High school English teacher Julia Arbuckle remembers the anxiety she felt when she was a student at the University of Toronto. “I was stressed because I was doing an arts degree,” she says, “and I thought, ‘How am I going to make it in life?’” Arbuckle, 36, who has been teaching yoga as part of U of T’s Art of Living Course for the past nine years, feels that everything worked out in the end and considers herself lucky to have a job.

Now, over a decade after Arbuckle graduated from university, there are even more reasons to stress over that ubiquitous arts degree. Perhaps Generation Y, defined as those currently between the ages of 18 and 33, should be called Generation Anxious because of their constant worrying over unemployment. Health experts warn that stress driven by an uncertain economic future, not to mention the incessant technology and wired lifestyles of twentysomethings, is problematic for this generation’s mental health.

According to a 2013 TD Canada Trust study, 30 per cent of Generation Y — also called millennials — struggle to support themselves on their low salaries, 44 per cent find it difficult to pay for education, and 38 percent are bogged down with loan repayments.

No wonder more than half of young adults these days live at home. A 2011 Stats Can survey found that 51 per cent of twentysomethings still live with their parents, while a SunLife Financial study from last year shows 90 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 feel “overwhelmed” and experience “excessive stress.” The third annual Sun Life Canadian Health Index showed that feeling anxious about employment has a direct connection to one’s health.

The anxiety is often related to work. Many Canadians say they are “underutilized” in the job market, 39 per cent being young Canadians.

Anxiety is "characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure,” according to the American Psychological Association.

There are health risks to emotional distress, even if someone doesn’t have a full-blown anxiety disorder. Toronto-based therapist Johanna Beyers says anxiety “occurs on a continuum, from normal levels to problematic states such as panic and phobias” and that if someone feels they cannot function properly and are constantly worrying and obsessively thinking about something, that is anxiety, and it can affect the immune system.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Katy Kamkar of CBT Associates agrees that anxiety and depression can be a barrier to one’s health and interfere with the desire to go to school and accomplish goals.

So, what causes anxiety? “Overstimulation” and “unresolved trauma” are some possible triggers, says Toronto psychotherapist Mike Hynes.


Beyers says anxiety begins even earlier in the infant state when a baby needs their mother to comfort them, a process called “attachment” which helps the baby develop an “ego” which helps them manage anxiety and stress. Beyers believes that one’s twenties are “a challenging, stress-provoking period, when people set out to create their own life. Most change is likely to cause anxiety because it involves a loss of the old.”

Worrying about paying university tuition and the fact that many young adults are living at home longer are both causes for stress, says Kamkar.

As she explains, “Decades ago, people would go to university and it would be rather certain that people would be offered a job after graduating. Unfortunately, this is now less and less the case as there is less and less certainty about the future. Now after people graduate, there is not always a guarantee that they can find work relevant to what they studied.”

As an American studying English at the University of Toronto, 20-year-old Lily Rigling worries about being able to remain in Toronto. When asked if she feels anxious often, she says, “Definitely. We all do.”

“I’m really jealous of the freedom that I perceive Canadians have,” Rigling says. “School is not as expensive here.”

Rigling, who’s from Middletown, CT, says her biggest stress is immigration issues, as her student VISA will expire after graduation, and she wants to become a permanent resident so she can attend graduate school in Toronto, possibly for journalism.

Rigling says that finishing university without a plan and moving back home is common in Canada, from what she observes with her peers, “but no one has ever done that where I grew up. I watch Girls [HBO show about struggling twentysomethings in New York City] because I’m sure that’s what my future will be like.”

Rigling’s story shows that anxiety can lead to serious health problems: she spent most of her second year in the hospital after developing a stress-induced gastrointestinal disorder. Additionally, Rigling fainted one evening in her apartment in February from blood loss and had to be hospitalized for a tear in her small intestine. She is currently making up a credit during summer school so she can still graduate on time.

What makes Rigling feel better is doing “extensive research.” She says, “It calms me to know things. I want to go to grad school so I will have to take a year off and do skilled labour before being able to apply.”

Story continues below slideshow:

Loading Slideshow...
  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    2% rank the decriminalization of marijuana as No. 1 or 2.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    5% of millennials rank internet regulation and online privacy as one of their top two issues.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    7% rank bullying as the first or second biggest challenge.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    8% of millennials rank retirement security No. 1 or 2.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    11% of millennials say access to quality health care is one of the generation's top two challenges

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    20% of millennials rank pollution and environmental protection as No. 1 or 2 of the biggest challenges faced by this generation.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    20% say affordable housing is in the top two.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    24% of millennials peg the cost of education as their first or second choice for the generation's biggest challenge.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    27% say the cost of food, gas and consumer goods are in the top two.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    32% of millennials chose "student debt and personal debt" as the first or second biggest challenge.

