Of all the labels used to describe millennials, as one of them, I have to say the “the anxious generation” feels the most apt. Because how could we not be anxious? The world is on fire and the extinction of our entire species is looming. “Anxiety is a form of fear—a type of fear that tends to be amorphous and often haunting in nature,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. Well, the climate crisis is not a drill and is definitely haunting—and it’s also hardly the only huge, amorphous issue fueling millennial anxiety.
Since mental health pros, like Dr. Manly, are likely most privy to the worries that are haunting us, I sought insight from pros into the most common concerns plaguing my generation, as well as advice for easing our troubled minds with respect to each issue. And, to be clear, that easing of the mind is no small task. “Unlike a rational fear that can be readily addressed, fears that manifest as anxiety tend to be a bit tricky and more difficult to assess and overcome,” says Dr. Manly. Below, find the fears currently spooking us the most.
The 5 most common reasons for millennial anxiety, according to therapists.
1. Missing milestones
“The biggest thing I notice in millennial clients is pressure to hit milestones and a feeling of failure if they haven’t,” says psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “A lot of millennial clients are ‘behind’ where their parents were because in a lot of places, the economy is more challenging.”
This millennial anxiety encompasses all sectors of life—not graduating college or getting a promotion “on schedule”—including personal life, like marriage and children. “If they haven’t accomplished that yet, they start thinking there’s something wrong with them,” Dr. Daramus says. One cause of this is falling victim to the comparison trap. If you’re anything like me, social media exacerbates these milestone-missing anxieties. It’s fine to not be married or have a kid on the same schedule as everyone else you know until you scroll through the visual evidence of being “behind.”
“If all you value about yourself is work, and you feel like you’re behind, that’s a big source of anxiety.” —psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD
The heart of the problem, says Dr. Daramus, is that millennials often don’t know their value outside their job and maybe their fitness routine—the things they accomplish rather than who they are. “They often have a hard time talking about what’s valuable about them, like hobbies or talents or personality traits,” she says. “If all you value about yourself is work, and you feel like you’re behind, that’s a big source of anxiety.” The solution for avoiding this fulfillment failure is to diversify your fulfillment portfolio. Make a list of priorities divided into three categories: career, relationships, and self. Make sure items exist under each heading and remember, the ultimate goal is to feel worthy all the time just for existing.
2. Dying alone
Both docs note that their clients are worried about whether or not they’ll meet a life partner, and that the dating landscape is especially distressing for many. “While they engage in app use, they often don’t believe it will be successful for them,” Dr. Daramus says.
The remedy for the negativity, and to engender healthy relationships, is multifaceted. “We explore setting good boundaries, noticing patterns of relational interaction from childhood in order to develop more conscious relationships, and getting clear on what they want and need in their relationships,” Dr. Daramus adds.
3. Job stability and financial security
According to a survey circulated this summer, 52 percent of millennial women cite money issues as the most stressful part of their lives. The finding is hardly surprising to couples therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, who tells me that the work and money anxieties she treats tend to stem from low entry-level salaries, high levels of student debt, and the fear of never making enough to be solvent. Meanwhile, those who want to buy a house or start a retirement plan or have children feel stymied by finances that just aren’t there. These anxieties are tricky to treat because of inescapable realities in which they’re entrenched. For instance, according a report from Unison, it would now take 43 years to save for a down payment in my hometown of Los Angeles (based on making the city’s median income). In other words, the millennial anxiety here is pretty well-founded.
“It’s important to make a major goal followed by simple but specific micro goals to begin working toward the major goal. Steady action toward a goal can relieve anxiety.” —psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD
In instances like this, Dr. Manly recommends focusing your energy on what you can change and letting go of what you cannot. “The goal is to look at each fear and dissect it to determine what is underneath,” she says. “Journaling, talking with a mentor, and consulting a therapist, can be helpful tools for ferreting out the underlying issues.” After evaluating, ascertaining what—if anything—can be done to address the issue should feel more manageable. “If nothing can be done, then it’s wise to practice genuine acceptance,” she says.
Not all financial and career worries fall into this category, though. “If something can be done (which is often the case), it’s important to make a major goal followed by simple but specific micro goals to begin working toward the major goal,” Dr. Manly says. “When a person takes steady action toward a goal, anxiety can be relieved by simply feeling productive.”
4. Politics and the environment
All pros say their clients are anxious about a perceived inability to spark change, whether it be related to the climate crisis or politics in general. “They understand how things should be different, but they feel very uncertain of what to do to make it better,” Earnshaw says.
While some believe climate anxiety to be a good thing, Dr. Daramus says she helps her clients manage fears about it and other political topics simply by hearing them out. “We also work toward coming up with self-care boundaries, like limiting their access to news or social media if it is causing them psychological distress. Lastly, we work toward considering ways they can find personal empowerment.” With respect to the final strategy, you could take immediate action by registering to vote, forgoing beef, and eschewing single-use plastic, for starters.
5. General physical health
Dr. Manly tells me her patients frequently express anxiety around things like cancer, sexually-transmitted infections (which are on the rise), and toxins. Her prior advice, to pay attention to what you can change and let go of what you cannot, is helpful here, too: You can practice safe sex, clean your beauty routine, detox your home, exercise, eat healthy, reduce inflammation, and try to manage stress.
“All of these are strategies that millennials find exceedingly helpful, in that many have lost touch with—or never learned—basic healthy-living skills,” Dr. Manly says. Beyond taking these actions to promote a healthy lifestyle, however, this point of millennial anxiety is largely out of your control, which means acceptance is key. (Maybe download WeCroak, the app that acclimates you to the idea of death? Just an idea.)