Generation Stressed

Millennials have it harder than you think.

Millennials are officially the most stressed-out generation. At least that’s what the American Psychological Association reports. In its 2015 “Stress in America” survey, 45 percent  of Millennials, aged 18 to 36, reported an increase in stress levels, as compared with 39 percent for Generation Xers and 25 percent for both Boomers and Matures. In the APA’s 2014 survey, only 36 percent of Millennials reported an increase in stress levels. But wait—aren’t Millennials supposed to “have it easy”? Actually, there are numerous stressors affecting the lives of Millennials, including an extremely competitive job market, endless piles of student loans, and constant exposure to social media. It’s become nearly impossible to avoid any of these stress-inducing situations, which only ups the frustration and anxiety for bogged-down Millennials.

Even though the APA’s survey rates Millennials’ stress levels as 6.0 on a 10-point scale, stress levels seem to be even higher for college students. Some Millennials attending colleges located in Westchester would say that their stress levels are between 8.0 and 8.5. Christina Farah, an Iona College student entering her senior year, explains, “At school, I am involved with numerous clubs, I intern, and I take five classes. Even though I still have my parents to take care of me and I don’t have to pay expensive bills, I feel my stress is maximized.” Farah isn’t the only one feeling the pressure.

According to Forbes, 61 percent of college students experience anxiety, which affects eating, sleeping, and overall motivation. In fact, 30 percent of working Millennials experience general anxiety, while 12 percent have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Mamaroneck resident Carolyn Koestner, who is entering her junior year at Skidmore College, suffers from severe anxiety. “I add to my stress levels by taking on more tasks than I should at once, such as a heavy course load,” she says. “I do this because I feel pressured to be doing a lot of things in preparation for the rest of my life, even though I’m only 19!”

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Technology and social media also play a major role in the stress of Millennials. American college students spend approximately nine hours per day on their phones, Forbes reports. A recent CNBC study found that the overuse of social media is causing Millennials to be less social in real life. “Millennials are losing the ability to connect with people verbally,” says Diane Ferrero-Paluzzi, PhD, an associate professor and chair of the Speech Communication Studies department at Iona College. “You don’t learn to be the best communicator from social media. We’re losing face-to-face communication.” Additionally, Ferrero-Paluzzi points out that Millennials without face-to-face communication skills may have a more difficult time getting a job, since many—if not most—jobs require strong communication skills. 

Interestingly, Millennials seem to want more out of their jobs than previous generations. They want the workplace to be better aligned with their values in order to feel that their work truly serves a purpose, according to Fast Company magazine. Orly Shachar, PhD, an associate professor in the Mass Communication department at Iona College, says, “Millennials want meaningful work. They want to participate in the decision-making process of the workplace immediately.” Unfortunately, that usually is not what happens. “Millennials need to understand that, as they enter the working environment, their bosses and superiors don’t know them well. There is a learning curve that needs to happen, which can create some clashes in the workplace.” It’s already difficult for Millennials to find jobs in today’s competitive market, but the stress doesn’t dissipate once they’re hired. Between a lack of valuable work and supervisors who don’t understand what they need, Millennials’ frustration can be endless. 

Think about it: All of us have become used to immediate gratification. Baby Boomers grew up having to haul stacks of books from the library to write a school paper. Encyclopedias and scholarly journals had to be scanned for hours on end. For Boomers, being able to Google anything is akin to magic. Most notably, Boomers remember what it was like not to have immediate access to everything. Millennials, on the other hand, have grown up with the Internet, Google, and all forms of social media at their fingertips; this is all they’ve ever known.

Add to that the phenomenon of overly protective “helicopter parents” that many Millennials grew up with, and you’ve got a lot of young people with little in the way of real-life experience. Steven Roth, MD, a service chief and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian/Westchester Division, works with college students experiencing high levels of stress. “They’re away from their families, they have to make new friends, start a whole new routine,”  explains Roth. “They’re relatively unsupervised—nobody’s keeping track of when they go to bed, whether they’re eating properly.” In addition, says Roth, many parents of Millennials feel that their role is to make their children feel special. “Of course we want our kids to feel special; they are special,” he says. “The problem is, when these kids get to college, they’re surrounded by people whose parents have all told them that they’re special.”

It’s not surprising, then, that many Millennials end up right back home after they graduate. Between heavy student debt, low hourly wages of entry-level jobs (if  they’re lucky enough to find jobs), and high real estate prices (especially in the Tristate area), it’s difficult for Millennials to move out. 

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Interestingly, a 2015 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that the number of young people aged 18 to 34 still living at home is nearly identical to the number who were living at home in 1940. Today, 42.8 percent of men and 36.4 percent of women in this age group live at home, compared to 47.5 percent and 36.2 percent, respectively, in 1940. By 1960, most young adults were financially able to live on their own. That is no longer the case, especially in Westchester, where according to a City-Data demographic, the average monthly rent of an apartment is $1,204, while the average value of a Westchester house or condominium is $493,800. 

According to E.J. Kelley of Houlihan Lawrence, Millennials are interested in moving to Transit Oriented Developments (TODs), which are pedestrian-friendly and offer convenient locations (near stores and restaurants), as well as bus and train stations within walking distance of homes. So far, TOD projects have been constructed or approved in locations including Rye, Tuckahoe, and Chappaqua, with more expected to crop up around the county.

Whether or not they can afford to live on their own, Westchester Millennials seem driven to succeed. “I’m a firm believer that I will end up where I need to be. Until then, I’m going to work hard and chase my passions in life,” says Jocelyne Alvarenga, a SUNY Purchase College student (pictured below) entering her junior year. “As Millennials, we don’t have it easy, which is why we’re stressed. But we use that stress to motivate ourselves to succeed.”

And, success—despite the stress that often accompanies or precedes it—does not necessarily elude Westchester Millennials. Take Lia Taylor Schwartz, for instance. At 29, the chief of staff of The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry—a charity that helps thousands of vulnerable children and families in the New York-Metro area become educated, productive, responsible members of their communities—virtually thrives on stress, as long as it helps her achieve her goals, such as buying her own home, which she did at age 27. But it’s not all about financial or material gain. “Working hard and doing a great job is inherently satisfying to me,” she says. “But my true motivation stems from knowing that my work matters.” Like most Millennials, Schwartz admits that she “grew up overscheduled and under-rested. I did tons of extracurricular activities, took every AP class I could fit into my schedule, and had the privilege of a supportive family that could afford to pay for all of it and who encouraged me to strive for more. As a result, I produce my best work and I’m at my happiest when I feel a bit of pressure.” In fact, she says, “nothing gives me more anxiety than down time.” 

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