  • What defines a good citizen?

    We asked 1,004 millennials between the ages of 18-30 what it takes to be a good Canadian citizen.

  • What defines a good citizen?

    15% of millennials say it takes being active in political parties...

  • What defines a good citizen?

    28% of millennials say donating money to charity makes a good citizen..

  • What defines a good citizen?

    35% of millennials say that being active in social organizations is important to citizenship..

  • What defines a good citizen?

    63% of millennials say being informed about current events is important..

  • What defines a good citizen?

    64% of millennials say being able to fluently speak one official language is important..

  • What defines a good citizen?

    74% of millennials say a good citizen is someone who always votes in elections.

  • What defines a good citizen?

    81% of millennials say good citizens honestly pay their taxes.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    43% of millennials rank the availability of quality jobs as their first or second choice.

  • Health Challenges

    We asked 1,004 Canadian millennials what were their generation's biggest health challenges

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    3% say pollution

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    4% say sexually transmitted infections

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    7% say disease

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    11% say poor nutrition

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    16% say obesity

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    17% say addiction

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    19% say mental health

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    26% say lack of physical activity

  • Relationship status

    Some views from 1,004 Canadian millennials on marriage and family..

  • Relationship status

    18% of millennials are in a common law relationship

  • Relationship status

    66% of millennials are single

  • Relationship status

    15% of millennials are married

  • Do you ever want to get married?

    63% of unmarried millennials say <strong>yes</strong> 13% say <strong>no</strong> 24% say they are <strong>unsure</strong>

  • Do you ever want to get married?

    65% of <strong>unmarried women</strong> say <strong>yes</strong> 13% say <strong>no</strong> 22% say they are <strong>unsure</strong>

  • Do you ever want to get married?

    61% of <strong>unmarried men</strong> say <strong>yes</strong> 13% say <strong>no</strong> 26% say they are <strong>unsure</strong>

  • Is marriage an outdated institution?

    33% agree 67% disagree

  • Do you have children?

    12% of millennials surveyed have children 88% do not

  • Do you want to have children at some point?

    64% of millennials say yes 12% say no 24% are unsure

  • More On Millennials

    Huffington Post Canada's series on millennials, Asking Y. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/generation-y" target=blank>Visit it here</a>.


Brandon Bailey’s future is definitely bright, as the 23-year-old was accepted to several law schools in Canada and the United States, including Harvard. He is headed there in the fall, and wonders about the biggest issue that he sees facing law students: how to pay back those loans.

“It kind of sucks for our age group,” he says, calling loan repayment “a rampant problem with law school.”

Bailey sees what he calls “credential inflation” as the biggest difference between Generation Y and their parents’ generation – that a bachelor’s degree is often not enough, and sometimes even a master’s degree will not result in a job.

He says Generation Y has something unique: “It is a lot easier to do things in this generation. Before, without internet, high school was probably harder and more work. The problem with our generation is that it’s taking more time to get to the same place. You’re hitting the ground running when you’re 24, not 21, and you have debt. So you start out already in debt, which is a problem that didn’t exist in the previous generation.”

Perhaps spending more years in school is another unique feature of Generation Y. “I know people who turned down a one-year master’s for three-year master’s because they are hoping there will be jobs then,” Bailey says.


But the most unique feature of Gen Y is the technological advances, a possible trigger for anxiety when one’s twenties are already a difficult time.

“One pressure that may be affecting this generation more than previous ones is the near-complete shift to digital technologies,” says Beyers. “As [Canadian physicist] Ursula Franklin has argued, they direct how people interact with their environment. Computers do not have a human rhythm, and so something profound is changing in how people experience themselves and one another.”

For Victoria Gallant, a 23-year-old dreaming of working as a television writer, Facebook is an addiction: “It’s really weird because I know I have a problem because I’ll have two Facebook tabs open at the same time on my computer,” she says, adding that the website is her first stop when she goes online.

Feeling pressured has been part of Gallant’s daily life that includes occasional visits to the gym, spending hours on Facebook, and working at a bakery – a job that she finally was able to quit recently after landing two television jobs as a production coordinator and assistant.

