In a study done by the Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association, the national average stress levels of Americans when ranked on a scale from 1-10 was 4.9. However, adolescents reported that they felt an average of 5.4. Maybe these Millennials are overly dramatic due to binge watching Teen Mom and texting their thumbs off, or maybe there’s something more telling. There’s no doubt that high school is one of the most stressful times for those lucky enough to attend. On top of hormones raging, teens also have social and academic stress in the mix.
Another shocking statistic I came across was that 52 percent of Millennial adolescents reported stress has made them lose sleep within the past month. These statistics hold such weight because I know first hand; I used to be one of them.
In an essay headlined “Why You Never Truly Leave High School,” New York magazine writer Jennifer Senior eloquently stated, “Not everyone feels the sustained, melancholic presence of a high-school shadow self. There are some people who simply put in their four years, graduate, and that’s that. But for most of us adults, the adolescent years occupy a privileged place in our memories, which to some degree is even quantifiable: Give a grown adult a series of random prompts and cues, and odds are he or she will recall a disproportionate number of memories from adolescence.”
Most adults I’ve spoken to would mark high school as four years of uncertainty about their identity. Throughout those four years, we tend to compare ourselves to our peers in a way that feels like we’re all rushing towards being the alpha. After high school, those we saw as competition usually phase into the background of our psyche, reduced to hazy supporting characters. However, I can think of no better places where these people of my high school years lurk, ready to jump back into my psyche at a moments notice with a “like” or “status update,” than Facebook.
Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg recently celebrated the site’s 10-year anniversary by inviting users to create a video that is compiled from their most significant life “milestones” as determined by the site. Much like a high school reunion, the Facebook celebration video seems to satisfy the same narcissism within us. What it accomplishes, however, is exactly what Facebook has done since it was launched: to amp up our anxiety.
Upon leaving high school, we feel not only as if we are racing with our peers to see who can be the most successful out of the gate, but we also feel as if we are competing with a rougher draft of ourselves. We look back on pictures of our hairstyles, the clubs we were a part of, our style and wonder, “What was I thinking?” In the past, only the few people who kept photos from the past shared these embarrassments. Anxiety studies reported, “For Millennials, top stress sources are work (cited by 76%), money (73%) and relationships (59%).”
Think of how you use Facebook on a daily basis. Our peers share news of their engagements, job advancements, and exciting endeavors. Now, thanks to Facebook, all our peers’ success in the above three categories are constantly available for viewing at the click of a button. No one is posting unflattering pictures of himself or herself, and no one is highlighting just how difficult their relationship can be at times. It’s logical to compare ourselves with our peers because on a forum where we only choose to share the best aspects of our lives, it is easy to feel inadequate for not projecting equal accomplishments.
Critics have said that the anxiety level statistics taken from adolescents are skewed because Millennial and younger adolescents have no problem admitting their stress; they’re unashamed to admit it because they understand that it is a phase of life. We are often unable to leave our past, pulling the anxieties we felt when we were covered in pimples and braces into our adult selves, making it almost impossible to blur the lines between the people we once were, and the people we are trying to become.
—Follow Shawn Binder on Twitter: @ShawnBinder