Millennial women are more likely to suffer from anxiety than any other demographic, according to recent research.
Women are almost twice as likely as men to be affected by anxiety and under 35s are more likely to experience it than older generations.
But why? Millennial women are overwhelmed by an unprecedented amount of choice - whether that’s education and career, social lives and romantic relationships, and everything in-between - and as such, many are suffering from a quarter-life crisis.
That’s why The Huffington Post UK decided to tackle the issue head on as part of a panel discussion at this year’s Bestival on the Isle Of Wight.
As part of the festival’s ‘Bestiversity’ series, HuffPost UK’s Executive Editor Poorna Bell was joined by Jo Duncombe, co-founder of The Quarter Club, a professional network of women working in creative industries, and Persia Lawson, co-founder of Addictive Daughter.
Speaking to a rain-soaked audience who braved the Saturday deluge to sit in the open-air auditorium at Robin Hood Country Park, our speakers discussed their own experiences of anxiety (both personal and professional) as well as looking towards solutions to help women suffering today.
Here are six pearls of wisdom from the women in the know.
Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
There’s nothing like a bit of healthy competition to inspire you to become your best self. But when that competition becomes obsessive and negatively affects your opinion of yourself, it is known as the “compare and despair” syndrome.
Both Duncombe and Lawson blame social media for this, where we’re all guilty of offering a curated and heavily-filtered version of our lives.
Lawson says that social media makes us perform “upward social comparison”, meaning comparing ourselves to those who we feel are better off than us. “Social media doesn’t give the whole picture - no one is putting up their debt as their Facebook status or their crappy beans or toast.”
Duncombe says that this makes women place a huge amount of pressure on themselves. “A few years ago, I was juggling about 5 freelance jobs. So anxious about not keeping up with other people around me. I think in London there is this culture that if you stop for a second there will be someone else there to take your place.”
Instead Focus On The Self
Lawson struggled for years with low self-worth. Comparing her career and relationships with those around her who were better off, she was left feeling acutely jealous and spiralling into destructive behaviour.
“It was only when I lost everything - my acting agent, my relationship - that I focused on relationship with myself,” she revealed.
“It not is about what you have and what you do, it’s about who you are. Once I focused on myself, everything improved.”
Lawson is now “addicted to the good stuff” and practises daily meditation, which she credits to helping her stay balanced and focused.
“If you focus on the inside, the outside will take care of itself. No matter what comes your way, if you’re OK on the inside you’ll be able to deal with it.”
Network With Your Peers
Duncombe found the best way to combat career anxiety is to embrace other people’s differences and skill set, learning to work together and support each other.
“The Quarter Club is so successful because it cultivates an environment where we acknowledge that not everyone can do everything... As a freelancer, you may not have the money to develop certain skills so The Quarter Club is a space where a woman who might be an amazing photographer or website builder can share that skill with someone who is an amazing public speaker,” she says.
“It’s really empowering to share and teach those skills with someone else. I think that’s an example of a way that you can prevent jealousy and encourage cultivation through each other.”
Lawson adds: “Jealousy is seeing your potential in someone else. You should use it to make yourself better.”
Don’t Be Crippled By Choice
One major issue facing millennial women is “the paradox of choice”, we have more opportunities than ever before but that makes us afraid of making the wrong decisions.
Duncombe says: “We live in a generation that are faced to so much choice and an unprecedented exposure to other people through social media. We compare our life choices to other people’s and get anxious about whether the choices we make are right for us.”
The generation is plagued by a new term FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, which is defined by the need to say yes to every social engagement and seize every opportunity.
Poorna is a strong advocate of the opposite JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out), a rebellion against the need to do it all.
So when an audience member asked how to juggle competing priorities and demands, Poorna simply said: “Learn how to say ‘no’.”
Embrace The Positive Side Of Anxiety
Anxiety is a completely normal emotion, but it becomes a problem when it’s experienced every day and prevents you from doing the things you want.
In small doses however, Duncombe says a little anxiety can give you the push you need to strive to be your best.
When asked by an audience member for advice around pursuing a competitive career, Duncombe said: “It’s important to do what makes you happy. So think long and hard about what makes you happy in your chosen career, and focus on those things. You need to acknowledge that things are going to be difficult - maybe that’s competition or jealousy - but find ways to overcome them.”
And Don’t Be Afraid To Fail
Duncombe believes that our fear of failure - and failing publicly - is holding us back.
“Because we live our lives online, there is so much exposure if you do fail,” says Duncombe. “Even the idea of failing is so embarrassing.”
But being averse to failure is stopping us from taking leaps of faith and challenging ourselves.
“It puts a pillow over the side of yourself that wants to explore.”
Lawson says: “Anxiety is fear of the future. And no one - not even the most successful people in the world - knows the future.”
So what are you waiting for?