How Gen Z Can Cope with Today’s Crazy, Unrelenting Stress
Two years of COVID and now Russia invades Ukraine?
After two years of a global pandemic, we didn’t think that the world could get any darker, but now Russia has gone and invaded Ukraine. This is horrendous for Ukrainians, in and outside the country and it’s terrifying for everyone else, as we hear Putin threatening nuclear retaliation toward anyone who intervenes.
I was asking a young person what was the number one current event this week and he answered, “World War Three?” It broke my heart that someone in his twenties has to contend with such harsh realities.
As world leaders scramble for a diplomatic solution, Ukraine fights valiantly and the rest of us wait, holding our collective breath, as terrible events unfold. We hear stories of incredible courage and resilience from the Ukrainian people. We hope for the best for them, but we fear the worst for all of us. These are indeed, the darkest of times.
How must it be for a Gen Z individual, today?
I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about Gen Z and how it must feel for a tween or young adult to be living through all of these disturbing events. I was fortunate to have grown up in a time of relative peace and prosperity when my biggest dilemma at age twenty-one was where I’d be accepted to medical school. I can’t imagine being a young person, today, having to cope with this insane degree of stress.
Young people today have been facing far too many crises. Even before COVID arrived, there was a climate catastrophe, increasing political polarization, rampant racism, and sky-rocketing rates of mental illness and suicide in the young. According to Youth Mental Health Canada, the suicide rate among youth in Canada is the third-highest in the industrialized world.
With the pandemic, we’ve seen an upsurge of right-wing conspiracy theories, anti-science propaganda, violence toward BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people, and attempts to deprive women of agency over their bodies.
And now, with Russia waging war on Ukraine, what must be going through the minds of Gen Z’ers today? It might be tempting to tune it all out and spend your days scrolling through social media, watching amusing videos, and ignoring all the problems of the world. Or, acknowledging the current state of affairs might be so overwhelming that you’re drowning in anxiety and despair.
Denial makes things worse. Being overwhelmed won’t bring change
Obviously, neither response is optimal. Ignoring your problems only makes them worse. You have your whole future ahead of you, so running away from everything that upsets you is not the solution. But being paralyzed with fear and hopelessness won’t help you make things better, either.
You need to find the balance between recognizing how bad things are — so that you’re able to take care of yourself and your loved ones — but not being so overwhelmed that you stop functioning altogether.
What I propose is a way to manage the stress of today’s insane world, and a way to feel more empowered, more hopeful, and less out of control. Essentially, it comes down to focusing both on the inside and on the outside.
Doing the inner work makes you more empowered and resilient
Inner work: in order to cope with the unbelievable amount of stress you’re facing today, every young person needs some every day, effective tools.
1. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, pranayama, or Chi Gong: all are modalities for becoming calm and centered, which is crucial if you want to manage the craziness that’s coming at you on a minute-to-minute basis. Taking some time out every day to relax, tune in to yourself and breathe will give you the power to handle the adversity.
2. Unplugging: spending too much time on social media is actually bad for you. It makes you feel more anxious and depressed, more helpless and out of control. Social media makes you compare yourself to what you’re seeing — you’ll inevitably fall short and feel bad about yourself. It’s important every day to step away from your screens and do something that will make you feel good about yourself and your life, for a change.
3. Self-care rituals: eating healthy food, getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, having some downtime, avoiding toxic substances — these are all essential in enabling you to cope with life’s stresses. The better you take care of yourself, the more resilient you’ll be.
4. Connecting with others: loving, supportive relationships give you the strength to handle just about any difficulty. Keep your relationships healthy by investing time and energy in deepening your connections and in facing the truth about the toxic people in your life and cutting them out, sooner vs. later. With life being so stressful, you don’t need hurtful people dragging you down. You have a choice about who you interact with. You’re entitled to choose people who are caring and uplifting.
Doing the outer work changes the world for the better
Outer work: these are the actions you can take; the things that you can do in the world to feel better about all the craziness swirling around you.
1. Contribute to your community: stress makes you feel helpless, so doing positive things can help you to feel less so. Start by helping others in your community, whether it’s shoveling the snow for an elderly neighbour, being part of the neighbourhood watch organization, volunteering at your local food co-op, bringing cookies to a sick person in your community, or, like me, rescuing feral cats. Every time you do good, you feel empowered and happy that you’ve brightened someone’s day.
2. Engage in social activism: there are so many good causes to participate in. Choose something that is meaningful to you and join in. It doesn’t matter what it is. Anything you do will make a difference in the world, and it will make the world a better place for your future. This will help you to feel less helpless in the short run, and it will improve everyone’s life, in the long run.
3. Contribute to a charity: if you can, it helps to give money to a good cause. I just sent a contribution to the Canadian Red Cross, to help the situation in Ukraine. If you don’t have the cash, you can volunteer. These charitable organizations do enormous good in difficult times, alleviating untold suffering.
4. Make art to draw attention to what’s wrong: there is a long history of artists speaking out against injustice, corruption, criminality, and unfairness. Art for social change, protest songs, confrontational theatre — all of these have a long tradition. My medium is writing, but there are many ways to use art to speak out about the things that matter to you and that need to change.
Don’t give up. There is hope if you do the inner and outer work
It can be hard to maintain your equanimity in the face of everything going on, today. After two horrendous years of COVID, the invasion of Ukraine might feel like the last straw but don’t give up and don’t run away from it all.
You can face the harsh realities of our times and engage in the inner and outer work that will enable you to handle the stress with grace and ease. And, in the process, you’ll be making the world a better place for yourself and those around you, right now and for the future.
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