However, it was a long, stressful road to get there that included applying for almost one hundred jobs since last April.

“I just want to know I will have money and own a home,” she says. “We were encouraged to go to university and follow our dreams. I see so many people lost and adrift, relying on their parents for money. I know so many people in the same situation as me that it’s comforting but also terrifying.”


Toronto-based yoga teacher Joshua Lewis believes that expecting one’s life to look a certain way can create unhappiness. “Quite often we believe that a state of emotional balance is dependent on the personal circumstances of our lives following a fixed belief of what is ‘good’ and avoiding what is ‘bad’ – conforming to the picture in our head of how things ‘need to be’ to feel happy, grounded and secure,” says Lewis. “The reality is that life rarely conforms to this fixed idea and is always changing – often toward the things we see as the opposite to what is ‘good’.”

Lewis calls anxiety a “complete mind and body experience” and says that yoga’s focus on breathing and moving can help lessen anxiety’s effects. He questions why we think living a lifestyle of constant multitasking is the only way to live. He believes that one’s twenties “can come with an overwhelming sense of anxiety as we seek to make our mark and define who we are – stepping out of childhood and into adulthood.” He suggests taking action toward the external world: “There’s a saying ‘you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf’.”

Meanwhile, holistic healing practitioner Syma Kharal says that anxiety is a two-step process that involves “negative thoughts” first and “negative emotions” second. Kharal suggests “Mindfulness Meditation” — breathing and identifying one’s thoughts without judgment. She suggests that although we can’t change the job market, we can change our thought patterns and attitude.

“When a room is full of junk you have no room to put something beautiful in it,” says Kharal. “Anxiety is like a bully inside your mind. If you say ‘I want a cheerleader in there’ that can only come by observing the thoughts and being open to solutions.”

This feature was produced by Aya Tsintziras, a student in Ryerson University's School of Journalism, in partnership with The Huffington Post Canada.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Talk It Out

    Talking to a close family or friend was the most popular way to deal with stress in the survey, and this social support is a tried-and-true stress-buster, experts say. Not only is it comforting, a strong social network may actually <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/" target="_blank">ward off mental illness on a genetic level</a>, according to a 2007 review. Talking to someone who can sympathize can also help normalize the stressful experiences, says Bourdeau. "Someone who is able to say, 'I've experienced that too' can make stress more manageable," she tells HuffPost. Plus, just hearing yourself talk through what's bothering you helps begin the problem-solving process, she says. Just make sure to <a href="http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/manage-stress.aspx" target="_blank">talk to the right person</a>, writes the American Psychological Association. If you're stressed about a family matter at the moment, calling home may not be the best solution.

  • Take A Deep Breath

    Breathing deeply <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/29/sleep-stress-bedtime-breathing-video-lisa-belkin_n_3180521.html" target="_blank">might sound trivial in the face of the greater challenges of the day</a>, but there's a reason 55 percent of survey respondents say it's how they handle stress. A few deep breaths tell your body that it's time to chill out. "It's physiologically impossible to be both stressed and relaxed at the same time," says J. Kip Matthews, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Athens, Georgia, and vice president of AK Counseling & Consulting, Inc. Deep breathing induces the body's physiological relaxation response -- the heart rate will slow, the blood pressure will drop -- which overrides the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/19/body-stress-response_n_2902073.html" target="_blank">fight-or-flight stress response</a> you'd been experiencing before. As the brain realizes this calming response is kicking in, it becomes increasingly easier to relax, he says.

  • Turn on The Tube

    Fifty-four percent of stressed-out people said they watch TV or a movie at home to deal. Both can certainly act as a break from paying the bills or a big work project and help you decompress. "Sometimes life presents stresses we can't do anything about," says Haight, "but we <em>can</em> provide distraction from it for ourselves." However, says Bourdeau, TV time may encourage you to completely <em>avoid</em> what's stressing you. A few minutes of your favorite show <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/31/procrastination-productivity_n_2584774.html" target="_blank">can quickly become an entire episode</a>, which, before you know it, suddenly becomes two, and you're up against your work deadline. "Everything in moderation really needs to be applied here," says Matthews. Plus, if your show or movie of choice falls into a stressful genre, like crime, you may find your mind further agitated and overstimulated, says Bourdeau, leaving you only with <em>more</em> difficulty relaxing.

