This is How Millennials Deal With Anxiety

This is How Millennials Deal With Anxiety

Over the past few years, millennials have been covered extensively in the media, usually in the negative, about how this generation is killing industries. While this technically might be true, the reason is because the generation is the poorest one. Anyone that has experienced poverty knows that it spawns creativity.

Millennials are the generation of convenience, brought on by being poor adults. Because of this, they have figured out ways to get what they need without breaking the bank. They like television but cannot justify paying $200/month for cable when they’re only really watching a few channels led to the explosive rise of streaming services. Taxis are expensive but so is owning a car, and if you’re getting crushed by student loans, a service like Uber and Lyft, that tell you exactly how much you’ll be spending before committing to the ride, is beneficial. Online shopping is huge among millennials, as they can read reviews of products and compare to other items before making a financial decision.

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One of the most interesting aspects is how millennials deal with anxiety. It’s no secret that crushing student loan debts, bleak job prospects like “unpaid internships” because entry level is now defined as 3-6 years experience, and not being able to afford health insurance are leading factors in making millenials the most anxious generation. While online therapy sites like TalkSpace are available, the lowest plan is $49/week, which is still steep for many who live check-to-check. Online support groups via Facebook or Reddit seem to help but many people the deal with anxiety have another way to alleviate their symptoms: baking.

Emily Duncan is a 33-year-old single mother who has been doing what she calls “emotional baking” since she was 14. “I do not have anxiety per se, I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” she said. “But I've been baking since I was 14, mostly when I had anorexia through my teenage years.”Duncan says her official diagnosis is PTSD and anorexia nervosa, a diagnosis she didn’t get until she was 30. “Obviously I was in denial as a teenager about my anorexia, but finally gave it a name to work though it at 19.”

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Amanda Lerner., a Ph.D candidate studying abroad, also deals with PTSD. “I have been officially diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and PTSD,” she says. “The anxiety and depression were diagnosed in my teens. At 14, I was home by myself with my grandparents and called 911. [I] gave my grandfather CPR after his heart attack.” Lerner’s grandfather was gardening when the attack happened. “My grandmother had Alzheimer’s so she obviously couldn’t help me. He lived, but it was still a very hard time for me. I would get anxious whenever he gardened, for example, in case it happened again.”

According to, 70% of Americans have experienced some sort of traumatic event in their lives and around 20% from that group develop PTSD. Payoff, a financial wellness company, did a study and found that  23% of Americans and 36% of millennials suffered from PTSD-like symptoms over their financial situation.

Genetics can play a role here as well. While not hereditary, a family history of anxiety can may predispose an individual for an increased risk. With the exception of Lerner, all five women that I interviewed did not get diagnosed until adulthood, even though anxiety-related symptoms and behavior showing up throughout their lives.

Steph Teasley is a 32 year-old English professor who says that anxiety runs in her family. “It’s everywhere. I was the calmest one.” Despite this, she still rationalized away her feelings of anxiety. “I just thought of myself as a logical person, so I thought my feelings would be logical too. Turns out genetics might be stronger than logic.”

Casey McElroy, a Massachusetts lawyer, says she started having anxiety at a young age as well. “My parents worked nights, and one summer I went through a phase where I had to sleep downstairs because I couldn’t fall asleep until I saw their headlights pull in the driveway because I was convinced they were going to die. So anxiety is a big part of my entire life.”

McElroy said that she’s been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder (GAD.) “I got diagnosed at 22 when I was just out of college. I always had panic attacks and ever since I was a kid, I was always nervous about odd things.”

Most of the women said they had a family history mood disorders, some that also involved depression and alcoholism. “When I started realize that I was maybe starting down a path towards the latter affliction, I realized I needed a better coping mechanism than drinking to deal with stress.” McElroy said.

Mental and health problems can be related to stress which affect your body as well as your behavior. Having sleep problems and insomnia, headaches, chest pain and other physical ailments can often be related to stress. Change in mood like lack of motivation, anger and anxiety are signs as well. It happens to everyone but finding ways that helps someone to cope with it can be trial-and-error.

Duncan said that she tried physical activities such as kickboxing and while she had success with it, baking is where her heart was. “Baking seems to be the thing that lasts the longest and feels more true to my personality,” she said. “As I am not competitive by nature and have never really been into sports or anything like that.”

Millie Warner was 32 when she was officially diagnosed with panic disorder, ptsd, social anxiety, general anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Warner said all of those run in her family and she tried different methods of relief before settling on baking. “I did yoga, prayer, meditation, hypnosis, different diets that eliminate sugars, processed foods, exercise, drinking green tea, eating more blueberries, change of scenery, vacations, professional talk therapy, breathing exercises. Baking is the most successful.”

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McElroy says that reading is her other go-to for stress, as well as running but baking is readily accessible for her. “My mom was a professional baker when I was a kid. So I grew up baking and love to have people eat what I have made.”

Baking is often seen as a nonverbal sign of communication, serving as a symbol emotions we may not be able to put into words, like bringing food to someone who has just experienced loss. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, says that baking can be “helpful for people who have difficulty expressing their feelings in words to show thanks, appreciation or sympathy with baked goods.”

Teasley says baking makes her feel “Busy, valued, and productive.”

“It avoids my stressors. Just taking a break on the couch wouldn’t feel as good as knowing, yeah, I’m not facing those emails right now but my family has muffins for the morning.” Teasley was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid. “Hyperthyroid moments which increases my heart rate,” Teasley said. “And makes me feel like I'm in fight or flight for no reason.”

Warner says “I will joke and say ‘The doctor told me to bake cookies.’  I also enjoy baking brownies, those are my go to desserts when I’m needing to start baking right away. I also play loud gangster rap music/hip hop as it somehow brings relief at the same time. It feels like they just go together. It was my therapist who suggested that I start baking more and now it has become my favorite stress relief. I can’t believe how my mood can change so dramatically just from baking.  I love that it keeps me focused and grounded.”

In this way, baking helps keeps thoughts centered, as recipes call for step-by-step directions, leaving no time to fester or “...spending time ruminating over your thoughts...that...leads to depression and sad thoughts,” Donna Pincus, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, told The Huffington Post. “And the nice thing about baking is that you have such a tangible reward at the end and that can feel very beneficial to others.”

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The women were happy to share their go-to recipes for anxiety baking.

Duncan: “My gateway recipe was for a pineapple upside down cake. Tempering chocolate really calms me because it requires focus, skill, and knowledge. Also, when a new recipe actually turns out... it makes you feel great, and you want to share your creation with others. And usually, they enjoy it too! So there is an aspect of sharing joy that also appears to me.”

Lerner: “It helps keep me in the moment, so my anxiety can plateau and drop off. It also grounds me. Plus, the smell of a fresh bake in the oven is always kind of nice.”

McElroy: “One of my favorite things to do is combine recipes so that the recipe is my own. My mom always says that all you have to do is tweak a recipe a tiny bit and then suddenly it's yours.With baking, I have accomplished a task. It is done. And the completion of that task is delicious. Usually.”

Teasley: “I work with what I have, and I usually have what I need for muffins and cookies.”

Warner: “When I’m baking and am dealing with anger it’s good to know that I can hit my spatula as hard as I want on the metal bowl, and I get to aggressively use muscle strength if I so choose.  I love the feeling of squeezing cookie dough batter in my hands. That’s where my hands should be rather than punching someone. Baking has saved my life, it’s a positive outlet, and this passion is my healing.”

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