Since 1930, there's been an upward trend in the number of young people who report mental health issues. Millennials appear to have it the worst. In the past five years, college students have said they're more overwhelmed, anxious, and isolated than ever before. According to a 2011 survey from UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, the average freshman's self-rated psychological health hit the lowest point since the survey began in 1985.
What's the deal with the Millennial generation? Here are five reasons you might be stressed AF:
1. Your parents hovered too close.
Moms and dads from the Boomer generation thought keeping track of their kids' every move, filling their agendas with after-school activities, and swooping in to protect them from bullying (or unfair teachers) would "maximize their potential." But according to Karen Cassiday, PhD, president-elect of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, such well-intended interventions left Millennials floundering once they had to handle stress, conflict, frustration, and even boredom on their own.
"By rushing in too quickly to alleviate kids' distress, many parents and even schools prevented young people from learning how to cope," Cassiday tells Cosmopolitan.com. Instead of figuring out how to manage mistakes, failures, and all the inconveniences that comprise regular life, she says, many of today's twentysomethings were conditioned to expect everyone but themselves to save the day.
As a result, some Millennials may feel helpless in the face of adversities and underestimate their ability to deal without outside intervention. Worst-case scenario: This increases their risk of anxiety and depression—or inclines them toward self-sabotage via substance abuse, binge-eating, risky sex, and self-harm.
How to Deal
The more you run away from dealing with an issue, the more ominous it can seem. (Confrontations with friends, difficulties at work, hang-ups about your appearance or character that keep you from saying "yes" to date no. 2 all included.) But each time you face one of these intimidating tasks head on, life gets a little less scary. Psychologists call this "developing mastery." The more proof you have that you can get through a tough experience without the world falling apart, the more you believe in your own capability.
Try building new challenges into most of your days to really strengthen this sense of mastery. Committing to make a yoga class, add a new vocabulary word to your lexicon, restring that guitar you used to play, try a new food you're weirded out by, or resist the urge to issue everyone who's texting you an immediate response can be great starting points. Oh, and getting around to changing that light bulb. (You know, baby steps...)
2. The smallest things become full-blown crises.
Not only are many Millennials poorly trained in mustering the courage to tough out a hard time, Cassiday explains, they were also raised to balk at even the slightest hints of distress. Sure, research has linked stress to a range of mental and physical health issues. But this doesn't mean avoiding anxiety, angst, and discomfort at all costs is the best antidote. (Mastering the high art of sitting with your unrest, studies show, has a much better outcome for mental health.)
Assuming it's not OK to feel negatively about interpersonal, professional, or academic challenges only exacerbates the emotional fallout from those situations, Cassiday says. Think about it: "If you're convinced you shouldn't feel any distress when, say, you're faced with a deadline, going through a breakup, or you're hit with an unpleasant life event, the negative feelings that naturally arise during these experiences can feel like evidence you've in some way failed," she says. (Cue the emotional crumpling.)
How to Deal
Thankfully, you can learn to hang the heck in there when you're freaking out by putting a different spin on your emotional reactions. Cassiday says challenging yourself each day to accept negative feelings as normal aspects of everyday existence and embrace stress as a sign you're living a full life (rather than letting fear rule you) can, over time, help make things seem more manageable.
3. You think not getting praised means you suck.
Millennials were raised in an era where educators, mental health professionals, and, as a result, parents, were obsessed with the idea of raising self-esteem. Again, great intentions. But over-inflating kids' egos proved to be far less advantageous than we'd all hoped—not everyone is actually as talented as Beyoncé.
Narcissism is much higher among those born in the 1980s and 1990s. And hearing how perfect and wonderful you are all the time, Cassiday explains, can make you fear that if you ever do anything undeserving of praise (i.e., make a mistake), you'll lose all the positive regard that (superficially) keeps you going. Anxiety ensues at the mere thought of this loss of support.
