A recent study revealed the youngest generations of adults in America are also the most stressed. In one sense, this is no big surprise, given the economic and social factors influencing quality of life and near-future prospects for Millennials—adults ages 18 to 29—and for Gen Xers, whose scores are virtually tied with those of their younger counterparts.
In January 2013, the unemployment rate for Millennials reached 13.1 percent. This compares to 7.9 percent overall. And among employed Millennials, many are underemployed, working jobs that don't make full use of their college degrees, making it hard to pay off student debt.
On the other hand, in general, Millennials carry far less responsibility for others compared with adults in mid-life, who are more likely carrying large mortgages, raising kids and putting them through college and managing mature careers. And those who are well into the second half of life often find themselves caring for aging parents and facing their own health issues as they age. Older adults have plenty of reasons to stress out.
So is there something more behind all the stress on younger adults?
Exacerbating the challenges in their external circumstances, younger adults lack the internal fortitude that comes from experience. It's not their fault—they simply haven't been through as many trials as older generations. They don't have as many triumphs they can point back to and use to boost their confidence for what they're facing in the present. They don't have the cache of personal stories—or the scars—to remind themselves they have what it takes to walk through life's challenges.
Such experiences come over time. According to the American Psychological Association, as we age, we get better at handling stress. "There really is something to 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger,'" says one psychiatrist. We all know there's no substitute for the school of hard knocks.
But while our own experiences are the best teachers, other people's stories can be powerful as well. Seasoned adults aren't the only ones who can benefit from their experiences—they can bring hope and assurance to the people who are coming up behind.
But in our society, intergenerational connections are weak. And stories from the seasoned set are lost amid our cultural noise, which venerates the loud and the youthful. Perhaps this is another reason for the high stress level among younger adults. Most of the stories they hear are from people with less, not more, real life experience.
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