  • Snooze

    Taking a nap or sleeping in general earned a nod from 53 percent of people. Catching a few winks <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/31/procrastination-productivity_n_2584774.html" target="_blank">may provide a better mental check out than some time in front of the TV</a>. Nappers -- when they stick to just 20 or 30 minutes of shut-eye -- awaken feeling <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/11/nap-benefits-national-napping-day_n_2830952.html" target="_blank">more alert, creative and productive</a>. "A 20-minute break in the day can reset your outlook for the day," says Haight. However, if you're already experiencing difficult falling or staying asleep at night, it's best to skip a nap in favor of another stress-busting tactic, says Bourdeau.

  • Lose The Crowd

    It's not surprising given the pressure and stress we can feel in the presence of a large group of people that many of us feel taking some time alone is a good way to handle stress. "When we're around other people, we're getting more information and more stimulation," says Matthews. "Some down time can [help you] recharge for a bit." However, if down time leaves you more likely to ruminate on what's bothering you, you might want to try a solitary relaxing activity like exercising, playing an instrument or writing, says Bourdeau. "Alone time spent with meditation, positive thinking, self-validation and positive coping thoughts can be a really helpful way to get away from the negativity," says Bourdeau. Alone time might also take the form of some of the other answers on the list, like taking a bath, getting a massage or even meditating, which, while only recommended by 13 percent of people, has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/mindfulness-meditation-benefits-health_n_3016045.html" target="_blank">known relaxation benefits</a>. Even just <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/easy-stress-relief-5-ways_n_3017084.html#slide=2300229" target="_blank">a few mindful minutes can make a big difference</a>.

  • Listen To Music

    Anyone who has popped in headphones on a crowded subway car knows that music is a great way to steal a few minutes of alone time, but the 53 percent of people who say they try this to deal with stress are onto another benefit. Listening to music is generally <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/music-and-health-11-ways-body-mind_n_1413241.html#slide=854657" target="_blank">associated with more positive feelings</a> -- as long as it's music you like! "I'll have my patients make a playlist of songs that put them in a positive mood where they feel like [after listening], everything's more manageable," says Bourdeau. It's not one-size-fits-all, however. It may take some discovery to narrow in on the type of music that works best for you, says Matthews.

  • Break A Sweat

    Is there anything exercise doesn't help?! Forty six percent of people say they work out to deal with stress, and there's research to back up that move. Thanks to those feel-good endorphins released when you break a sweat, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/stress-relief-tools-old-fashioned-remedies_n_3022241.html" target="_blank">exercising is a guaranteed stress-buster</a>, even if you only get a few minutes in. It's also a way to take back the reins, says Haight. For the duration of your workout, <em>you</em> are in control, even if the stressors around you are threatening to take over, she says. Surprisingly, only 8 percent of people say they do yoga when they're stressed, despite the practice's calming reputation. But whatever your preferred method of breaking a sweat, "it's a great way to take that negative energy and channel it into something you can feel good about," says Bourdeau.

  • Have A Snack

    The 46 percent of people who say they eat to deal with stress have to be careful. There <em>are</em> a few <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/05/healthy-food-fight-stress_n_2617644.html" target="_blank">foods known for their natural stress-reducing powers</a>, like leafy greens and oatmeal, but we're more often reaching for <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200311/stress-and-eating" target="_blank">rich, fatty, sweet foods when we're stressed</a> -- it's part of the body's attempt to protect us from danger, according to Psychology Today. Those carbohydrate-laden sweets trigger a release of serotonin in the brain that makes us feel better in the short term, says Matthews, but reaching for the cookies too often can mean trouble. "People who are [stress eating] in general don't feel positive when they're done eating," says Bourdeau. Luckily, a few simple mindfulness tricks can help turn that stress snacking around. Try being <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/12/huffpost-stress-less-chal_n_3072795.html" target="_blank">thankful for your food</a>, or at least thinking about what you're eating while you're eating it and what it's doing for your body, says Bourdeau. Other tricks may help you break the food-as-comfort cycle for good, says Haight. "Instead of getting a Snickers bar from the vending machine, take a walk around the block first," she says. "Then decide if you still want that Snickers bar."

  • Go For A Stroll

    The 41 percent of people who said they <a href="http://www.wholeliving.com/133849/walking-stress-relief" target="_blank">take a walk to relax</a> benefit from a form of feel-good exercise, even though you don't have to walk briskly to reap relaxation benefits. But taking a walk can also provide some time alone and (hopefully!) some time in nature, too. Spending some time being active outside has been shown to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23467965" target="_blank">wash away feelings of frustration</a> and over-stimulation. And don't be surprised if at the end of your walk you've come up with the solution to what was bugging you. "Stepping out of a situation and giving yourself time to think things over in a physical way can really clear your head and get your creative juices flower so that you can problem solve a little bit better," says Haight.

