The stress generation

by Jackie Roman / Beacon Staff • April 9, 2014

Millennials are the lazy, unmotivated, unreliable, high-maintenance generation. If you crowdsourced articles on this stereotyped group, that’s the picture you will likely get. Older generations frequently scold us for our poor work ethic and ability to sit inside watching two seasons of House of Cards for a whole weekend. But Generation X and Baby Boomers look at this technology-ridden, TV-binging group through a different set of eyes. While they certainly worked hard and had their own tribulations, there’s no doubt that being a teenager or 20-something in the 21st century comes with its own troubles. We are the stress generation.

When Baby Boomers were graduating high school around the 60s, unemployment was only about five percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it only decreased in the years following. This meant that even though only about 10 percent of young adults had college degrees, most could rest assured their hard work would bear fruit. The same was true for Generation X, graduating around the 80s. The economy was recovering and graduates were able to enjoy the benefits of a growth with a lowering unemployment rate. In these statistics lies the important disparity between then and now: the obtainability of the American dream — the possibility that America did have opportunity that could be harnessed if one actually tried. 

The difference is that American life is no longer that formulaic. A college degree plus some long hours and hard work almost always equaled a good payoff in the past. But the landscape has changed. While success is out there, the path to it is harder to follow. Hard work and dedication are admirable but might fall short with a lack of connections. 

This is due in part to an influx of college graduates. Over 30 percent of young adults in America obtain a college degree (almost double the amount in 1970) meaning employers hardly use this as a distinguishing factor during the hiring process. For Emerson College students, it’s important to take advantage of the “Emerson Mafia” and professional placement and development opportunities. Hope for those entering the job market isn’t gone, but it’s also not as obvious or easy as it once was. 

This uncertainty is what wears away at the mental health of Generation Y. For us, there are no guarantees, there is no equation, and the rules are always changing. Our parents may have had to work very hard to get where they are, but for us, work might not be enough. 

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 52 percent of the millennial generation say stress keeps them awake at night. This demographic also has a higher percentage of anxiety disorders and depression than any other age group. In recent years such mental illnesses have become easier to diagnose, which has led some to credit the rise in diagnoses to a simple rise in reporting. But the numbers are symbolic of something more profound than medical advancements. They symbolize an actual problem plaguing people who often have their worries discredited or disregarded. 

The fear of instability and the frustration that stems from being told your problems could be cured by just a little more motivation create stress. With this in mind, it’s not hard to understand why indulgent and seemingly self-absorbed practices like watching TV and binge-drinking are popular for today’s teens and 20-somethings. Admittedly, these are not always constructive activities; they waste time. But acts like these have one thing in common—they are a form of escapism. Binging on Netflix, drinking to excess, and tuning out reality to play Candy Crush Saga are a means of not only coping with stress but also forgetting that there is anything to cope with. 

Imagine being told that your stressors were trivial, privileged, and menial. Imagine being told that while fighting a fierce battle. It is not one that we cannot win, but the problem is that few acknowledge it even exists. We face job instability, lower rates of living independence, and even lower chances of a support system through it all since marriage rates have plummeted. These problems are real for us and we have to use our own version of elbow grease to get through them.

This is not to say that these problems are the worst of any generation or to undermine the difficulties our parents had to overcome. It is also not meant to instill total fear into anyone about to graduate college or move back home.  Instead, the goal is to bring attention and validation to the difficulties millennials have, which might serve to explain some of that “lazy” behavior. Life magazine said we are the “Me, me, me” generation — maybe it’s because we’re too scared to focus on anything else.