This is a guest post by Collaborata’s summer intern Shezreh Haider.
Have you ever felt stressed, anxious, or depressed? I definitely have.
Being 21 in 2019 is complicated. During a typical semester, I’m completing college assignments, organizing events for my fraternity, applying for the next internship, and hanging out with friends and family. Over the past few months though, I’ve had a lot of time to chill, enjoy myself, and just reflect. Maybe I’m just too busy and I stress myself out, or maybe there’s a general trend amongst my age group which is causing me to push myself.
My generation – Generation Z – includes those born between 1997 and 2016, and we are consistently marked as the most stressed cohort. Generation Nation, a project launched on Collaborata and conducted by 747 Insights and Quester, compares the values and attitudes of Gen Z, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The project reveals that two in five members of Gen Z describe themselves as stressed and three in 10 worry about loneliness. That’s 13% points more Gen Zers than Millennials who describe themselves as stressed, and 9% points more who worry about loneliness.
Older generations construe Gen Z’s feelings of isolation as a conundrum since we’re “always connected” through mobile devices and shouldn’t necessarily feel lonely. This idea, though, indirectly implies that we as a generation have induced the stress upon ourselves by failing to form organic relationships.
In fact, the most popular social media platforms are run by Millennials, who are possibly just as “connected” as Gen Z. Plus, much of the population – 46% of Gen Z, 51% of Millennials, and 41% of Gen X – believes that social media is an important part of daily life. Yet, only Gen Z is associated with such high levels of stress.
In my view, social media doesn’t help us feel connected, just validated. I feel validated when x amount of people like my Instagram post and when y person sees how much fun I’m having on my story. But, personally, such validation through social media is not what I worry most about throughout the day.
In that case, other factors may also contribute to the stress my generation experiences.
Failing Is Easy.
Entering the workforce, for instance, seems to be more difficult than ever. Generation Nation indicates that more than half of each generation agrees that it is difficult to get ahead in life today without a college degree. Trends support this sentiment as they show that without a bachelor’s degree, Gen Zers are more likely to be living with one’s parents. And with standardized testing and the selective college process, many Gen Zers just happen to be at the age where they are consistently evaluated.
Gen Z also appears to be especially concentrated on gaining occupation-relevant skills. According to Generation Nation, 57% of Gen Z find training opportunities to be critically important in choosing where they work, which is about 8-9% more than the older two generations. More than half of Gen Z also believe that making use of their education at their job is critically important. These numbers may indicate that Gen Zers strive towards higher-level, skills-based jobs. Such an assumption would make sense given today’s quick-evolving, tech-savvy environment.
So maybe, Gen Z is simply more forward-looking than past generations, leading to more pressure and anxiety regarding the future. Or, we’re just at that younger, formative age where we face a great deal of uncertainty.
Moreover, according to Generation Nation, money is the number one stressor for each generation. Other cohorts must think about providing for their families, paying off debt, health care, and retirement. Gen Zers have to consider paying for college, budgeting routine expenses, and shopping. Many of us have also watched as older Millennial relatives struggle to pay off student loans and find decent-paying jobs. With money as a general worry throughout the American population, 55% of Gen Z – compared to 47% of Millennials, 35% of Gen X, and 33% of Boomers – indicated that they would choose to be successful in their career over their love lives.
Thus, Gen Z’s stress might reflect a possible cultural shift that favors stable financial and career situations at the expense of successful personal relationships.
Beauty Is Paramount.
“Weight and appearance” are classified as fourth in Gen Z’s daily worries. This pressure to look good is hoisted upon Gen Z through airbrushed images in magazines, flawless actors, and well-edited Instagram posts. In today’s society, physical appearance can seem to be everything. Can you blame us for feeling stressed when we might just be average looking?
I wonder how much time each week Gen Zers and Millennials really spend taking selfies on Snapchat or pictures for their Instagram. It gets exhausting! Ok, yes I enjoy taking touristy photos and capturing special moments. But watching kids pose in a tree as their parents take a series of pictures feels a little ridiculous… Oh and side note – I don’t want to see every single one of your meals on your story! I love photos, but sometimes I ask myself how much authenticity we are really maintaining by focusing so much on our image.
Perfection really is something that has consistently been promoted in society. Although some brands are evolving and many celebrities do promote images of regular people, the mainstream image of flawlessness still sticks. Kylie Jenner, for example, has 140 million Instagram followers, yet has also been called out for her photoshopped images. Billboards and commercials, too, usually seem perfect, and an industry like Hollywood shows almost no shame in ensuring that professionals fit a certain mold. Therefore, while social media helps us publicize and support these unrealistic representations, such expectations are prevalent in other areas of our daily lives as well.
If we care so much about our looks, why is there such little emphasis on nutrition? The data in Generation Nation clearly demonstrates that my generation cares less about nutrition than others as only 28% say they regularly eat “healthy.” However, studies indicate that a balanced diet and nutrient-heavy foods can help prevent depression.
To me, it’s quite interesting that my generation doesn’t demonstrate much interest in nutrition – especially given recent legislation for presenting nutritional information at chain restaurants and trends towards “clean” foods. Personally, I’ve always been concerned about my appearance and I also just like items such as fruits, vegetables, and yogurt. I try to eat healthy because I think I’ll look better, but also because I feel better when I’m not eating processed or fried foods. That’s not to say I don’t love ice cream or chocolate.
So, I guess the rest of my generation is just as hypocritical as I am. Many of us stress about having a great body, a cool outfit, and capturing the perfect angle for social media. But, according to Generation Nation, only 36% of Gen Zers pay attention to nutrition labels – 10% points less than Millennials and Gen Xers and 15% points less than Boomers.
Similarly, 59% of Gen Zers said they had eaten fast food in the past week. This percentage is high, but so are the numbers for the other three generations – 51% of Millennials, 56% of Gen X, and 50% of Boomers. This number can be concerning since fast food chains have a reputation for serving processed foods full of empty calories. However, Gen Z may just be an example of a reality in the US – nutritional food is expensive and inconvenient.
Gen Z is especially focused on the future. So maybe – due to finances and convenience – nutrition just isn’t a top priority. We’re ignoring traditional ideas around healthy eating, while still obsessing over perfect bodies and physical appearances.
Overall, you could classify me as a stressed-out 21-year old. But it’s not just because I’m on Instagram all the time or because I don’t have enough organic friendships. I worry that I may not have the skills to find a good job before I graduate, and while I’m trying to prepare for this future, I must also learn to balance it with my social life. It’s hard to stay in the present when I often perceive careers and finances to be just as important as my physical appearance, and it seems that many of my peers are also trying to juggle similar expectations.
And hey, you probably had similar concerns at our age. But we Gen Zers are more than just an internet-obsessed, self-isolating group. Social media definitely contributes to our daily lives, but the anxiety that seems to be so prevalent must be a result of much more than our “connectedness.” Society’s expectations to be the best and look the best continue to prevail, so it sounds like it’s time for American culture to mature along with us Gen Zers.