Stress at any age is still stress

Stress LevelsWhile Millennials (ages 18 to 33) and Gen Xers (ages 34 to 47) report the highest average stress levels, Boomers (48 to 66) and Matures (67 years and older) join them in reporting levels that are higher than they consider healthy. Stress has also increased for a considerable number of Americans, regardless of age.

Across generations*, Stress in America™ survey findings show that our ability to manage stress and achieve healthy lifestyles varies by age. Younger Americans report experiencing the most stress and the least relief —they report higher stress levels than older generations and say they are not managing it well.

Both Millennials and Gen Xers report an average stress level of 5.4 on a 10-point scale where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” far higher than Boomers’ average stress level of 4.7 and Matures’ average stress level of 3.7.

All generations say they experience stress at levels higher than they believe is healthy, but Matures are closest to bringing their stress levels in line with their definition of a healthy stress level. The difference between Matures’ stress levels and their perception of healthy stress is 0.7 points, compared with 1.4 points for Millennials, 1.6 points for Gen Xers and 1.3 points for Boomers.

Thirty-nine percent of Millennials say their stress has increased in the last year, compared to 36 percent of Gen Xers, 33 percent of Boomers and 29 percent of Matures.

*The four generations are defined as the following: Millennials (18- to 33-year-olds), Gen Xers (34- to 47-year-olds), Boomers (48- to 66-year-olds) and Matures (67 years and older). This section of the report primarily focuses on Millennials (2007 n=294; 2008 n=406; 2009 n=504; 2010 n=268; 2011 n=420; 2012 n=340), Gen Xers (2007 n=426; 2008 n=478; 2009 n=369; 2010 n=293; 2011 n=274; 2012 n=397), Boomers (2007 n=743; 2008 n=651; 2009 n=464; 2010 n=396; 2011 n=361; 2012 n=1040) and Matures (2007 n=385; 2008 n=256; 2009 n=231; 2010 n=177; 2011 n=171; 2012 n=243) within the general population (2007 n=1848; 2008 n=1791; 2009 n=1568; 2010 n=1134; 2011 n=1226; 2012 n=2020).
Sources of stress vary with age

Millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to say that they are stressed by work, money and job stability, while Boomers and Matures are more likely to be concerned with health issues affecting their families and themselves.

Work is a somewhat or significant stressor for 76 percent of Millennials, 65 percent of Gen Xers, 62 percent of Boomers and just 39 percent of Matures. This may be because a lower proportion of Matures are working (8 percent are employed full-time, compared with 39 percent of Boomers, 59 percent of Gen Xers and 33 percent of Millennials). However, job stability is a source of stress for slightly more Gen Xers than Millennials (60 percent vs. 53 percent).

Personal health concerns are reported most often by Matures as a source of stress (61 percent vs. 51 percent for Millennials and Boomers and 46 percent for Gen Xers). However, significantly more Boomers report that health problems affecting their families are sources of stress (58 percent vs. 48 percent for Millennials, 46 percent for Gen Xers and 49 percent for Matures).

Stress weighs on younger Americans

Each generation experiences negative consequences of stress, but Millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to say that they engage in unhealthy behaviors because of stress and experience symptoms of stress.

More than 52 percent of Millennials report having lain awake at night in the past month due to stress, compared to 48 percent of Gen Xers, 37 percent of Boomers and 25 percent of Matures.

Additionally, 44 percent of both Millennials and Gen Xers report experiencing irritability or anger due to stress, compared to 36 percent of Boomers and 15 percent of Matures.

Managing stress is more difficult for younger Americans

Given their higher-than-average stress levels, it is no surprise that Millennials and Gen Xers have made it a goal to reduce their stress. But both are falling short in their ability to manage stress well.

In the last five years, 62 percent of Millennials and 63 percent of Gen Xers have tried to reduce their stress, compared with 59 percent of Boomers and 50 percent of Matures.

Yet a quarter (25 percent) of Millennials and Gen Xers say they are not doing enough to manage their stress, compared to 15 percent of Boomers and 7 percent of Matures.

While the generations agree that managing stress is extremely or very important (Millennials: 61 percent; Gen Xers: 69 percent; Boomers: 63 percent; Matures: 65 percent), the ability to meet stress management goals seems to come with age. Only 29 percent of Millennials, 35 percent of Gen Xers and 38 percent of Boomers say they are doing an excellent or very good job of managing their stress, compared with 50 percent of Matures. In fact, since 2010, the percentage of Millennials who have said they are doing a good job at stress management has decreased (2010: 33 percent; 2011: 32 percent; 2012: 29 percent).

Younger Americans struggle to achieve healthy lifestyles

How Generations Manage StressYounger Americans also report difficulties as they try to achieve some healthy living goals. Older adults are more likely than younger adults to say they are doing an excellent or very good job at achieving healthy lifestyle goals like eating healthy and getting enough sleep.

Similarly, generational differences exist when it comes to eating healthy (27 percent of Millennials, 32 percent of Gen Xers, 38 percent of Boomers and 43 percent of Matures) and getting enough sleep (46 percent of Matures vs. 29 percent of Millennials).

Even though the preferred stress management technique across generations is exercising or walking, younger Americans are more likely than Boomers and Matures to engage in unhealthy behaviors like eating, drinking alcohol and smoking to manage stress.

Boomers and Matures are more likely to go to religious services than younger adults (Millennials: 16 percent; Gen Xers: 19 percent; Boomers: 23 percent; Matures: 32 percent), while younger generations are more likely to shop (Millennials: 19 percent; Gen Xers: 13 percent; Boomers: 10 percent; Matures: 6 percent).