In my practice, when I meet with someone in their 20s it’s rare that they won't mention “anxiety” as the reason that they're coming in to see me. The topic of "anxiety" is normal, every day conversation for these young people — which is scary, but it's the reality of our current culture. With social media breeding comparison on overdrive, being overloaded with information, and attempting to keep up with the Jones', it’s no wonder we’re all feeling a bit… anxious.
From sleep issues to stresses about jobs, anxiety is an unpleasant thing to deal with, but the good news is that there are absolutely things that can help. Continue reading for the major causes of millennial anxiety and ways around each type.
FOMO, meaning "Fear of Missing Out," began as some fun lingo but it is increasingly becoming associated with some serious anxiety that can be anything but fun.
Simply opening your Facebook and Instagram feed can immediately cause feelings of FOMO to rise to the surface. Whether you're wishing that you are on that fancy trip your friends are on or bummed that you missed a party that you weren't invited to, FOMO is real.
How to deal with FOMO:
Try to get to the root of your FOMO. Categorize the times when you feel it the hardest. If it surrounds travel, set goals and start saving for your next trip or book a weekend get away. Do you experience FOMO because you believe that you don't have many friends? Become proactive and sign up for a community sports league or volunteer with an organization whose mission you align with.
It's important to take note of what your FOMO is telling you and make changes around whatever area you're missing out on. It's also a good idea to log off of social media for a bit.
Not Prioritizing Sleep
Even though more senior generations like to assume that the millennial generation is lazy, it's actually true that the younger set is, on the whole, very hard working. Young adults have lived a life that is 24/7. This often means staying up until 1 a.m. to hit a deadline or texting every person back before being able to put the phone down.
The constant priority for everything that is happening in life takes a toll on sleep. This is not good.
How to prioritize sleep
If you notice that you're not getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night, it's important to make a change. Start to say no to events or working late if it's getting in the way of rest.
Creating a nighttime routine is a great idea to help you wind down. Put your phone on airplane mode, take a warm bath, drink herbal tea and get into bed with an analog book at least nine hours before your alarm goes off.
Being the next Big Boss
Career anxiety may be the biggest source of anxiety for people in their 20s. While pushing to be the next break out star is great, it also leaves you feeling less than if we're not successful at starting our own business or rising to the top immediately. And of course there's the anxiety that presents itself when you don't know what you want to do with your life. Individuals in their 20s were born into a constant rat race that pushes people to be the best or more inventive than the rest. The internal and external pressure to have things figured out right out of college is exhausting.
How to deal
If you're feeling a lull in motivation but like your job, it's probably time that you take a break. Use your vacation (or sick...) days and take a break from the cubical for a few days. Even if all it means is that you get to catch up on your doctor's appointments and chores around the apartment. The time away from the desk will reboot your energy.
If you're anxious about what to pursue, take some time to attend a workshop or conference that you're interested in. Put yourself around inspiring people to gain more information and get things brewing.
Grab a cup of coffee with someone you respect and pick their brain. The act of talking to friends who feel this pressure can also help because you will realize that you're not alone.
Not knowing how to relax
We’re so anxious, the thought of relaxation even stresses us out. But this is really about how we’re relaxing, and that’s usually through binge watching, which research shows actually can have the opposite effect. Watching TV and spending hours scrolling through social feeds might be to blame.
How to relax
Force yourself to truly take a break - even if that means you become a little bored. Think back to the times when you've felt the most relaxed and go back to that place.
Find the practices that truly leave you feeling relaxed and renewed and incorporate them into your weekly routine. Maybe you'll even take the step to turn off your phone for one day a week and block out any new information from clouding your head. It's uncomfortable at the start, but you'll feel your anxiety decrease within a few hours
Hitting Milestones by a Certain Age
Many 20-somethings need to feel like they've reached a certain level of success by a certain age. If that age is reached and our careers or personal life still seems “mediocre,” cue the anxiety.
