For many students, sleep serves as solace from the pressures of everyday life. But sometimes, stress manages to creep in the final minutes of consciousness.
“Getting enough sleep is always a struggle, but even when I’m falling asleep I constantly think about what I still need to do and feel guilty about it,” said Theresa Kurth, a senior studying aerospace engineering.
She’s not alone. An annual study from the the American Psychological Association found that more than 52 percent of millennials have stayed awake at night in the last month because of stress, and 44 percent of millennials reported feeling irritability or anger because of stress.
The APA also found that Americans between the ages of 18 and 33 have gotten worse at managing stress each year during the past three years.
Robin Siegal, an adjunct lecturer at the USC School of Social Work, said this might be because the millennial generation is coming of age during the worst economic times of our country, which contributes to the high levels of stress.
“They have college loans to pay, and they’re not getting jobs right out of college,” Siegal said. “Even to get a job or to get good benefits … [they are] not available to a lot of this generation.”
Siegal said the competitive job market and economic pressure play a role in the stress this generation experiences. She added that millennials have also had to deal with changing relationship dynamics.
“Many of them have witnessed their parents getting divorces and their beliefs of the institution of marriage and longevity of relationships has been skewed,” Siegal said. “They don’t see family foundations as being permanent. They see it as temporary or transitional.”
Some millenials think there is a difference between how people deal with stress across generations. Sayuli Bhide, a freshman majoring in neuroscience, said that her parents’ generation responds to stress differently than her generation.
“My parents will call me around 10 or 11 p.m. and ask me why I’m not going to sleep, and I try to explain that at that point I want to go to sleep, but I’m so stressed and I have so much to do,” Bhide said. “They don’t understand because they had a completely different experience growing up. They actually could get to sleep at 10 p.m.”
For Bhide, the generational gap brings another layer of pressure to her life.
“The amount of stress from then to now has changed, but my parent’s expectations for me has somehow remained similar to what was expected from their generation,” Bhide said. “That makes me even more stressed out.”
Millenials also tend to have more problems eating healthy and getting adequate amounts of sleep. The study found 29 percent of millenials feel they get enough sleep, compared to 46 percent of matures, which are considered people more than 67 years old.
The study also found that millenials are more likely to deal with stress in unhealthy ways, such as eating for comfort, drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes.
On the other hand, millenials are much less likely to attend religious services to deal with stress — 16 percent of millenials attend services compared to 32 percent of matures.
At USC, some students who attend services find that the spiritual process helps to reduce stress. Aaron Taxy, a junior majoring in international relations, attends Friday night services at Chabad at USC regularly and finds the time valuable for reflection.
“We are always plugged in in a world of smartphones and Internet, which is generally a wonderful thing,” Taxy said. “However, it’s also important for us to unplug and be introspective, and services are a great platform for that.”
All of this can have serious implications in the long term, Siegal said.
“When people are experiencing long-term stress, they can go into depression or anxiety. They’re at risk for serious medical problems,” Siegal said. “Stress on a long-term basis can also affect hormones, like cortisol. Even on a cellular level, cells can be damaged because of long-term stress.”
But on a more pragmatic level, stress can be a debilitating force formany people. At the end of the day, students have find a way to cope, and taking one step at a time can be a helpful way to keep things in perspective.
“There’s only so many things you can do at one time,” Kurth said. “Stress doesn’t go away, and you can’t let it shut you down.”