• June 2012

The Millennials and Health: How They Behave Under Stress

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais
Authors, Millennial Momentum

One of the distinctive traits of Millennials (born roughly 1982-2003) is a constant feeling of being pressured. Thanks to their parents setting high expectations for them, Millennials consider life a series of hoops to be jumped through.

At each stage of their young lives, from kindergarten to college, the pressure to succeed has made them a risk averse, anxious generation, even as they remain optimistic about their ultimate success.

As a result, almost half of Millennials (45%) report feeling nervous due to stress at least monthly, and more than half (52%) say that their stress levels have increased over the last five years. But Millennials are also demonstrating a much healthier approach to dealing with this problem than older generations, reinforcing their reputation as the best-behaved American generation in decades.

Stress Response From Different Generations

The latest report from the American Psychological Association on Stress in America reveals very distinctive patterns in how different generations handle stress.

It explains that Boomers and senior citizens are much more likely than Millennials to “get in touch with their inner self” in order to deal with stress, either through prayer, or reading, or telling others their feelings rather than “keeping them bottled up” inside.

Meanwhile, members of Generation X, which is generally the most stressed generation of all, tend to engage in the most self-destructive behaviors when under stress. They are twice as likely as Millennials to say they deal with stress by smoking and twice as likely as Boomers to say they use alcohol.

Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely than any other generation to deal with stress using non-traditional means. Sixty percent say they listen to music to relieve stress, while less than half of older generations do so. Under stress, almost half (44%) of Millennials play video games or surf the Net. The only generation that comes close to Millennials in the use of these techniques is Generation X (36%). Millennials are also twice as likely as other generations to do yoga or meditate to try and relieve stress.

Some of the differences in how generations think about stress is a reflection of their age, rather than their generational type. As people get older, for instance, their assessment of their stress levels declines. Members of the Silent Generation, now over 65, report lower stress levels than any other generation.

Self-Assessment

Boomers’ assessment of their stress levels has declined steadily over the last five years, from an average score of 6.5 on a 10-point scale in 2007 to only 4.9 last year.

At the same time, Millennials’ perception of how stressed they are as compared to what they believe would be a healthy level of stress is almost as high as their stressed-out Generation X older siblings.

There are also clear age differences in how well people deal with stress. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that adults under 30, the current age bracket of Millennials, are twice as likely to consider suicide as those over 30. While only 1 percent of Millennials actually kill themselves, their rate of suicide is still five times greater than older generations.

Similarly, the problem of binge drinking is much more prevalent among those between the ages of 18 and 25 than it is among older members of the population, predominantly because the perception that such behavior carries great risk goes up dramatically for those 26 and older.

Still, these types of destructive behavior occur less frequently among Millennials than they did within older generations when those older generations were the age that Millennials are today.

The Bottom Line

In some ways, stress is like the weather—everyone talks about it but few do anything about it.

Only 32 percent of Millennials think they are very good or excellent at managing stress, numbers roughly comparable to other generations. The provision of Obamacare to keep those under 26 on their parents’ health insurance should make it easier for Millennials to gain treatment for the most serious effects of feeling pressured.

But having been taught since they were toddlers always to do their best in order to succeed, Millennials will have to develop lifelong healthy habits to deal with the stress they feel. When they do, they will look back with satisfaction on having thrived in the hyperactive world they helped create.


About Morley Winograd

Morley Winograd is a Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

He served as senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore and director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) from Dec. 1, 1997, until Jan. 20, 2001. Winograd also co-authored (with Dudley Buffa), “Taking Control: Politics in the Information Age” (Holt, 1996).

Currently, he is president and CEO of Morwin, Inc., a strategic planning consulting company for government and nonprofit organizations. Winograd earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and attended law school at the University of Michigan. He resides in Los Angeles.


About Michael D. Hais

Michael Hais served for a decade as vice president, Entertainment Research, and for more than 22 years overall at Frank N. Magid Associates, where he conducted audience research for hundreds of television stations, cable channels, and program producers in nearly all 50 states and more than a dozen foreign countries.

Prior to joining Magid in 1983, Hais was a political pollster for Democrats in Michigan and an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Detroit. He received a BA from the University of Iowa, an MA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a PhD from the University of Maryland, all in Political Science. He resides in Los Angeles and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Click here to read their wide-ranging observations on generations and culture.

And click here to read futurist Chris Carbone’s review of their newest book Millennial Momentum.