One of the most frequent comments I receive from strangers, friends, and family alike is, “You’re so jumpy!” And it’s true. I flinch at sudden noises, the unexpected hand on my shoulder, a glance that lasts too long. Friends of mine cannot keep their legs from bouncing in class to keep up with their racing thoughts. Some bite their lips or nails to the point of bleeding when they are worried or uncomfortable. Others drink to the point of blacking out every Saturday night in order to forget about the stress of last week, the stress that will begin again in the morning. We are the millennial generation and we are doing everything we can to deal with the anxiety that has been growing like a carefully planted cactus in our heads.
We grew up in a post-9/11 era, unaware of a time without ever-present school shootings and terrorist attacks, but painfully aware that it was our generation’s responsibility to end these issues along with sexism, racism, global warming, and world hunger, all the while maintaining the social media accounts that society has deemed essential, (and ironically perpetuate our anxieties) holding a part-time job to pay for the college degree that you must have to become a worthwhile citizen, traveling for the worldly experience bosses look for, going to the gym four to five times a week, and staying close with your friends and family. Yet, our parents call us soft, oversensitive, and tell us to toughen up. How much tougher can we get?
We are the most medicated generation – from anxiety to depression, OCD to bipolar disorder, most mornings for millennials begin with a pill that either stimulates or calms us, depending on the brain. For those who have not found help, it may begin with a quick cut on the thigh, a gentle jab of a needle, or splash of bourbon in their coffee. With anxiety comes a variety of self-destructive coping mechanisms. But why can’t we cope? Even those of us popping pills with our Cocoa Puffs can’t seem to overcome the ever-present pressure.
Primarily, it’s because we cannot escape from the constant stimuli that comes with the modern age of technology. Television screams for us to be witty and unique, music hums at us to be inspiring and creative, billboards tell us to look good and have fun, news outlets shout for us to be informed and passionate, and our phones, with their apps and Internet accessibility and constant social media updates, essentially prod us every day to be all of these things and more. Not only that, it tells us to be these things and ensure that all the world can see it so we can determine our self-worth from the number of hearts beneath our photo.
In the hour that I’ve sat here writing I’ve received email reminders, news updates, and social media notifications. I’ve worried about whether the tweet I sent out might be misconstrued as insensitive or whether my Facebook post for the club I lead is receiving enough attention, to whether I should unfollow my ex on all my accounts, (I read an article the other day that said people are happier when they do that but we have the same friends and what if they think I’m being ridiculous) but all of this is insignificant because I just got a notification about the hundreds dead trying to escape Syria, so what do I have to complain about?
Technology, our phones in particular, and a childhood of instability have turned us into high-functioning, anxiety-ridden, probably depressed people. We turn to our phones to try and relieve some of the anxiety from the world, but we are simply entering the cyber-world that continues to bombard us with reasons to worry and stress. The line between reality and the world behind our screens is no longer existent. For millennials and even the generations above and below us, it can appear that there is nowhere to escape.
For my birthday, someone gave me a how-to book on how to stop worrying. At 21 years old, instead of a bottle of alcohol I am given a book to teach me how to stop worrying so much. That is the reputation that I uphold without even trying – it’s just who I am. But I am not the only one like this, it is an entire generation who have accepted anxiety as a character trait that they simply won’t be able to get rid of.