The negative effects of stress have been addressed over and over again, yet we seem to always find ourselves back at the start of the discussion. Does the modern way of living lead us to stress, like a horse to water? Maybe it's just me, but I always associated serious, life-impeding stress with those who had settled into careers, had families to feed and people who are maybe beginning to see the early medical consequences of aging.
It turns out that young adults are significantly more stressed than every other age group. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association entitled Stress in America took an inventory comparing the stress levels of three different age groups: millennials, boomers and matures. The study asked participants to rate their own stress level on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being little to no stress, 10 being a great deal of stress.
Stress is an issue that weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of today's young people. When we think about the health risks of stress, we have a tendency to only think of middle-aged people. Stress is a very real danger for young people. In the short term it can lead to depression and anxiety, and in the long-term it can lead to life-threatening health risks.
The Results of This Survey Are Astounding
When asked to assess their general stress level, the youngest group rated themselves a 5.4; boomers rated themselves a 4.7 and matures a 3.7. When you consider that there are probably a high number of outliers and a high number of people who may have underreported their stress level, or are lucky enough to feel relatively stress-free, 5.4 is a shockingly high number compared to the other age groups.
What is stressing this generation out so badly? Is it the declining opportunities available in the workforce? Is it the mountains of student debt? Is it the fact that one out of five young adults has been told they are suffering from depression? Really take a moment to think about that. Depression is a baseline. Sufferers of depression may start out with a mood deficit that affects their motivation, their ambition, their overall ability to feel happy, their satisfaction with relationships, with a career, their hopes and their self-perception. Feeling satisfied with any one of those areas can be difficult even for well adjusted people.
With unemployment figures that boggle the mind, it's no wonder that this generation is feeling a sense of hopelessness that's wearing on them in the form of stress. Unfortunately, in many ways, the picture does not appear to be improving. Unemployment is at 13.2% overall for this age group, but young blacks are especially short on jobs, with a jobless rate of 22.9%. If you include the number of people who have given up looking for work, the overall jobless rate for young adults is 16.2%. To provide some perspective, the national unemployment number is currently 7.4%.
40% of young adult respondents said their stress level had increased over the last year. More than 50% reported that stress was causing them to lose sleep. 29% of young adults admit that they are not getting enough sleep.
The health consequences of stress are well known. Stress has been shown to have high corollary relation to cardiac issues, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Stress has been shown to be a contributor to cancer, ulcers and other serious health issues. To be stressed out is to be a ticking time bomb for chronic illness and disease. Stress will take years off of your life. And maybe that is why I have always associated it with those who are older. Because it seems like sometimes life can beat you down. But these are people who haven't yet had the chance to really stand on their own two legs and even muster the experience to fail in the ways that I had always assumed contributed to life-diminishing stress.
Many of these issues will need serious will give rise to situations that require intensive medical care. Yet this is a generation that has little confidence in the health care system to be able to deliver affordable, effective treatments for the ailments that their stressors will lead them to need help with.
Is there a chance that changing our definitions of success could lead to more positive outcomes for this stressed out generation? Maybe we have overvalued traditional ideas of 'the good life'. With future housing crises a seemingly guaranteed prospect again and again, a credit market on the verge of constant collapse, a social security and health care system in serious need of repair and, at the personal level, declining wages in an ever diminishing range of careers, perhaps we should assess what it truly means to find success in 2013.
Perhaps we should find ways to prize inner rewards and the satisfaction of personal and spiritual goals as measures of our success. Maybe we should take satisfaction where we can find it, in our health and in our fulfilling relationships with friends and family. Maybe we can find consolation in taking the opportunity to help others.
None of these is a total solution to the problem. But maybe combined, they represent a good first step in the right direction.
The important thing is that we must not let our circumstances defeat us before we have even set out on the path of our lives. We must always remember to put one foot in front of the other and meet every challenge as it presents itself. Without concerted efforts to improve the world and to create new opportunities, we are dooming future generations to the same fate that young adults now face.