People Latest - - by Fanni Rodek

Gen Y anxiety: Disease of our age or a privileged whinge?

Gen Y anxiety: Disease of our age or a privileged whinge? Still from 'Millennials' pilot (IMAGE: Hitmaker Media/Vimeo)

We live in an age of mental health problems. “There is an anxiety for everyone.” – says The Guardian. Everyone faces stressful situations during their lifetime and experience anxiety as a natural part of the process. But there is a difference between being anxious about one particular event and living with anxiety every day. It seems like young adults (aged 20-35, often called as Generation Y) are a lot more familiar with the latter than anyone else.

Who belongs to Gen Y?

There’s no absolute consensus between researchers about the birth years defining Generation Y. They seem to agree though that the Millennials – another name often used for this group – “consist, depending on whom you ask, of people born from 1980 to 2000.” – wrote TIME Magazine in 2013. Some argue that this range is too wide and the next generation (Z) started around 1994. So the members of Gen Y are in their twenties and thirties, entering their fully adult life.

The Millennials are…

Open-minded, ambitious, creative, flexible with a strong sense of social responsibility. Self-absorbed narcissists, lazy, unhappy with an inability to commit to anything – is the way TIME describes the Millennials.  These attributes are quite contradictory – but all of them are used to describe Generation Y. Generation Me, Y-ny, Trophy Kids and Peter Pan generation are also names people call the Millennials. It’s hard to make out the truth of all this, but it is sure that this generation has a much more negative self-image than others do.

What has been affecting the life of Gen Y? They’ve been born to successful parents in a time when the whole world started expanding – they learned soon enough that they can do anything they want. They could have all the hobbies and they were awarded simply for participation not achievement – as Ron Aslop called them, they are the Trophy Kids. No wonder it resulted in high expectations, a feeling of anything is possible and a sense of ability to change the world.

No one was prepared for the Great Recession in the 2000s and its consequences. Every generation so far has done better than the previous one – but it seems like the Millennials are going to be the first for whom this doesn’t apply. They’ve been hit quite badly by the economic situation, graduating in the middle of the recession. The recovery didn’t help them much but somehow they’ve still remained optimistic about their and the world’s future.


What causes our anxiety then?

It is a fact that Millennials struggle a lot more with anxiety than Generation Xers (born 1960-1980) and Baby Bloomers (born 1946-1964). The question is where does that anxiety come from? There are some obvious reasons like the financial insecurity after the recession. “For most of my contemporaries the idea of buying a house is laughable” – says Rose Bretécher. And although this is not something that’s keeping us up every night it is there constantly in the back of our minds.

A need to prove ourselves worthy starts early. “Overly-protective parenting and “exam-factory” schooling are amongst the reasons psychologists suggest for our generational angst.” – highlights the Telegraph.  The other biggest source of anxiety is also our biggest advantage – with the extraordinary expanding of technology came a near infinite possibility of choice. “Our attitude growing up was perhaps therefore not so much “I deserve it” but rather “I can have it.”” – writes Caroline Beaton on Psychology Today.

She also argues that not only our parents told us that we can become anything but with the Internet, everything is within an arm’s reach. And that’s great because we really do have a lot more opportunities than previous generations. But it’s also a reason for immobilizing anxiety. If we have unlimited choices, we have the chance to get the perfect out of everything – with no one else to blame but us if it turns out problematic. So we procrastinate, research all the available options – even with the smallest things – and often don’t choose at all. Feeling anxious all the way, because we should be somewhere else, somewhere further with out lives, doing better.

As we know from Erik Erikson’s theory on psychological development, commitment is naturally one of the biggest tasks of this life period. Young people in their twenties and thirties have to learn how to commit – to a career, a job, a relationship, political and social views. But with all the options available it’s no wonder this seems nearly impossible – feeding our anxiety all the way.

The way we consume culture has also changed. We hear/read about something interesting – and we can find the book, movie, album online in a second. To go further, these are not only products anymore. With social media, we can follow anyone we want – which again has its perks (people inspire us from all over the world) and its disadvantages as well. We don’t make all that much contact in person anymore, we stay updated with each other’s lives via social media. What we often forget is that Instagram is not about honesty. There’s not a lot of people who show the bad days, the difficulties they face.

The more millennials we talk to, the more we realize we are struggling with the same problems. We love the accessiblity that came with the cultural change but we are also anxious about our lives. But we shouldn’t be ashamed of our difficulties and anxiety – we should be talking about it, helping each other finding ways to cope with it.


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