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Column: Coping With Stress

Heights Columnist

Published: Monday, February 18, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 00:02


From the time we were in diapers, many of us have been told to dream big, to be better than our parents, to excel in everything we do. The problem is, living up to such high standards is not only something that’s been encouraged, it’s been expected. So, when we finally reach the age of adulthood and realize we’re just normal people living average lives, it’s no wonder most of us freak out a little, and it’s no wonder our generation is stressed. While most of us have quietly believed this to be true for some time, it has now been made official—we’re stressed.   
A new study by the American Psychological Association finds that the millennial generation (that’s us!) is more stressed than any other age group. According to the study, more than 50 percent of millennials reported having their sleep disrupted by “overwhelming worries” in the past month, and not surprisingly, much of our anxiety stems from uncertain futures. Katherine Nordal, executive director for professional practice of the psychological group, said many of us millennials are being forced to put our lives and professional aspirations on hold due to immense debt and a struggling economy, among other things—not to mention the fact that we’re entering a drastically different job market than our parents did 30 years ago.
I definitely agree that the depressed economy and changing job market contribute to our anxiety, but I think there’s more to it, more that reflects our unique and arguably confusing upbringing. Our parents have always told us we can do anything we want, but they’ve also pressured us to be the best at whatever that “anything” turns out to be. Because of this, most of us have set the bar unreasonably high for ourselves. Anything less than an A isn’t good enough. Not only do we have to be a member of the most popular a cappella group, we have to have a solo in the next show. We need to be class president. We must be captain of the football team. Average isn’t good enough, but we’ve failed our parents and ourselves if we are just that.  
At this moment in our lives, during this period of “emerging adulthood,” many of us still believe the possibilities for our lives are endless. We’re more self-focused than at any other time of life, and while we’re less certain about the future, we’re still optimistic. We believe wholeheartedly that someday we will get to where we want to be in life. Our fear of the unknown is mixed with exhilaration and excitement, and our idealistic vision of what awaits has not yet been hardened. We’re not ready for disappointment, for unsatisfying jobs and failed relationships, because all of those problems are still filed away under the “when I grow up” tab.
It’s true, we’d probably all be less stressed if we didn’t have such idealistic visions of our futures, but I’m not saying that we should simply resign ourselves to being average. Dreaming big and pursuing our passions should still be encouraged—I just don’t think it should be automatically expected of us. If we (including our parents) could all come to terms with the fact that not everyone succeeds on the first try, we’d be better off. Failure is okay, and it’s not the end of the world. You may have to move back home after graduation to take some time to figure things out. Your first job might be miserable, but everyone starts somewhere. If everything in life worked out perfectly, we’d be left wanting for nothing, and isn’t it that constant desire for something more that keeps us going? So don’t get overly stressed out about the future because ultimately failure can be just the motivation you need.  

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