I read a column the other day written by one of my favorite Internet authors. In it, a 33-year-old woman was asking the author for advice: She explained her husband is sick, her business is failing and she needs good friends now more than ever, but all of her friends kind of... suck. Yep, her friends aren't so great: They're super flaky and unable to give her the shoulder she needs to cry on at this stage in her life. They go days, weeks, even months without texting or calling her. They're self-involved ninkumpoops, too wrapped up in their own problems to pay attention to the problems of their dear friend with the sick husband.
I'd be lying if I told you I didn't have a similar problem. It's hard to find good friends these days. And because this millennial's friends don't reach out to her, she feels incredibly alone, both as a human and as a business owner. Her mental health is suffering, and so is the mental health of an entire generation.
Our Loneliness is Affecting Our Productivity
Most women talk about just how lonely of an endeavor it is to run a business: The hours are long, you mostly work from home while staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, and your human contact is limited to email upon email, most of which are likely written to people you’ll never meet. My friends, behold: the crippling anxiety induced by technology, AKA the best and worst thing that's ever happened to my generation.
While the advantages of being in control of your own business are clear—like seeing your own vision come to life, being your own boss and not having to answer to anyone (the latter being a perk we millennials all love)—the disadvantages aren’t spoken about as frequently.
For a business to succeed in today's day and age, it needs to be marketed the right way, which not only means churning out good content, but also posting that content on all social media platforms (both current and emerging), responding to comments on those platforms, and pretty much scrolling on your phone 'till your eyes feel like they’re about to pop out of their sockets.
The problem is excessive social media usage isn’t good for us; in fact, it makes us significantly unhappier. Studies show millennials are the most anxious generation, with women reporting higher levels of anxiety than men. What’s more is people of color scored an average of 11 points higher than non-people of color. Our anxiety is largely due to the way we use social—but we have to be overactive on it to achieve everything we want to achieve.
Studies show millennials are the most anxious generation, with women reporting higher levels of anxiety than men.
…But We Want to Be Really, Really Productive
My generation is overambitious. We want to succeed and build our own empires, but this overambition is knocking us on our butt. We’ve collectively fallen victim to a "perfectionist streak," which our parents and grandparents didn't really have to deal with.
See, because so many young people are doing their own thing, the digital market is oversaturated, which means there’s more competition. Thus, it’s harder for us to be seen and heard, and because of that, we’ve placed unrealistic demands on ourselves to outshine everyone else. Where does this leave us? Admirably overambitious, but isolated and anxious.
The other day, I was in the middle of editing an article when I began scrolling through Instagram. The reason I visited that particular Instagram account was to fact-check some information and nothing more, but within just a couple of minutes, I'd found myself deep in an Instagram vortex, clicking from one Instagram-model account to another’s.
At the end of my Insta-binge, I was left wondering how I wasted 30 minutes looking at other women’s bodies when my initial task was just to verify an account even existed. I noticed that within that 30-minute time frame, my mood had gone from productive, busy working bee to “My body sucks,” “Why don’t I look like that?” and "Should I have that many followers?"
These women, deemed “influencers,” have thousands and thousands of followers. They make the rest of us women feel bad about ourselves because they look “perfect” and well, they’ve “made it.” The problem is this: When millennial women start to believe they aren’t good enough, they’re left feeling miserable and unmotivated, and so begins the following cycle: trying to reach impossible professional standards -> using technology more -> losing real-life friends/support -> feeling depressed, isolated and anxious.
“My body sucks.” “Why don’t I look like that?” "Should I have that many followers?"
Unplug and Reach Out. Your Work Will Thank You.
All hope is not lost. There are ways to combat social media-induced anxiety. Like I said earlier, technology gives us the resources to build and market our own businesses to wide audiences in the first place. We need to get on board with tech and use it in moderation, in a way that doesn’t damage our mental health.
Firstly, we need to get better at telling each other it’s okay to reach out when you’re feeling lonely. I don’t mean “liking” your friend’s posts, but rather calling (yes, actually picking up the phone and calling) a friend.
Secondly, if you do work for someone else, it’s imperative to communicate your boundaries with your boss by disclosing any mental illness, rather than hiding it out of shame, so they can work with you, not against you. In order to communicate boundaries effectively, you’ve got to know your triggers and get a proper diagnosis. I bet a boss will give you more work-from-home days if you need them, if it means you'll be able to do your job better.
Thirdly, know when to unplug. Maybe even consider joining a mental health support group, so that you get the care and support you need when your friends are MIA and not responding to your texts because they’re too busy filtering the crap out of an Instagram post. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of nature: When you don’t get enough sun, your serotonin levels dip, which makes you less happy. Make sure you’re balancing all that computer bluelight with the natural light of the sun by making time during your workday to get out and move your body. Trust me, your mind will thank you.
Sure, we won’t feel good unless we create good work. But we also can’t create good work without making sure we feel good first. At the end of the day, your boss, coworkers and friends can help you and work around your struggles, but that can't happen until you know your limits and respect them.
After all, if you don't treat your mental health with the utmost respect, who will?