ate in close com­mu­ni­ties rather than com­pete. “If we fo­cus too much on our own wants, our own en­ti­tle­ments and our own grat­i­fi­ca­tions, with lit­tle re­gard for the needs and well­be­ing of oth­ers, there will be an in­evitable threat to our men­tal health,” he says.

The good news is that there is mount­ing ev­i­dence to sug­gest men­tal health is be­com­ing a pri­or­ity for mil­len­ni­als.

Supermodel, coder, phi­lan­thropist and mil­len­nial poster girl Karlie Kloss ac­tively en­cour­ages girls to learn to code. But she ad­vo­cates a weekly dig­i­tal detox, too. “I think it’s im­por­tant to step away for a minute and ac­tu­ally re­con­nect with peo­ple and re­con­nect with your­self.”

Mil­len­ni­als are more will­ing than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions to con­sult a ther­a­pist and talk about it openly, says Rachel Krautkre­mer, an in­sights and strat­egy di­rec­tor at New York trend fore­cast­ing com­pany Cas­san­dra Re­port. “They are erad­i­cat­ing the stigma around ther­apy,” Krautkre­mer says.

She says mil­len­ni­als have a more holis­tic view of well­ness, be­liev­ing that men­tal and spir­i­tual health are just as im­por­tant as fit­ness and nutri­tion. “They are start­ing to see the neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions of their al­ways-on lives,” she says. “This is lead­ing them to em­brace mind­ful­ness, med­i­ta­tion and sound ther­apy.”

Wilson in­cludes many of the self-care hacks she uses to sup­port her men­tal health in her book, in­clud­ing build­ing bound­aries, turn­ing off so­cial media, em­brac­ing sim­ple rou­tines, quit­ting cof­fee and sugar (nat­u­rally), daily ex­er­cise and med­i­ta­tion.

But per­haps her best tip of all is that we learn to em­brace the beauty of im­per­fec­tion.

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