According to the American Psychological Association (APA), millennials experience more stress and are less able to manage it than any other generation. In fact, more than half of millennials report that they have laid awake at night over the past month due to stress.
It's not surprising that millennials are more stressed than older Americans. The APA reports that 12% of millennials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder — almost twice the percentage of their boomer counterparts. Non-clinically, the BDA Morneau Shepell white paper found that 30% of working millennials have general anxiety, while a 2014 American College Health Association (ACHA) realized that 60% of college students live with anxiety.
Not only does anxiety harm our wellbeing, but it affects our productivity. The ACHA assessment found that the top two tolls on students' academic performance were stress and anxiety. Two-thirds of millennials interviewed by BDA report that declining work performance to be related to anxiety.
Sources of millennial anxiety may include a difficult job market and student debt as well as psychological causes, such as ambition addiction, career crisis and choice-overload. Even our day-to-day behaviors can create anxiety. Here are eight common habits that cause stress and compromise our potential.
Bad Sleep Habits
Poor sleep may be the most prevalent contributor to anxiety. A study by UC Berkeley found that lack of sleep "may play a key role in ramping up the brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying." Common causes of poor sleep include going to bed at inconsistent times, not making sleep a priority, and spending time on the phone or laptop right before bed.
Mental health professionals suggest that you form a long, boring nighttime routine that is technology free, and that you keep a journal by your bed to write down thoughts that keep you awake. Exercise during the day is also helpful to tire your body.
Eating regularly not only regulates your metabolism and insulin levels but also our mental stability. “Waiting too long to eat or missing out on breakfast may lead to unsteady blood sugar levels, which can cause anxiety-like sensations, including shakiness, dizziness, confusion, and difficulty speaking. Dehydration has a similar effect. Because food and water are biological needs, anxiety naturally follows hunger and thirst.
It's important to eat meals regularly. Try to keep things like granola bars or nuts in your desk drawer. Bring a water bottle to work and sip it throughout the day. Have a glass of water right upon waking and right before you go to bed.
Drinking coffee makes us more alert and, in many cases, helps us perform better on short-term tasks. However, it can also make people jittery, irritable and nervous, especially if they’re already predisposed to anxiety. Sensitivity to caffeine is, in fact, heightened in people with panic disorder and social phobia, and caffeine can provoke panic attacks in some individuals. Caffeine is also diuretic, which can cause dehydration—an anxiety trigger established above.
Try to wean off coffee by switching to just one cup a day, decaf or black tea. If you feel more calm and in control after a couple weeks without it, commit to quitting it altogether.
America’s surge of anxiety symptoms parallels our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. But, until a recent review by BMC Public Health, it wasn't clear whether the two were actually linked. After lengthy process, researchers found that the risk of anxiety risk increases as sedentary behavior increases—and, specifically, sitting time spikes one’s likelihood of experiencing anxiety.
If you work at a desk all day, you’re not doomed. Get up and walk around every ninety minutes. Offset your sitting time with regular exercise, which halves your risk of anxiety and depression.
A 2014 study by Baylor University found that American students spend an average of nine hours a day on their phone. Of course, technology vastly improves our lives in so many ways. But too much of it makes us anxious. Screen-based entertainment increases central nervous system arousal, which can amplify anxiety. Social media is similarly associated with low moods and depression.
Next time you’re waiting or have nothing to do, leave your phone in your pocket or purse. Stop utilizing it as a means of alleviating boredom and instead use it consciously as needed for its useful functions.
Always being "on the clock"
According to data from FORBES’ @Work State of Mind Project, millennials become anxious and irritated when work intrudes on their personal lives. But our bad work-life balance is our own choosing. BDA’s assessment explains, “Millennials do not believe that productivity should be measured by the number of hours worked at the office, but by the output of the work performed. They view work as a ‘thing’ and not a ‘place.’” Even after we leave the office, we’re still at work.
We can still be ambitious, work long hours and impress our bosses without sacrificing psychological health and personal boundaries. Schedule a defined, consistent time at night to stop working. When time’s up, mark that task complete and go take care of yourself.
Netflix and Chill
You may think snuggling up on the couch and watching a movie will help you unwind, but research disproves this trend. In one study, participants felt more depressed and anxious after watching just two hours of TV than those who didn’t. Another study found that those with anxiety and depression spend significantly more time on the computer and watching television. While resting reduces anxiety short-term, research reveals that its effect is short lived, particularly compared with exercise.
Try to do anything but watch TV when you’re done with work. Go on a walk, grab drinks, knit, work, draw, write, sit in your room and look at the wall, call your mom, actually cook dinner, build something, play a sport.
Hanging Out with Anxious People
Maybe you feel like you’ve found someone you can vent to who understands you, but studies show that ruminating on anxiety often makes it worse. Furthermore, participating in “intergroup anxiety” increases one’s anxious behaviors.
Try to seek out people who level your mood. After you hang out with someone, check in with yourself and ask if you feel stable and well—or if you're hyped up and on edge. It’s easy to spend less time with certain people once you’ve decided they’re not great for your health.
If the annoyance, pain and performance impairment of day-to-day anxiety isn’t enough to quit these bad habits, maybe this is: According to Harvard Medical School, anxiety is implicated in heart disease, migraines, chronic respiratory disorders and gastrointestinal conditions.
Despite your youth, chronic anxiety is not sustainable. By switching out these daily practices, you can improve your mood and your life one habit at a time.