News headlines are causing significant stress for those in Generation Z.
A recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA) that examined stress in America found 15-21 year olds are experiencing notable stress levels in response to what is happening in the news.
“Young people are coping with many of the same issues, especially related to issues in the news, that older adults face, but may have not yet developed the coping skills to effectively deal with them. This is especially important when you consider the developmental implications of stress,” Dr. C. Vaile Wright, psychologist and director of research in APA’s Practice Research and Policy Department told Theravive.
“Certain regions of the brain – notably, those regions that underlie planning, inhibitory control, and other higher-order cognitive abilities – do not fully develop until individuals reach their mid-20s, so Gen Z members are not biologically equipped to handle stress in the same way that adults do. Additionally, young people have not yet had the life experiences that many older adults have had, such as practice responding to and coping with a broad range of stressors,” he said.
75 per cent of the Gen Z members surveyed said mass shootings caused them a significant amount of stress. Overall, Gen Z were more stressed than adults about a number of issues in the news. 57 per cent of members of Gen Z reported they felt the separation or deportation of migrant families was a significant source of stress, compared with 45 per cent of adults surveyed. Over half of members of Gen Z surveyed (53 per cent) said they experienced stress due to news stories related to sexual assault and harassment, whilst only 39 per cent of adults reported this as a source of stress.
“Many of the big issues that Gen X say is causing them stress are related to uncertainty, whether it’s mass shootings, school shootings, the political climate or immigration,” Dr. Wright told Theravive.
“We know that uncertainty can exacerbate stress. When things go as planned, we feel in control. But when life throws a curveball, it can leave us feeling anxious and stressed. Research shows that people react differently to uncertainty and that those with a higher intolerance for uncertainty may be less resilient and more prone to low mood, negative or down feelings and anxiety,” he said.
Although Gen Z appears to be more stressed by topics in the news when compared with adults, they are less likely to vote in elections. Just over half (54 per cent) of Gen Z adults between 18 and 21 said they intended to vote in the US midterm elections, while 70 per cent of adults surveyed said they intended to vote.
Wright says voting could actually assist members of Gen Z in dealing with their stress.
“Channeling tension, feelings of dissatisfaction and uncertainty toward something that is meaningful and productive is a healthy approach to managing stress whether it’s running for a position on the local school board, volunteering for a cause that focuses on problems that you want to change, or attending local town hall meetings with your state and Congressional representatives. Taking active steps to address your concerns can lessen feelings of stress. Voting is another active response to feeling overwhelmed about politics and things outside your control,” he said.
Some amounts of stress can be positive, like the kind that helps motivate a person to study or do their best at work. But chronic stress that goes untreated can have serious health consequences.
More than nine in 10 members of Gen Z (or 91 per cent) reported having experienced at least one stress related physical or emotional symptom. Emotional symptoms may be feeling depressed, sad, and lacking in motivation or energy. Physical symptoms may include stomach aches or head aches. Only half of the members of Gen Z who were surveyed said they felt like they were doing enough to manage their stress.
“While these common health symptoms might seem minor, they can lead to negative effects on daily life and overall physical health when they continue over a long period of time. Unlike everyday stressors, which can be managed with healthy stress management behaviors, untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity,” Wright said.
There are number of things Wright suggests people can do if they are feeling overwhelmed by what is in the news.
Having strong social support networks assist individuals in coping with problems on their own, and improve self-esteem and a sense of autonomy. Three quarters of Gen Z said they could have had more emotional support in the previous 12 months.
Getting enough sleep, eating a well balanced diet, exercising and avoiding unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse and alcohol are all helpful ways to cope with stressors in the news.
“If you are overwhelmed by issues in the news and it’s interfering with your daily life, take a break and manage your news consumption. Read or watch just enough to stay informed by putting some boundaries around how much, what kind, and how often you take in the news. Listen to your body to tell when you’ve had enough – if you are experiencing physical or emotional symptoms it may be a sign that you are stressed,” Wright said.
“If you have tried these tips and are still feeling overwhelmed, you may wish to consider seeing a mental health professional who can help you develop specific coping strategies,” he said.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.