On any given day in her office, San Francisco-based therapist Tara Griffith hears millennials wonder aloud: Is this it? Am I failing at being an adult? How did my parents have it all figured out by this age?
“They’re dealing with reality versus expectations,” said Griffith, who heads up the team at Wellspace SF, a San Francisco community of licensed therapists, nutritionists and certified coaches.
“The messaging they’ve grown up with ― ‘Go to college and you’ll land yourself a great career,’ ‘You’ve always been a hard worker. Just do what you love and you’ll be successful,’ ― is at odds with their reality,” she said. “Feelings of disillusionment and being ‘stuck’ arise.”
Below, Griffith and other therapists share the most most common concerns they hear from patients in their 20s and 30s, and the advice they give them.
They may have gotten into top-tier colleges and landed decent-paying jobs at tech startups, but many millennials still doubt their self-worth and ability to make a decision. When it comes time to make the next big move in their life ― leaving their job for a new one one or taking a relationship to the next level, for instance ― they struggle to make the call, Griffith told HuffPost.
“They have an abundance of options,” Griffith said. “You might ask, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ but research points to the fact that being presented with too many options can lead to paralysis. Having too many choices exhausts us, can keep us stuck and contribute to greater dissatisfaction.”
Griffith and her team tell their clients that there’s no one formula for success ― no “A + B = a happy life” equation to latch on to for guidance.
“As much as we want to know which decisions will make us the most happy, fulfilled and confident in life, we can only do our best to tune into what it is that we want and go after our passions,” she said.
Thanks in part to their helicopter parents, many millennials are overeager to impress and feel a deep sense of guilt when they say no.
“While hovering, these parents also have high expectations for their children, which has led them to become adults who do not want to disappointment anyone,” said Deborah Duley, a social worker and the clinical director of Empowered Connections, a therapy practice based in Maryland.
Duley tells her clients that it’s all about taking small baby steps to saying “no.”
“Use cheat phrases, such as ‘I don’t know if I can commit to this, but I’ll let you know next week,’” she said. “It’s a small way to begin asserting yourself and becoming more comfortable with saying no. Practice makes perfect.”
No, millennials aren’t blowing their cash on avocado toast and trendy restaurants. Instead, they’re freaking out and wondering if they’ll ever really feel financially secure, said Liz Higgins, a couples therapist in Dallas.
This is, after all, the generation that’s been hit hardest by the 2008 recession and student debt, and the reality is that internships and freelancing may be the only way to pay the bills for a while.
“This financial reality has led to a greater percentage of individuals who continue to live with their parents, which leads to issues in other areas of life, often including dating,” Higgins said. “I see many clients experience anxiety about entering a relationship due to their own financial status or due to their potential partner’s debt or financial status.”
When they find love, Higgins encourages clients to talk transparently with their partner about their financial expectations, values and differences.
“Many times, millennials just want to feel validated by their partner and want to establish clear communication and direction regarding their finances,” she said. “Plus, many millennials feel ‘owned’ by their financial situations, so my work with clients often focuses around empowering themselves to have difficult conversations and trusting what feels right when it comes to money boundaries.”
Many millennials feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of terrible news in the headlines, said Rachel Kazez, a Chicago therapist and founder of All Along, a program that helps people understand mental health and find therapy. They’re especially concerned about inequality and the state of the environment, she said.
“Their efforts to spread opportunity and rights have been successful, but inconsistently,” she said. “My advice to millennials feeling demoralized is to notice positive progress and to use their actions, words, influence and financial resources to support causes they believe in. As I tell them, if you genuinely feel you’re doing as much as you can about the causes you’re concerned about, additional anxiety won’t help the problem be solved faster.”
Millennials have grown up in a comparison culture and endlessly wonder if their real lives ― the ones lived off social media ― stack up to others, said Jess Hopkins, a certified life coach.
“The incessant stream of social media updates and humble-brags makes it practically impossible to stay in your own lane and go your own speed,” she said. “Instead, many millennials feel compelled to one-up their peers and turn every moment into an opportunity to prove their worthiness to the world. This hustle for worthiness provides temporary confidence at best and perpetuates deep insecurities at worst.”
Hopkins tries to stress to her clients that they are enough, without the positive reinforcement of “likes” on Instagram. She also recommends a bit of reading.
“For millennials struggling with self-consciousness, and by extension self-worth, I strongly recommend reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown to begin a journey towards wholehearted living,” she said.
According to the American Psychological Association, millennials experience more stress and are less able to manage it than any other generation before them.
“Their overexposure to everything happening in the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week ― literally their whole lives ― is contributing to millennials’ inability to turn things off, including their thoughts,” Duley said.
The first thing Duley does with clients struggling with anxiety is help them get a good grasp on their negative thoughts. Millennials need to know they’re more than capable of working through those thoughts and coming out stronger, she said.
“We begin helping them gain control of their worries by reframing the problem. Anxiety is the physical manifestation of fear and worry, and millennials have zero to little experience managing all that’s coming at them from every angle,” she said. “In therapy, I remind them they can get through it.”