Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting 18% of American adults. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicates that 72% of people who experience anxiety and stress daily say that it interferes with their lives. And 40% experience excessive anxiety or persistent stress in their daily lives.
At work, anxiety disorders are associated with lower productivity and short- and long-term work disability. Specifically, anxiety disorders can disrupt work quality and individual productivity, as well as relationships with peers and superiors. When people are anxious, they often skip work or show up without being fully present. But the havoc that anxiety wreaks is not just mental.
People who suffer from anxiety disorders frequently have thyroid, gastrointestinal, and dermatological problems such as psoriasis. And they might also suffer from asthma, chronic pain, and cardiac disorders.
No generation is spared from anxiety. But as the brain changes and life presents new challenges from childhood to old age, anxiety poses different challenges depending on the phase of life one is in.
Challenges by Generation
Studies have demonstrated that Baby Boomers have better mental health than their younger counterparts, though their cognitive function might be more compromised. Their better mental health might be because of greater satisfaction, being more adept at coping with stresses, or having more realistic aspirations. However, in 2018, anxiety levels increased the most in Baby Boomers compared to any other age group. They were anxious about their health, safety, and finances. Baby Boomers are especially anxious about their retirement because 45% of them have no savings on which to rely. Also, in this age group, specific stresses include personal losses (e.g., friends who die), illnesses, social isolation, or impaired memory. And many people in this age group have to care for aging parents, too, making retirement even more problematic.
Generation X faces a different set of problems. Although this group is more educated than Baby Boomers, Gen Xers have higher rates of obesity. And obesity is associated with higher rates of anxiety disorders and passive-dependent and passive-aggressive traits. Also, one study demonstrated that members of Generation X with higher levels of work-to-family conflict tend to be more psychologically distressed than Boomers. Perhaps this reflects the fact that Gen Xers are in the middle of raising their families and building their careers, making them more vulnerable to work-to-family conflict as a chronic stressor in their lives.
Millennial and Generation Z employees experience workplace anxiety at nearly twice the rate of the average U.S. population. Millennials also have higher rates of depression and suicidality, probably because of their higher rates of perfectionism. They expect more from themselves and others, and they perceive others as being more demanding of them, too. Understandably, this would lead to greater anxiety. No wonder a 2017 New York Times article was entitled “Prozac Nation Is Now the United States of Xanax.”
Gen Zers have high levels of anxiety. Being overscheduled, they have to manage their stress levels often. Also, for this age group, gun violence and sexual harassment are of significant concern, so a key stressor is a lack of safety. Three out of four Gen Zers report mass shootings as a significant source of stress.
Work Together to Resolve Workplace Anxiety
Looking across generations, we see that retirement anxiety, obesity, work-family conflicts, perfectionism, and a lack of safety are all stressors that could lead to anxiety at work. The symptoms of anxiety (e.g., trembling, palpitations, and dizziness) are not necessarily different, though for each generation, the stressors that preoccupy them might be different.
Regardless of which generation you are in, if your anxiety level is disrupting your social or work life, seek help. A good place to start is with your primary care physician because many physical illnesses can present with anxiety. And when physical conditions are ruled out, work with your PCP to see whether a psychiatrist, registered nurse, psychologist, or social worker might be helpful to you. I have put together a useful primer on anxiety in the workplace on LinkedIn Learning.
All generations will evolve as they age. So the basic guidelines that individuals and companies can follow to resolve anxiety would include the following:
Also, realize that you can learn from the generation ahead of you and prepare accordingly. While these stressors relate to specific generations, they also likely overlap.
While no generation is spared from anxiety, proactively dealing with and anticipating phase-of-life challenges can help you develop the resilience to face the stressors that life presents.
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