This is likely due to the fact that while times are changing and people are doing things later in life, millenials were brought up by a generation much different. The parents of 20-somethings got married young and they didn’t go back to school, and that’s likely weighing in on where you're *supposed* to be — or where you thought you'd be by age 30 as a kid.
How to deal
Instead of setting up your life to reach specific milestones by certain ages, let life take the course it was meant to take on its own. That idea is way easier said than done, but be careful to settle for a job or a partner all because you're turning 30 next year and you have to have those things before then. Set goals for things you can control, but really try not to attach an age to the goal. Do what feels right for you—no matter what your friends or parents have done.
Most importantly, take care of yourself! No matter the type of anxiety, there's usually one thing in common: we all need to step away from our phones and tune into ourselves instead. Move slower, create real human communication, take breaks, journal, meditate, go to therapy. Do what you need to do to feel good personally.
For a while now, science has shown that anxious people tend to to be more intelligent. Now we are finding that there is a link between anxiety and being more creative. In my work with artists, I find that many of them feel anxiety even if the symptoms vary from one person to another. It's not uncommon to learn that creative people, like artists, musicians, dancers, and writers live with mental health challenges like anxiety.
Painter Vincent van Gogh suffered throughout his life, as he explained in a letter to his brother: “I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me. Now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the head … at times I have attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse.”
Artist Edvard Munch, painter of the famous painting "The Scream" suffered from anxiety and hallucinations throughout his life. In fact, that painting came to him as a vision while he was trembling with anxiety. He wrote in his diary: “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”
Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia said that music is “something that escapes between frenzies, between anxiety attacks.” It's known that some artist capitalize on their neurotic view of the world to fuel their creative ambitions. I imagine you know some people in your own life who fit the description of an anxious artist. Or maybe you're channeling your own anxiety into artwork.
Throughout history, social scientists have supposed that there may be a link between anxiety and creativity. For a long time this hypothesis was based upon anecdotal evidence alone, but today there is a growing body of research that suggests there actually is a link between creativity and mental illness.
What the science tells us
One of the first key studies, which found that creative people had an unusually high number of mood disorders, reviewed individuals in creative fields such as literature and the arts. Researchers in Sweden’s Karolinska Institute followed more than one million Swedes and their relatives using a registry of psychiatric patients. The patients demonstrated conditions such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia. The study revealed that people working in creative fields, including dancers, photographers and authors, were eight percent more likely to live with bipolar disorder. Writers alone were 121 percent more likely to suffer from the condition. Researchers also found that people in creative positions were more likely to have relatives with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which shows that there may be a genetic trigger for both creativity and mental illness.
In 1987, Dr. Nancy Andreason from the University of Iowa found that a sample of creative writers had significantly higher levels of bipolar disorder than a control group. Andreason also noted that a writers' first-degree relatives, meaning their parents, siblings, or child, were more likely to suffer from mental illness. In 1994 a study looked at 60 female writers' mental health. The results of that study revealed that writers had a significantly higher rate of depression, mania, panic attacks, or generalized anxiety as compared to the study's control group. A 2004 survey by psychologist Erika Lauronen found that of 13 published studies, all but one supported a connection between mental illness and creativity.
More recently, in 2015, a study that was published in the journal of Natural Neuroscience found that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often amongst people who are in creative professions. Creative people were, on average, 25 percent more likely to carry the gene than less creative professionals like farmers, manual laborers, and salespeople. The scientists point out that to be creative, people need to think differently, and this may be genetic.
Imagination is the main reason for the connection between anxiety and creativity is imagination. The difference lies in the fact that the same brain that conjures up inventive artwork can also get stuck in repetitive thoughts and unpleasant worries. These individuals use their imagination to visualize something before it happens, whether it's their artwork or an issue (real or otherwise) that scares them and causes them concern and panic. People with both traits tend to overthink and over-analyze nearly everything, this can increase anxiety. However, dwelling on one's fears may be the root of creativity and problem solving. A double-edged sword, right?
There are still some people who question the direct link between anxiety and creativity. The research does tend to be limited because it is difficult to define what "creativity" is and replicate it for study. People will argue that while a correlation may exist between these two traits, one does not necessarily cause the other. For sure, there are plenty of people who are creative who don't battle anxiety or other mental health issues.
