Anxiety is something that plagues many people. But recent research has shown there’s a unique reason why one demographic – millennials – finds it harder than most to cope with the often crushing condition: they can’t escape the pressure to constantly be doing, sharing, liking, or commenting online.
A recent study by the University of Toronto found that 68 per cent of millennials (those between 18-35 years old) are happy on a daily basis versus 74 per cent of Baby Boomers (those between 53-69 years old); a large reason for this gap is social media. What’s more, a study conducted by the University of Michigan found the more millennials use Facebook, the worse they feel about themselves.
Emerson Csorba has spent the better part of three years investigating why millennials are suffering from a happiness deficit. Now, in an essay for the Harvard Business Review, he says he believes there’s a “unique challenge” facing this burgeoning demographic: “ruthless comparison.”
“The hyper-connected, fast-pace world that we live in today favours short-term thinking and allows us to compare ourselves toward others — it’s very difficult for people to slow down and spend that time thinking about what they would like to do with their lives, how to create time for solitude, to think for the sake of thinking,” says Csorba.
The President of Csorba & Company Ltd, along with registered psychologist Eliana Cohen, surmise there are three ways millennials are, essentially, torturing themselves by looking at social media.
- “Misinterpreting achievements on social media.” Millennials are finding ways to manipulate their lives on social media to appear “perfect.” In turn, their friends can’t help but make comparisons to their own accomplishments. “It’s like you are comparing yourself to something that doesn’t actually exist – it’s a bit of a dream,” says Cohen.
- “Media stories about hyper-successful Millennials.” People read success stories about those in their age group or follow lists like “Forbes, 30 Under 30” and think what they’re seeing is the norm, when really they don’t have a full understanding of what it took to reach such accomplishments. The success of others showcased online constantly reminds millennials that they should be doing more. And, if they’re not, they’re not working hard enough.
- “Countless options in possible career paths and constant striving to achieve potential.” This one amounts to the Paradox of Choice: there are so many things millennials could do, that they don’t know what to focus on. Even if someone lands their dream job, they may look at what someone else is doing and think they could be doing more/better. “There is this constant focus on what else someone can be doing. What’s the next thing? You can never feel too secure,” says Csorba. “We are looking at how others present themselves. It creates this idea of, ‘Wow, this person seems like they are doing so much, what am I doing?'”
READ MORE: Is your smartphone ruining your social life?
How to cope
So how’s a millennial – or parent of a millennial – to cope? The good news is there are ways to reduce the anxiety that comes with trying to keep up with peers. Below are five tips that will help kids and young adults keep a positive mindset.
1. Find solitude
2. Reflect on the “golden threads” that connect you to your passions
These are the things you admire and care about most. Rather than pondering what has been successful for others, focus on your hobbies and skills. “Through this internal source of guidance, people give direction to their lives and derive satisfaction from what they do,” writes Albert Bandura, professor from emeritus at Stanford University, in The Psyhchology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths.
3. Think about long-term goals
4. Compare to yourself, no one else
You will always make comparisons, so try to “do you” as opposed to studying others. “A very good question to ask yourself is, what do I have now that I didn’t have five years ago? What do I have now that I didn’t have one year ago?” says Cohen. This will make you feel great about how far you’ve come. “There is always someone thinner, there is always someone richer, and there is always someone with a better car, and a better husband,” she notes.
5. Face to face interaction
Communicate with your peers in person or on the phone. One study suggests that “the prescription for Facebook despair is less Facebook.” Outdated, direct methods of communication are known to make people feel better.