Sometimes, the future can appear bleak – especially for young people with many decades of uncertainty ahead. Unlike previous generations, Generation Z (those born 1997 – 2012) have grown up constantly exposed to negative information and fake news as part of their normal.
I grew up with a smartphone. I’ve been consistently bombarded with sensationalised headlines about social inequalities, housing crises, environmental catastrophes, and political extremism.
With the current uncertainty, and not entirely unreasonable sense of doom, it can be difficult to even get out of bed each day and work towards a future that we’re not overly convinced we will have.
Here is some key reasoning behind “Gen Z Dread” – how you can support your children with these feelings, and strategies young people can utilise to combat the dread I had.
What do we dread?
In a global study of young people, 56% of those surveyed stated they believe that humanity is doomed. This might seem extreme, or overly dramatic in a typical adolescent sense. But these beliefs, while unhelpful, are not unfounded. Many intelligent people around the world have stated that time is running out for us to address climate change; others say it is already too late. It is difficult to listen to politician’s reassurance, when they deny the need to act whilst profiting from inaction, over scientists who have studied environmental science intensively. This is the main reason for eco-anxiety: it is not an unsubstantiated belief.
Additionally, research indicates that Gen Z are more socially conscious than previous generations. When you combine this with relentless exposure to sensationalised news, it is difficult to believe that the world is a good place. It is not unfounded to feel powerless, overwhelmed, and like it is necessary to expect the worst.
How to support young people
Primarily, try to understand. Being scoffed at for being “dramatic” or “overly sensitive” is invalidates feelings and is extremely unhelpful. It teaches young people not to talk through their difficult thoughts and feelings, potentially contributing to mental illnesses. Even if you cannot understand why many young people are so pessimistic, realise that the feelings are very real to them – and distressing. Validate the emotion by saying things such as, “that must be really difficult for you” and support them to cope by asking, “How can I help you to cope?”
I have struggled with this dread for most of my life. In recent years, I have been able to move forward with it by changing the way I think about these beliefs. It felt awkward to challenge and change my thinking patterns at first, but it became less so over time until it became habit. Here are some of the ways I reframe my thoughts about the future to be more adaptive and less distressing – without denying the world’s problems:
- Firstly, I ask myself, “is this thought helpful?”
If making myself miserable could improve the world or the future for myself or others, it could be worth it, but all it does it make me suffer in the present. I therefore conclude that there is no positive outcome to my rumination.
- Secondly, I work on acceptance.
Accepting the negatives does not mean admitting defeat, but seeing reality as it is. Once acceptance is mastered, it makes space for change and improvement.
- Thirdly, I pick my battles!
I wanted to save the world when I was younger. However, it is impossibly draining and unfeasible to try to solve every problem. I began feeling less powerless when I made the decision to work towards one problem. For me, this was mental health. If everyone chose a cause they were particularly passionate about and worked towards improving it in any small way, the world would be a better place. That belief gets motivates me to live through the uncertainty.
Additionally, there are many free Cognitive Behavioural Therapy resources that can help you to challenge these thoughts and adapt healthier thinking patterns.
To summarise – we can’t change the reality of the world, but we can change the way we think about it, and how much we let those thoughts affect our lives.
Our guest blogger:
Huge thanks to our Ambassador and Assistant psychologist Lucy for writing this topical blog.
If you are struggling to cope with your mental health in general, please talk to your GP. You can also check out dorsetmindyourhead.co.uk for mental health resources and support services for young people 11 upwards.