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 has a way of demanding ALL of the attention. It shifts the focus to what feels scary, or too big, or impossible, or what needs to be avoided, or what feels bad, or what our kiddos can’t do. As the grown ups who love them, we know they are capable of greatness, even if that greatness is made up of lots of tiny steps, (as great things tend to be).
Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response (which is where the physical feelings of an anxiety attack come from). Walking will help to burn the adrenalin and neurochemicals that have surged the body to prepare it for flight or fight, and which are causing the physical symptoms (racy heart, feeling sick, sweaty, short breaths, dry mouth, trembly or tense in the limbs etc). As well as this, the rhythm of walking will help to calm their anxious amygdala. Brains love rhythm, and walking is a way to give them this. 
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Try to help your young one access their steady breaths while walking, but it is very likely that they will only be able to do this if they’ve practised outside of an anxiety attack. During anxiety, the brain is too busy to try anything unfamiliar. Practising will help to create neural pathways that will make breathing an easier, more accessible response during anxiety. If they aren't able to access strong steady breaths, you might need to do it for them. This will be just as powerful - in the same way they can catch your anxiety, they will also be able to catch your calm. When you are able to assume a strong, calm, steady presence, this will clear the way for your brave ones to do the same.
The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.

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