  • Watch A Funny Video

    Laughter really is good medicine, at least when it comes to stress. The 34 percent of people who say they watch a funny video to de-stress not only reap the relaxing benefits of a good laugh, but also avoid the downward spiral of a too-long break like a TV marathon or an entire movie. A good laugh releases those same feel-good endorphins as exercise, and also <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034" target="_blank">improves circulation and muscle relaxation</a>, according to the Mayo Clinic. "We hold a lot of stress in our faces," says Matthews, "so anything you can do to change that grimaced look can relieve that tension."

  • Get Away

    "Imagine I'm somewhere else" is a tactic utilized by 31 percent of people. The power of the mind to escape stress shouldn't be underestimated. Imagining yourself in a more relaxing setting, say in a hammock on a beach, can help you focus solely on relaxation, says Bourdeau. The goal of this type of visual imagery practice (essentially a form of meditation, although survey respondents may not have identified it as such) is to then bring that vacation feeling back to your real life stress. You're even likely to feel physical changes from this "mental vacation," says Matthews. When stressed, the blood flows to larger muscles that, in the face of real danger, would help us run away, often leaving hands and feet feeling cold and clammy, he says. If you imagine yourself sitting on a warm beach with your feet in the sand, you'll find the blood is soon redirected and warming up your extremities, creating that relaxation response that overrides stress.

  • Shop

    Hopefully the 30 percent of people who say they shop to handle stress have budgeted the cash for such an excursion. "Finances are a big source of stress right now, and something [many people] feel is out of their control," says Matthews. Shopping might feel to some like one way to exercise control over money, but if you're spending beyond your budget, shopping will likely only make your worries grow, warns Bourdeau. Also, believing that shopping will lower your stress means you're looking for a solution outside of yourself to make you feel better, she says. Instead, she suggests thinking, "How can <em>I</em> make myself feel better, inside and out?"

  • Find A Furry Friend

    Playing with a pet is a go-to stress reducer for 27 percent of people. Fido and Fluffy are a different kind of social support, but still a valuable network. "Who else greets us so affectionately when we walk through the door?" says Matthews. Research shows that owning a pet lowers levels of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/adrenaline-cortisol-stress-hormones_n_3112800.html" target="_blank">stress hormones</a>, possibly due to an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/pets-stress_b_3077521.html" target="_blank">increase in oxytocin</a>, the hormone commonly cited for its role in love and bonding. Plus, if you <em>have</em> to take Fido for a walk, not only will you feel good by staying active, you might benefit from the feeling of doing something nice for someone else, says Bourdeau. "They don't talk back, they don't invalidate you, they just want attention and love and affection and they give it back in return," she says.

  • Sip Tea

    Nearly a quarter of people said they pour themselves a mug of tea to deal with stress. The act of making, pouring and drinking the tea may simply be a relaxing and solitary ritual that you establish as part of your relaxation routine, says Haight, or it might be something unique to tea responsible for its calming effects. A 2006 study found that black tea drinkers were less stressed in general and could relax faster when they <em>were</em> stressed than people given a tea substitute. And green tea boasts a particular <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/05/healthy-food-fight-stress_n_2617644.html" target="_blank">amino acid suggested to lower anxiety</a>. However, too much caffeine may only exacerbate a racing heart or nervous jitters, warns Matthews. "We need to avoid anything that's going to compound anxiety," he says.

  • Drink Alcohol

    Interestingly, the same number of people who say they turn to tea say they turn to alcohol to lower stress. But what many think will be a relaxing nightcap actually <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2266962/" target="_blank">stimulates production of the stress hormone cortisol</a>, creating a cycle of <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110715163216.htm" target="_blank">feeling stress, wanting to drink and then wanting to drink more</a>. "If you're using alcohol to de-stress, you need to be cautious," says Bourdeau. "You don't feel in control of your relaxation, and can easily drink to excess." Farther down the list were some similarly risky behaviors, including going out to clubs or bars, smoking cigarettes and using marijuana. Although fewer people say these are methods they use to deal with anxiety, the experts stress the importance of avoiding behaviors like these. "These are only short-term at best," says Haight. When the effects of alcohol, nicotine or marijuana wear off, your sources of stress will still remain, she says. "It's like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound."

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