Those accustomed to steady streams of accolades may also fall into the trap of assuming they suck in the event verbal rewards disappear. Consider the top complaint of many employers, says Cassiday, who gripe that if Millennials aren't told how great they are on a regular basis, they'll jump to the conclusion a gig isn't worth sticking out.
How to Deal
No harm in taking a selfie and basking in compliments. Just be sure not to hinge your self worth solely on what other people say about you. Ironically, studies suggest finding other things to focus on apart from how good or bad we feel about ourselves is key to lasting confidence. (See also: Giving ourselves a break with a little self-compassion.)
4. You're too connected.
Smartphones, social media, and all the apps in between offer an unprecedented level of connectivity that keeps you from ever truly being alone. Except when devices have the opposite effect of making you feel more isolated, or depriving you of the down time needed to breed patience and tolerate loneliness.
For starters, regular distractions (think: ever-present smartphones buzzing and pinging) increase stress. Plus, the more time you spend browsing friends' photo albums and Instagram accounts, the more apt you are to believe those friends are truly (and always) as happy, social, and well-off as their curated pictures paint them, says Cassiday. Misery creeps up, she points out, when you compare the fullness of your own offline lives to these snapshot representations—especially when you conclude you're inferior because you don't feel as awesome as these people look online.
Despite evidence that an over-reliance on updating social media or texting with friends is so much of what makes them feel awful in the first place, most Millennials seek refuge in technology to help them manage their woes. Chalk it up to having not learned to connect IRL as adeptly as other generations—or those rare young adults who don't have a Facebook profile.
"Humans need face-to-face social interaction for mental health," Jean Twenge, PhD, author of Generation Me tells Cosmopolitan.com. "Electronic social interaction is like junk food: It tastes good in the short term, but doesn't give you the health you need in the long term."
How to Deal
Call a friend rather than text. Or pick a pal to schedule a phone-free hour with. But, like, literally. Promise each other you'll turn your phones off. Go do something fun. (Bike ride in the neighborhood? Dropping into a dance class? Cooking a meal together? You get the picture.)
5. Your expectations are too damn high.
Reality bites every generation. But those who graduated high school in the early- to mid-aughts seem to be more disappointed by having their academic bubbles popped than their parents' generation. Research shows Millennials have far higher expectations about what their careers and relationships should entail, which sets them up for serious letdowns once they (1) realize how much work attaining their goals requires and (2) that even if they do muster the efforts, they still might not get the status, soul mate, or salary they were expecting.
Today's twentysomethings also appear to place more stock in materialistic achievements like financial prowess and fame, Cassiday says. Many also consider "happiness" their main goal in life. But research shows that prioritizing your own notoriety, aiming never to feel upset, or freaking out if you rake in less than a seven-figure paycheck makes life extremely unsatisfying.
"People who focus more on these extrinsic values are more likely to be anxious and depressed, and Millennials (compared to Boomers) are more likely to focus on these values," Twenge says. "For example, 82 percent of entering college students in in the 2010s said it was important to be 'very well-off financially,' compared to only 42 percent of Boomer students in 1966."
How to deal
Don't freak if you're falling short of your dreams. Just consider it a sign you may need to adjust your goals or cut yourself a little more slack when you fall short of a standard that may have been a bit too high. Judging yourself based on how much effort you put into a task—instead of its outcome—can also be a helpful way to keep lofty expectations from getting you down.
WAIT. YOU'RE NOT DOOMED.
Though Millennials may have a steeper learning curve when it comes to tolerating negative emotions, not buckling under the weight of anxiety, or putting their devices down to reap the benefits of true human connection, most may be far more capable than they've been brought up to believe.
A good first step they (and basically everyone else in the world) can take toward better psychological health? "Decide it's OK to be human," says Cassiday. (Translation: "accept that it's OK to make mistakes, have uncertainty in life, and be faced with daily moments of frustration.")
There are a number of resources available for those looking to hone some psychological skills—from distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness to emotional regulation and communication. Cassiday points readers towards the slew of self-help books offered by New Harbinger Publications as one place to start. She also recommends tuning into Brene Brown's work on courage and vulnerability.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.