Stress Relief through Storytelling
A new study by the American Psychological Association shows that 20- and 30somethings are the most stressed generation in America. Here’s how the church can help them cope.
A recent study revealed the youngest generations of adults in America are also the most stressed. In one sense, this is no big surprise, given the economic and social factors influencing quality of life and near-future prospects for Millennials—adults ages 18 to 29—and for Gen Xers, whose scores are virtually tied with those of their younger counterparts.
In January 2013, the unemployment rate for Millennials reached 13.1 percent. This compares to 7.9 percent overall. And among employed Millennials, many are underemployed, working jobs that don’t make full use of their college degrees, making it hard to pay off student debt.
On the other hand, in general, Millennials carry far less responsibility for others compared with adults in mid-life, who are more likely carrying large mortgages, raising kids and putting them through college and managing mature careers. And those who are well into the second half of life often find themselves caring for aging parents and facing their own health issues as they age. Older adults have plenty of reasons to stress out.
So is there something more behind all the stress on younger adults?
Exacerbating the challenges in their external circumstances, younger adults lack the internal fortitude that comes from experience. It’s not their fault—they simply haven’t been through as many trials as older generations. They don’t have as many triumphs they can point back to and use to boost their confidence for what they’re facing in the present. They don’t have the cache of personal stories—or the scars—to remind themselves they have what it takes to walk through life’s challenges.
Such experiences come over time. According to the American Psychological Association, as we age, we get better at handling stress. "There really is something to 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger,'" says one psychiatrist. We all know there’s no substitute for the school of hard knocks.
But while our own experiences are the best teachers, other people’s stories can be powerful as well. Seasoned adults aren’t the only ones who can benefit from their experiences—they can bring hope and assurance to the people who are coming up behind.
But in our society, intergenerational connections are weak. And stories from the seasoned set are lost amid our cultural noise, which venerates the loud and the youthful. Perhaps this is another reason for the high stress level among younger adults. Most of the stories they hear are from people with less, not more, real life experience.
When older adults tell their stories of survival and overcoming hardships, they inspire hope in younger people. They bring a sense of calm when they point out that history repeats itself—most of our current challenges are not new. They help young people picture themselves thriving too. But in our segmented society, which glorifies and magnifies the voices of the young, where will we hear such stories?
The church is one place where generations often find themselves in the same building, and where we can encourage storytelling. Sharing stories benefits not only those whose voices are often ignored, but also the ones who listen.
Such storytelling also brings glory to God. We should follow the example of our ancient forebears in faith, who handed down their stories carefully and intentionally, giving credit where credit was due: “I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders . . . So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands (Psalm 78:2-7).
Economic recession? High unemployment? Global tension? Acts of terror? Everyone over 40 has seen them before, remembers them well, and has lived to tell about them. Senseless violence, protracted wars, political standoffs, collapsing institutions, rampant corruption and immorality? Everyone over 50 has walked through all that and much more. We need to hear those stories.
Through mentoring relationships, small groups, and before your congregations, please share your stories. The rest of us need the hope we can find in your eyewitness accounts of God’s faithfulness and grace.
Amy Simpson is editor of Gifted for Leadership, Marriage Partnership, and ParentConnect, and is a regular contributor to the TCW blog.