The American Psychological Association’s (APA) recently released report, “Stress in America: Generation Z,” found that the group ages 15-21 is the most stressed among those surveyed.
A survey by Cigna earlier this year pegged Gen Z as the loneliest demographic as well.
The findings suggest that Generation Z will be entering adulthood with some serious emotional baggage. Why is this age group experiencing more stress and loneliness than others?
Certainly, contemporary life doesn’t lack for stressors. Mass shootings, global warming, debt, sexual harassment and assault were among the topics in the news during the study that respondents from Generation Z reported feeling more stress over than did adults overall.
Granted, these are the kind of real and unpleasant topics that seem to dominate news coverage, but why does Generation Z seem to take it harder than other age groups?
Perhaps because they don’t believe those in power will provide solutions.
Business, Government Not Trusted
Established institutions such as the government or corporations don’t inspire much faith in the young, according to a 2016 survey by The Guardian.
Asked whether big corporations can be trusted, only 6% responded positively. Government inspires only a bit more trust – 10%. Multinational corporations were described in terms such as “exploitative,” “selfish,” “arrogant,” “greedy” and “cheating.” Government has no concern for regular people and the system is rigged anyway, the majority of those surveyed believed.
Perhaps this attitude explains why Generation Z’s concern over issues doesn’t send them to the ballot box. The APA survey found that 54% of Gen Z adults intended to vote in the 2018 U.S. elections compared to 70% of all adults surveyed.
It’s not just society’s largest institutions with which Generation Z doesn’t connect.
According to a 2017 study prepared for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, as reported by USA Today, many forms of social interaction, from attending church to socializing with neighbors and co-workers, have all declined significantly since the 1970s.
Smartphones and social media were cited by many as likely culprits. A study by the journal Clinical Psychological Science found that adolescents who spent more time on devices such as smartphones had more incidents of mental health issues compared to those in their age group who spent less time facing a screen than participating in sports, homework, reading print media, going to church or interacting with other people in person.
Loneliness Takes a Physical Toll
On the other hand, smartphones and social media likely aren’t the only reason, as the Cigna survey found that the level of loneliness reported by those who don’t use social media was only slightly less than that reported by heavy users.
Whatever the cause, loneliness take a toll on an individual’s health. Cigna cited a study that found that the impact of loneliness on health was equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, which made it even more dangerous to health than obesity. Studies have found lonely people are at a higher risk for stroke, heart disease and even early mortality.
Stressed, Lonely Doesn’t Mean Apathetic
It’s important to note that Generation Z has grown up with fewer stigmas attached to mental health issues such as depression. They may simply be more willing to talk about their depression or loneliness than older generations.
According to APA’s CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., the greater percentage of Gen Z members describing their own mental health as fair or poor “could be an indicator that they are more aware of and accepting of mental health issues.”
Also, Generation Z’s reported depression and loneliness, and its unfortunate disinclination to vote, does not necessarily equal apathy. Some in this age group are making waves about the very issues that are the causes of their stress.
Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, both 18, survived a shooting at their Parkland, Fla., high school that killed 17. Both have since become the faces of gun-control activism, helping to form the political action committee Never Again MSD (for Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the suffragist and conservationist for whom their high school was named), which supports candidates who favor stricter gun control legislation.
Malala Yousafzai, 21, survived an assassination attempt in her home country of Pakistan. She was targeted for her advocacy of female education. She survived and has since become internationally known for her activism on behalf of female education and human rights.
Virginia teen Sejal Makheja, 19, founded The Elevator Project, which provides job training to people in poverty, when she was 14. Formerly its CEO, Sejal remain on the nonprofit’s advisory board and has passed the reins to the new CEO, her 17-year-old brother, Jared.
Taking Action for Mental Health
The achievements of these young people suggest that feelings of helplessness are best overcome by action. If social and political issues are triggering feelings of helplessness, vote, write letters and participate with an organization that shares your concerns. Or create your own nonprofit.
Taking action in this way can put Gen Z members who feel lonely or isolated in touch with others with whom they share an interest. Whether it’s a social or political issue, yoga or movies, find others who share your interest or passion and communicate, ideally in person.
Beyond this, there are no magic bullet cures for stress or loneliness, just healthy practices that need to be performed regularly and repeatedly.
More Snapchat friends aren’t likely to ease loneliness. Meeting one or more of those social media contacts for coffee or a walk is far more likely to ease feelings of loneliness, even if only temporarily.
Individual sleep needs vary but getting too much or too little can have a negative effect on how one feels physically and emotionally. Find that ideal sleep time and take steps to ensure that you can get it most if not every night. One of these steps could be lower screen time before bedtime. Another can be exercise, which can also help with sleep and with feelings of loneliness as well.