The American Psychological Association recently published a survey measuring stress across the spectrum of generations. The study revealed that Millennials report a significantly higher level of stress than all other generations, and higher than their age group in previous years. Like any good research generators, experts offered a variety of possible reasons behind this phenomenon. Tremendous college debt, paltry job offerings upon graduating, lower wages for jobs found and in positions previously not requiring a degree. A glut of data suggests over saturated technologies in our daily rhythms, while making us more efficient in many areas, greatly contributes to higher levels of stress. Pummeled with alerts and requests, we lack attention and focus, as well as, reasoned, thoughtful reflection, increasing the possibility for impulsive, harmful actions and communication (when was the last time you sent a text you wish you hadn’t?).
Another possible source for this increase of stress among our Millennials is what Adam Phillips designates, “the myth of our potential.” He explains: “affluence has allowed more people than ever before to think of their lives in terms of choices and options. . . .” America is not anything if drenched in choices, drowning in possibility and the attendant chance one might choose incorrectly. “Our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed. . . .” Of course, this can be, at the very least, quite frustrating. But Phillips cogently notes frustration of ones desires can be a good thing: “frustration is optimistic in the sense that it believes that what is wanted is available.” Yet it is also “the scene of transformation. Everything depends on what we would rather do than change.” When a desire is frustrated, the only option is change. Resisting change, the default of the human condition, we remain in a constant state of frustration (aka, stress).
So, here we are looking at two significant facets of the aught’s current scene. The high-tech world in which they find themselves coupled with the effects of a limp economy kindle stress to a higher than ever degree. Second, these young people have from birth been indoctrinated with the mantra that they can be anything they want to be. So, when they find themselves newly graduated with enormous debt, chaotic and shallow reasoning skills and a vague sense that what they “could” be is not where they are presently, is it any wonder they are stressed and frustrated? It is precisely here that we can meet these young people (and we, ourselves) to cultivate this “scene of transformation” they (we) inhabit. It is here that we provide the tools—the relationships—to change their perspective from what-I-could-be, to who-I-am-most-truly.
But, it comes at a cost. It involves change. It requires transformation—a paradigm shift (though this phrase has become cliché, it remains useful here)—a fundamental change in perspective. It is an inward gaze that requires time and focus, attentiveness and relationship—Divine and human. It is more crucial now than ever that we are intentional with our young people. Not just a tweet or a text, but physical, time-out-of-our-day commitment to be with each other. It is beneficial to me, too! for I am creating that space for me, as well. The result is not just decreased stress for the youth; it is also creating a foundation of leaders who are capable of making thoughtful, reasoned decisions. It is being community. It is being who we were made to be.