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Why are young adults so stressed?

Young adult woman, Coffee House Clarice, nervously bites her fingernails (Credit: Maxwell GS via Flickr)Young adults are more likely to have depression or anxiety disorder than anyone else in our society.  According to USA Today, more than half of adults ages 18-33 say their stress has kept them awake at night in the past month; 39 percent say their stress has increased in the past year.  While the rest of the population is experiencing a decline in stress, young adults' anxiety is increasing significantly.  Why is this?

The article cites employment as the central issue.  In January, 13 percent of Americans ages 18-29 were unemployed; another 1.7 million young adults have given up looking and no longer count in unemployment statistics.  Many who do have jobs cannot find work in the field for which they prepared and are struggling to repay huge student loans.

The general economic direction of our country adds to their stress, and to yours and mine as well.  Time is featuring a fascinating and troubling article titled "The Most Important Chart in American Politics." During the 2012 campaign, one of President Obama's senior strategists called it "the North Star" and began all his PowerPoint presentations with it.  When Republican majority leader Eric Cantor spoke last Tuesday about his vision for the Republican Party, its message was central to his remarks.

The chart tracks three economic trends in America from 1992 to 2009.  The first two lines trace "Productivity" and "GDP Per Capita."  Both have risen dramatically, from 100 to 142 and 134, respectively.  The third line traces "Household Income," which rose to 114 but has since fallen to 109.  The message: while our nation, its corporations, and its wealthiest members have prospered significantly, the rest of the country has not.  In the election, Mr. Obama was seen as the candidate who best understood the pain and discouragement of most Americans, with predictable results.

While financial struggles are clearly contributing to the anxiety of our day, I believe another factor is at work as well.  Young adults were raised by parents who experienced more prosperity than any generation in history.  They are the products of a society that has made materialism its core measure of success.  But now they are discovering that the ladder they've tried to climb is leaning against the wrong wall.

The late Henri Nouwen, a brilliant and perceptive Catholic theologian, diagnosed our condition: "Beneath our worrying lives . . . something else is going on.  While our minds and hearts are filled with many things, we wonder how we can live up to the expectations imposed upon us by ourselves and others.  We have a deep sense of unfulfillment.  While busy with and worried about many things, we seldom feel truly satisfied, at peace, or at home.  A gnawing sense of being unfulfilled underlies our filled lives."

St. Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God."  Where is your heart resting today?



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