Millennial Depression: The New Separation Anxiety

Millennial Depression: The New Separation Anxiety
By Kaitlin Renee 

I remember her words rolling around in my head, making lots of noise but not really making any sense. I felt numb. Betrayed.

Your dad and I…

Separation…

Living here now…

Need time and space…

My third-grade self didn’t understand why the two people in my life who were supposed to be together forever were separating. I felt tears slide down my cheeks, but I didn’t know how to sift through all the information. All I knew was that things were going to be different.

I turned away from my mom’s pained gaze and walked up the foreign steps. She had decided to enlighten my sister and me in this new guest house she had rented when she had made the decision to move out. It wasn’t a proper house, it wasn’t a home. It was some walls and a roof sheltering us from the Michigan weather. She was moving out of my childhood home and into this shack of a living space, away from Dad, away from a complete family.

That was the day I realized that if you give people a chance to come into your life and be a significant part of it, you’re simultaneously giving them the power to hurt you.

As a separated couple, they would soon be unable to afford that childhood home and would uproot my little sister and me to the suburbs, away from everything we had ever known. Half the week would be spent with Mom, and the other half with Dad. If I forgot something at the house I just came from, I was out of luck unless I could convince a parent to drive to the ex’s house (not likely). That meant I carried around a mass of clothes back and forth between the two, because I wanted to make sure I had options available at all times. I’ve basically lived out of a suitcase for almost ten years, moving in between the two houses that could never quite become homes.

My story is not unique. Divorcestatistics.org estimates that the current divorce rate in America is between 40-50%, higher than it’s ever been. Most of those broken couples come from Generation X, who happen to be the parents of us Millennials. In his article “Functional Families in Modern America,” Dr. Allen Weiss noted that children of divorced parents are seven times more likely to suffer from depression than children from a united home. So is it any wonder then that CBS reports that the millennial generation has a reported depression rate of about 20%, compared to the 14% of the generation before us, and 12% of the generation before them?

Children with divorced parents often suffer feelings of abandonment and insecurity as well as anxiety due to the at-home trauma. These feelings can easily lead to severe depression if not taken care of. The problem is that most children suffering are often misunderstood by their parents; rather than seeing their aggressive, withdrawn, and often stand-offish behavior as being precursors to depression, parents see these as being typical teen attitude problems that can be solved with discipline.

Our parents want to know why we’re so closed off, why we’re obsessed with our phones and our laptops, why we’re so on edge… Is it really that hard to understand?

I’m not saying that so many of us millennials are depressed solely because of parental divorce, because that’s not the only factor. But it certainly is a major stepping stone for many of us.

We all desire connection – it’s a part of the human experience. In the earliest of life stages, family is at the core of your web of connections. A weird imbalance is formed in the middle of this web as divorce slices through these core strings where your family is supposed to intertwine, and this only makes it harder to create and maintain successful relationships with others in the future. When we should feel trust in a relationship, what we more often feel is skepticism. While I can’t speak for everyone in the millennial generation who grew up the child of a broken home, I can certainly say that I have difficulty in relationships as a result of that experience.

As a matter of fact, a social science investigation on the impact of parental divorce on adult relationships found that “participants from divorced families indicated a greater fear of being hurt/rejected” and that there was “less trust toward a variety of intimate relationships.”

My parents were together for sixteen years before calling it quits. While my boyfriend seems like Mr. Right now, there will likely come a time – be it six months from now, a year from now, sixteen years from now – that he or I decide differently. And I can never get that out of my head.

Friendships must work the same way, right? I mean, with divorce, there are legal papers and money and sometimes kids involved. Not to mention the fact that you’re breaking vows that you said in front of a huge group of people on your wedding day. With friends, none of that is stopping you, so they’ll probably leave one day too. What’s the point of relationships if they’ll so easy to leave behind?

This is the problem with a lot of us millennials – we have divorced kid syndrome when it comes to relationships. Which is probably why we’d rather be online than actually putting ourselves out there, looking at pictures of our friends or editing our own photos until we deem them acceptable to present to the public.

You go on Facebook and see picture after picture of your ‘friends’ hanging out with their friends at the beach, the mall, the movies, Disneyland, wherever. These pictures, for a reason you’re not completely sure of, make this bubble of jealousy and desire rise up inside you. You want relationships like these. You want to be doing picture-worthy things in picture-worthy places with picture-worthy people. But you’re in your room, on your computer, alone.

You feel like your life is pointless and pathetic in comparison to the edited versions of everyone else’s.

Here’s the problem. Those pictures don’t include the moment Jill got into a fight with her boyfriend, or that time Jane walked into her house to find her father drunk again and yelling at her mother, or when James found out his girlfriend was pregnant and he wasn’t ready. Nobody hangs broken pictures on the wall, and nobody puts anything less than picture perfect on their social media accounts.

The same feelings of abandonment and insecurities that developed from being the child of a broken household carry on easily to these social parts of our lives. Not only are we struggling to make connections in a virtual world, we’re also comparing our sub-glamorous realities to the ‘perfect’ internet fantasy lives of those we are friends with or are following online. Best case scenario, it makes you a competitive Instagram guru with pictures of you doing yoga and eating exotic fruits and watching sunsets (who is taking these pictures of you anyways?) on every social media website known to man. Worst case scenario, it makes you realize how alone you really are and you ingrained desire for human connection leaves you feeling empty and pathetic.

The problem for us millennials is that we’re still human. And being human in today’s world is hard. We want so badly the connections that are becoming harder and harder to obtain in our modern society. We need human connection, but often we are being met with our own skepticism instead of trust or a screen instead of a face. This disparity between what we need as social human beings and what we’re getting is causing a pandemic of depressed millennials. Many of us have separation anxiety from relationships we haven’t even developed.


About the Author: Kaitlin Renee
 
Kaitlin is currently attending Michigan State University, pursuing degrees in Journalism and Professional Writing. She’s passionate about storytelling and looks forward to a career in which she can give a voice to those without the opportunity or ability to share their own. 
 

 

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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