Every generation has had its major challenges to contend with, but the uniqueness of some of the issues Generation Z (those born in the mid-1990s and later) are dealing with, coupled with the fact that they're still in the throes of emotional development, are causing them quite a bit of stress. In fact, they seem to be far more stressed than their elders.
The American Psychological Association (APA) released a report in October detailing the findings of its 12th annual Stress in America survey, which was conducted in August 2018. Nearly 3,500 Americans over age 18 were surveyed, as well as an additional 300 15- to 17-year-olds.
The report showed that 27 percent of Gen Z members reported that their mental health was poor, compared with 15 percent of Millennials (Generation Y), 13 percent of Gen Xers and 7 percent of Baby Boomers. A whopping 90 percent of Gen Z members between the ages of 18 and 21 said they had experienced physical or emotional symptoms of stress, such as feeling depressed or sad, lack of interest or motivation, or feeling nervous or anxious. On the plus side, Gen Zers are also more likely than other generations to have received treatment or therapy from a mental health professional.
"This is the first time that we have been able to capture the voices of Gen Z, and our findings show that current issues in the national spotlight, such as mass shootings and sexual harassment, are significant stressors for this group," writes Lynn Bufka, PhD., Associate Executive Director of Practice Research and Policy at the APA in an email interview.
The Biggest Issues for Gen Z
So what most stresses out Gen Z? The report divided the list into news issues and personal issues. The most stressful news issues were mass shootings, followed by a rise in suicide rates and global warming/climate change. In fact, 75 percent of Gen Z respondents said that mass shootings are a significant source of stress, compared with 62 percent of adults overall.
This was born out when we spoke with some members of the group. Jenna Scott is a 19-year-old Utah-based college student who originally hails from Las Vegas. The 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival, which was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, was something of a wake-up call for her. "Events like mass shootings do stress me out because I now have had one close to home," she says via email. "I wasn't there but it's still scary to think about it being right at home."
Sisters Kalieann Wetherington (17) and her sister Amelia (15) of Kennesaw, Georgia acknowledge the possibility of school violence; however, it doesn't dominate their lives. "After something like that happens, it gets really scary. We start doing the drills and talking about it in classes," Amelia says. "Teachers say, 'We never did this when we were in school.' That's kind of scary to think how it's a real issue now." But she adds, "On a regular day it's not something that worries me."
"I guess right after we hear about a big shooting, I'll start worrying about it and thinking what would I do, where would I go," sister Kalieann explains. "[But normally,] when I'm at school I don't worry, I'm focused on learning."
Some problems seem to affect every generation. Work and money were at the top of the personal stressors list for all adults, and both were named Gen Z's most common stressors, too. But 77 percent named work and 81 percent named money as stressors, compared with 64 percent of adults overall for both.
Although the Wetherington sisters are fortunate to not have those specific concerns, they are nonetheless stressed about getting ready for the future. "I'm really worried about getting into the college I want to," says Kalieann. "I feel like it's getting more difficult, so I feel like I have to do a lot better, take more AP classes." Her current course load includes six advanced placement classes, plus she's active in community service, and sports.
Amelia is on much the same path as her sister, with plenty of ambition, but not enough hours in the day to get it all done. A club volleyball player, she hopes to earn an academic and athletic scholarship in just a couple of years' time. As a result, she often skimps on sleep. "Some nights four or five hours (of sleep), on a good day," she says, adding, "That leads to falling asleep in class, taking naps in the car, definitely affecting the rest of my life."
Coping With Stress
The APA's Bufka acknowledges that it's difficult to say whether the higher levels of stress Gen Z reports are a result of special circumstances they are facing or are more related to the fact that they are young, since the same respondents were not surveyed at different stages of life.
"We do think it is possible that because older individuals have more adult experiences, they have also developed more strategies to cope with stress and life's curveballs. This is part of normal development," she says. "Additionally, we also recognize that some current stressors did not exist when older generations were 15-21 years old. For instance, among Gen Z social media is noted as a source of support, yet 45 percent say it makes them feel judged. What is important is helping all individuals learn healthy strategies to manage stressors."
To that end, she encourages people of all ages to set healthy parameters to avoid getting too stressed out about issues that are largely out of their control. "While staying informed is important, it is also important to set limits on news and social media consumption, especially if you are finding it hard to turn off the barrage of information and analysis," she says. "How issues are discussed in the media and on social networks can add to stress, so it is OK to take a 'digital detox' or limit social media discussions."
If worrying about national or international matters has you feeling powerless, she suggest finding ways to get involved in immediate community. "Channeling your tension and feelings of dissatisfaction toward something that is productive or addresses concerns that you have can help you feel like you are doing something to change difficult situations," she says.
She notes that although stress is natural, it can have negative effects on your life if you don't address it. "You want to take care of yourself, by making sure you get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, stay active and get and give social support. Additionally, find activities that you enjoy to help you reduce stress, such as exercising, listening to music, meditation, or spending time with family and friends."