‘You’re not really ill though are you?’
This was what my colleague said to me, while I was explaining why I had to go home early from work that day. I had just finished crying and felt tired, overwhelmed and exhausted. I felt short of breath and panicky; what I imagine a mild heart attack might feel like. Guess I wasn’t explaining this clearly enough to him.
I thought dealing with anxiety in school and at university was hard enough but as a ‘young working professional’ it has been twice as difficult. For me, I think it has been really difficult because my anxiety mainly stems from wanting to have control over situations and what I do. At school and university, this was hard but ultimately, I think being anxious about my grades and wanting to please my parents led to me driving myself forward. I constantly pushed myself and internalised my worrying because the achievements were really just ‘my own concern’. I wanted to be the best I could be, which resulted in me getting good grades and receiving an unconditional offer from my first-choice university. Woo! This was great, but also problematic, to base my feeling of success and probably worth on academic grades. This is a whole other problem which I wrote about in another post here.
At work, I think my anxiety has gotten worse because in the workplace you need to be interdependent on others to produce your ‘output’. So I guess you can control less. As a management consultant, my work is project based and requires working in teams with people at my firm and with clients. Unlike at university, when how hard I worked was generally positively correlated with achievements, in the workplace you are dependent on other people for things to happen.
This post is therefore about Millennials living with generalised anxiety. If you’re not already aware of what a millennial is, it’s the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002. Generalised anxiety is worrying consistently about a wide range of situations and issues. Below I go into what it is, how it affects me and what might make anxiety worse.
What does anxiety feel like? To me, anxiety feels like trying to maintain control but feeling like you really can’t.
I feel like I’m in one of those game shows, with those money machines and trying to catch and be in control of things (the money flying about) in my life but I can’t.
At the same time, anxiety is about fear and uncertainty about the future. So, in this money machine analogy, you don’t know at what intensity/frequency the money will be flowing - and that is stressful.
What does millennial anxiety feel like? I have heard people go as far as saying that millennials are an anxious generation. This could be due to technology, which means increased interconnectedness and consciousness about what other people spend their time doing. Also, this ‘hustle hard’ mentality; the idea we need to have a full-time job, side hustle, stable social life and look and dress to the point, all the time, to be a ‘successful’ millennial. That feeling your life needs to be perfect. Whatever that means. To me, millennial anxiety is worth singling out because I think anxiety and depression are more common, now than ever, with young people.
Millennials, unfortunately, have many reasons to be anxious; large student debts, relationships, finding a job you actually enjoy and that won’t mean that you will be replaced by a robot, looking for somewhere to live and generally just thinking about the direction you want to take your life in. Plus, finding funds and time to do other young people things like go on holiday and relax with friends.
Social media definitely plays a big role in this.
I love social media but I really think that it exacerbates my anxiety and leads to me overthinking, comparing myself to others and thinking about how ‘likeable’ I am.
You are scrolling down your Instagram feed.
The first picture you see is a friend having a delicious lunch in Mykonos. The next is another friend’s picture from last night out with her colleagues. Oh great, they are having so much fun. You get fed up and switch to Instagram stories. You click on the first story and this is one of your friends in the gym at 5.30am. Lovely. Why am I so lazy?! This is all while you are in your PJs, next to a bag of crisps with a Netflix favourite on pause, remembering that your last post only had 32 likes by day three and many of those were family members, who like every one of your posts.
Really who cares? But we do care.
I think we can all relate to this situation, in one way or another. If you can’t, this feeling is a type of anxiety. You are comparing your circumstance right now to your friends’ highlights.
Therefore, I believe it is so important to take social media breaks and actively recognise that social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives, where they rarely show the less glamorous bits.
I truly do believe that there is no health without mental health, so try and take care of yourself!
Thanks for reading - this was difficult for me to write.
Read more from Mary on her blog; A Millennial's Diary