What does this mean for you, a creative person?
So, what should you do if you're an anxious creative type? Of course it's always a good idea to get professional help from a therapist who can work with you to evaluate what is actually going on and formulate a plan of action...and then walk with you through that plan. Once we learn what is actually going on, we can begin to gain tools and start using the imagination in a helpful way to minimize anxiety. It turns out that some artists are able to channel their anxiety in the right places to their benefit. Creativity comes from expression, and some of the most powerful forms of expression result from our struggle.
Here are some ways to transform anxiety into creativity.
1. Identify what you are feeling.
Name the feelings: You’re scared. You’re anxious. You have creative anxiety. Ask yourself what is behind the feelings: You’re afraid of failing. You’re afraid of succeeding. You’re afraid of producing terrible work. Then, make a list of all the things that might be standing in your way, creating the feelings. When you name your feelings and what is holding you back, they become easier to face. Getting them outside of your head and onto paper makes them tangible. When they are outside of you it is possible to see how you might deal with them and how they are not as big as the internal feeling makes them out to be.
2. Consider why you're doing this (creating) in the first place.
My guess is that you didn't start creating things because you felt that you should. People do lots of things because they feel like they should, but they don't become writers, painters, sculptors, and dancers because they should. That doesn't happen because there is a lot of risk involved in creating. There's not much security in being an artist, so no wonder why it scares you. No wonder you experience anxiety. You're going to make something no one's ever made before. A brand new thing. That's inherently risky. And what's more, it's something that goes straight to the core of who you are. Creating art reveals your deepest self and it's going to be reaching out to the deepest self of others. That's also risky. But isn't that why you do it? The things that scare you are precisely the things that compel you to make art in the first place. They scare you because you need them, they are a big deal, and there's no certainty that you will be successful. But that is what makes the whole process valuable. You don't have to make art. You're not doing it because you should. You're doing it because you want to. Keep that in mind the next time you are afraid to get to work. You started this because you want to.
3. Lower your expectations of yourself.
Stop being so hard on yourself. Creators want so much to make something good, useful, and beautiful. Artists have grand visions and they want to make those visions come to life. They strive for it to come to fruition and wonder why what they produce never matches up to the dream in their head. There is often a disconnect between what you want to be able to do and what you can do. You have to become okay with your limits. It's also important to become comfortable with failure. We learn through failure, so it's okay to produce crap sometimes. The only thing that matters is the making.
4. Remember what it felt like to make art as a kid.
Remember when you drew monsters with crayons as a little kid? Wasn't that great? Wasn't it the best feeling in the world? Hold on to that feeling. Call upon it every time you sit down to work. Be a kid artist.
5. Calm yourself before beginning.
If you don't already have a daily mindfulness practice, I suggest developing one. Yoga, breathing exercises, and body scans can be helpful to help you remain grounded and focused as you begin your work.
As both an artist and therapist I know the importance of sacred spaces. Both my studio and my consultation room are spaces that are worthy of respect, devotion and reverence. The process of painting and therapy for me is a time to develop personal intimacy and depth, to find myself and learn about who I am and was created to be.
It was when I first experienced painting in a sacred context that I was completely shocked by how much energy I had to express and how good it felt to not know what was going to move through me. I had people in my life who saw this in me and encouraged me to keep painting. I kept painting.
This year, as I continue to develop my offerings as a therapist and artist, I will be hosting intuitive painting workshops. These workshops will be a way to introduce participants to creating a sacred space, to find freedom and to begin the process of learning who they are through the use of our hearts, minds, hand and materials.
Here is some of what you can expect when you participate in one of these workshops:
There are so many ways to paint, write, dance. But over the years I have learned that sacred space is essential to all my work as an artist and therapist. If you'd like to explore yourself in a different way, I invite you to give one of these workshops a try. It might just be what your creative spirit has been waiting for.
Fill out the form below to receive information about when and where these workshops will take place.