Millennials: The stranded generation
It is hard to think of a generation more affected by the worries of property security, wealth security, bodily security and health security than millennials (or those people aged between approximately 25 – 40).
The crisis in the rental market and the increasing inability to access even the lowest rungs of the property ladder means that the security of property is the lowest it has been for generations. The basic need for security of wealth is often elusive for the millennial, a generation coping with plummeting job security, flexi-time contracts, the economic hit of Brexit and the financial legacy of multiple coronavirus lockdowns.
Their security of body is impacted by modern crimes such as drink spiking, sexting and revenge porn - all of which are traumatic assaults on their bodily autonomy. And on top of that, the security of health, which is something that has been degraded for all of us by the 2019 pandemic, has brought home the existential reality of death to an ever younger generation.
Increasingly aware of this context of health, property, bodily and wealth insecurity, the millennial generation is one understandably beset by worries. And yet, often when they show an awareness of this anxiety-inducing environment, they are dismissed as ‘snowflakes’ or lacking resilience. This can lead to young people feeling an inner conflict: they have a sense that there is something to worry about and their mind wishes to dwell on concerns such as where they will be living next year, what job they will be doing, their university fees or mounting debts.
Their brains understandably linger on these concerns and these then build up to a larger picture of diffuse and pervasive anxiety. But another part of their brain is being told by society that they are oversensitive, that they should build up resilience, that these concerns and worries show them as a fragile, self-obsessed generation or that they should simply be grateful for the trappings of modern living. And that is quite an internal conflict to have to live with.
So how can millennials help themselves to feel less stranded within society with their only their internal anxieties for company?
The first step is to recognise that you have a right to feel anxious. It is not over-dramatising or exaggerating or some sort of self-willed dramatic sensitivity. Instead, your worries are a healthy reaction to the difficult environment you find yourself in.
Take time to respond to these anxieties and allow your brain time to settle with them, not just dismissing them out of hand. If your brain feels that it is not being listened to, it will clamour for your attention even more and that is when repetitive negative thoughts come in, knocking on the walls of your consciousness to be heard. Give your worries space and greet them with compassion and understanding.
It does not matter if the whole world tells you that your worry is insignificant, if it matters to you, then give it airtime, and allow yourself compassion for experiencing it. Feel it without judgement, and then move on to the next step.
Rationalise through it
Many of our anxieties, while they may stem from a rational reaction to the world around us, very quickly spiral into something more illogical. We can then over-generalise and catastrophise. For example, we may say: 'I have so much debt from my time at university, I’ll never get a job well paid enough to pay it all back.' 'If I never find a well enough paid job, how will I ever get on the property ladder?' and 'If I don’t get on the property ladder, how will I ever afford to have children ...?' and so on and on, down a rabbit hole.
What started with a rational understanding of your student debt has spiralled into an unhelpful prediction for the next twenty years of your life. Being able to recognise thought biases like over-generalisation and catastrophic thinking can be very helpful when identifying these unhelpful thought spirals.
You have created and allowed space for your anxious thought and you have stopped them from spiralling into something more diffuse and unhelpful. The next step is to reassure your brain that you are doing something to counter that worry. The brain likes to plan. It is like a toddler in the back of a car. It wants to know where it is going, how long is left in the journey and whether there are enough snacks to keep you going. It does not like to feel that there is nobody in charge of the vehicle. So now is the time to reassure your mind that you have the plan to cope with your worry.
No matter how logical it is that you are anxious about this particular thing, there is always a route out of the worry about it. And to find this route, the first step is to identify your destination and the next step is to plan your journey.
Take our example of worrying about your student debt. The first step would be to identify what destination you would like (perhaps it is to be debt free in a certain amount of years, perhaps it is to have a repayment plan that you can stick to every month). This first step identifies what you want to achieve and from there you need to work back. Work back from your desired destination to where you currently are, and separate this journey from destination to present location into small incremental chunks.
Next, use these chunks to create goals moving forwards and make sure these goals have dates and deadlines. Facts, numbers, and dates reassure your brain that you have a concrete plan and help you to feel that you are in control. And don’t worry if you don’t always stick to your plan. As long as you’re heading towards your destination it does not matter if you take detours or stop for coffee. Don’t allow those moments to affect your confidence and don’t use them as an excuse to add to your worries.
One thing that is guaranteed to stop you from reaching your destination is having an inner voice shouting negative thoughts at you. This is like having a backseat driver shouting, 'Oh no, what if we crash? What if you hit this car coming? We’re bound to get lost!'... It is distracting, hindering and dangerous. Life is often like a self-fulfilling prophecy, so make sure you are internally prophesying a successful outcome.
It is therefore vital that we surround ourselves with voices that support our inner positive narrative. Sometimes the biggest enemy to our success and the biggest catalyst for our worries are the people around us. Not necessarily our friends and family, but the voices you see and hear on social media or in the news. These may be voices that belittle what you are going through or fail to understand your genuine anxieties.
It is OK to silence these voices if they’re unhelpful to you. In fact, it is preferable. If they knock your confidence or increase your anxieties, ignore them, block them, silence them, and relegate them. And instead, boost your internal cheerleader voice. This may be the voice of your mother, the voice of your best friend, the voice of you as a child, or of a celebrity or role model. And this is the voice that says 'yes you can, yes I believe in you, yes you’ve got this'.
If you have worked through the stages of giving yourself self-compassion and space for your anxieties, rationalising through them and avoiding thought biases, and planning for a future that actively counters the issues that concern you, there is no reason to listen to anything other than your own positive internal voice.
Surround yourself with positive, supportive voices, and don’t forget that it is OK to ask for help from a professional life coach to support you in this journey. Together, we can take these steps today and relegate your anxieties to their natural position which is to be a motivator for change whilst not stifling your forward momentum.
And the next time you get called a 'snowflake', remember that snowflakes are beautiful for their individuality, have a strength in their fragility and, when they amass together, can change the landscape into something fresh, new and inspiring for all. And that is a worthy legacy for our millennial generation.