Cultural Stress Is Taking a Heavy Toll on Millennials

Millennials—the generation loosely defined as those born between 1982 and 2004—are credited with driving much of the growing interest in yoga, meditation, personal trainers, and boutique forms of fitness. However, despite their greater health awareness relative to previous generations, a new report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association shows that millennials are also facing greater health risks and higher rates of depression, substance use, high blood pressure, hyperactivity, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, and Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes—than did preceding generations at the same age.

The results are derived from the 2017 health data of 55 million insured millennials. They show that, although most millennials were in overall good health that year—when they were between the ages of 21 and 36—they show declining health beginning at age 27. Rates of nearly every health problem common to younger Americans rose from 2014 to 2017, according to the report. Sadly, mental health issues are particularly widespread among millennials, with major depression, anxiety, loneliness, abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and even psychotic conditions a concern for many.

Disturbing as these results are, friends and followers know that I attribute much of our contemporary malaise to Cultural Stress—the stress of modern living. Other researchers, too, have attributed millennial stress to financial concerns, staggering debt and uncertain employment prospects, a divisive social and political climate, and the 24-hour “ratings game” that is social media. The report also showed female millennials to be in poorer health than males the same age, with widespread diagnoses of major depression, Type 2 diabetes, and other endocrine conditions. This disparity might also reflect females’ greater willingness than males to seek non-emergency medical treatment and the greater willingness of millennials overall to address mental health issues through therapy and/or drugs.

However, given this latest corroboration of the facts of millennial health, what can we do about it?

The first step in addressing any problem is acknowledging it. Then, one begins to make small, incremental changes that, over time, lead to other changes until, eventually, one’s life is transformed.

For example, a healthy diet can address concerns about weight, diabetes, and even energy and outlook. Simple dietary modifications can lead to significant changes at the molecular level that result in cells—or even entire your entire body—performing younger than your biological age. One such modification is cellular hydration from the inside out, which also makes us less susceptible to the physical effects of Cultural Stress.

We’ve all heard of drinking 8 glasses of water a day, but I recommend that you “Eat your water!” Consuming fruits and veggies with high water content allows our body to absorb water more slowly because it is trapped in the structure of these foods. The fiber also contributes to a feeling of fullness so that you end up consuming fewer calories. Moreover, although alcohol can “take the edge off” anxiety, alcohol is also a depressant, so if depression is an issue for you, cut back on your alcohol consumption.

Get moving. With a healthy diet giving you increased energy and better mental outlook, you might then start increasing your physical activity. It can begin with something as simple as taking the stairs rather than the elevator to get to the office. It can progress to something as ambitious as joining a group to train for your first marathon! If your exercise can be done with others, you will also feel less lonely and isolated. The key in all cases, however, is to choose something that you enjoy. You’re far more likely to stick with an activity that is pleasurable rather than one you “should” yourself into.

As you grow in physical strength and health, you will feel probably feel less anxiety about other life circumstances. That’s because taking charge of your health will help you feel confident about handling other life challenges. No one knows what the future may bring, but if we have faith in ourselves—and our fellows—we are likely to feel better about our ability to handle it.

Unplug. You have the power to control how you use your free time. Instead of catching up on your newsfeed, why not catch up with your friends and family in person? Have friends over for a barbecue, or meet them for a game of Frisbee in the park. You’ll feel better, they’ll feel better…and no one ever got to their deathbed and said, “I wish I’d spent more time on social media.”

Embrace your inner toddler. When you were young, you who didn’t care about society’s unreasonable expectations and demands. You happily pursued your own dreams without fear or comparing yourself to others. Toddlers are spontaneous and carefree; they don’t doubt or worry. We should all work to recapture our daring, creative, and inquisitive inner toddlers.

Cultivate inner strength. Positive self-talk generates positive emotions, which reduce stress and result in profound effects on overall wellbeing and physical health. To help reduce the effects of Cultural Stress, I created 11 positive affirmation cards for my patients to read twice a day and journal about them. These daily affirmations have been clinically shown to lower perceived stress, blood pressure, and heart rate in study participants.

One of the reasons the affirmations are so effective is that each reader interprets them differently—meaning they tailor the affirmations to suit themselves. Suiting yourself is essential! You are the only one who can create a life that is meaningful and satisfying to you.

Finally, follow the 80/20 rule. If you’ve tried repeatedly to make changes to your diet and lifestyle and believe you have failed, perhaps you’re striving for perfection in an imperfect world.

Stick to your chosen diet and exercise program 80% of the time and allow yourself to lapse 20% of the time. After all, life is to be enjoyed! If you follow your self-improvement program 80% of the time you will improve! Moreover, those who accept and approve of themselves as they are typically have the inner strength to grow and change. Self-approval and acceptance comes first.

To your health!


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