Q. I am always anxious and worried. My mother, who is 58, tells me that older people don’t experience this much anxiety. Are younger people today more anxious? If so, why?
A. According to a report, Stress in America, issued by the American Psychological Association, Millennials (ages 18 to 33) and Gen Xers (ages 34 to 47) report higher levels of stress than Boomers (48 to 66) and Matures (67+). Robert Leahy, a psychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, states that “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950’s.”
In his book, “My Age of Anxiety”, Scott Stossel attributes the rise in anxiety to the increasing number of choices available to most people today. Although having choices makes us a better society, it comes with some unexpected consequences. When individuals have many options, they become indecisive and hesitant to make decisions in fear of making the wrong one.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, most women knew they would be married and become housewives. Men often went to work at jobs that guaranteed them lifetime stability. Their choices were limited. Today, both genders can choose from a myriad of career opportunities. Meanwhile, job security has become almost non-existent while competition for employment has increased.
According to Taylor Clark in the online magazine, Slate, there are three other major reasons for an increase in anxiety among the young. First, fewer people remain connected to their extended families. Often young people move far away from home where their best friends become the television and the computer. Second, the amount of data that young people process is overwhelming. They are bombarded by text messages, social media, video games, and hundreds of television and movie options. Third, young people have become less tolerant of negative feelings. Sometimes they feel guilty admitting that they are feeling down, so they distract themselves. This escapism increases anxiety.
Regardless of your age, there are ways to reduce your anxiety level. Stay in contact with your friends and relatives, get to know people in your community, turn off the television, and avoid excessive time at your computer. Additionally, avoid excessive coffee, caffeinated sodas, high energy drinks, and other possible stimulates. If you continue to feel anxious, consult your physician or a mental health professional.
Q. My husband seems to thrive under pressure. He thinks he is OK, and I think he is a stress addict. I’m concerned about his health since he is getting older. How can I convince him to slow down?
A. According to Katherine Schneiber, a journalist for Time Magazine, stress addiction is a growing concern among psychologist and physicians. The central nervous system is activated by stress, which can result in a feeling of well-being or a “natural high” in some people. In fact, stress can be just as addictive as drugs or alcohol.
Those who are particularly vulnerable to stress addiction are “type A” personalities. They are competitive, ambitious, and usually fast moving. When many type-A’s get overwhelmed, a “natural high” is activated and they begin to thrive. Many of them eventually succumb to hypertension, heart disease, or emotional problems; however, there are individuals who effectively manage extremely high stress levels with no negative impact.
Without knowing your husband it is difficult to ascertain if his stress is creating problems. If either of you believe that his health is being compromised by stress or if it is creating problems with your marriage, he should be encouraged to spend more time away from work, to begin an exercise program, to find a creative outlet, or to seek professional help. If he is thriving on stress and it has no apparent repercussions for him or your marriage, you likely have no need to worry.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She currently teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. If you have questions, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.