In early June, NPR called self-care a “millennial obsession,” and rightly so. Research shows that newer generations are more self-involved. They plan times for themselves, surrounding themselves with empowering messages, be it on social media or relationships. Most importantly, Millennials are not afraid to step out of the box.

In the article, NPR highlights a shift in narrative. One’s relationship with the community is no longer dependent on compliance- its non-compliance that gets you exposure. Millennials are individualistic. Success in society is dependent on self-management. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, director of Clark Poll of Emerging Adults finds is a 2014 study that adulthood, the state of active social involvement, is no longer based on procreation and family management, but of “accepting responsibility for self, financial independence and making independent decisions.” Arnett describes the 20’s as a “self-focused time in life… [with] fewer social rules and obligations”. [1]

In a world of dichotomies, millennials use the control-less world of internet to manage their external inputs. They use mass exposure to drive inspiration for individualizing their characters. The internet’s breakdown of distances and lack of social expectations empower millennials like no other generation.  It’s impossible to deny the stress of finding a job and starting a future, but with one can say each millennial is given a blank canvas with no borders, no bounds, and no limitation- anything is possible.

Although turning inward in reflection has been a millennial strength, lack of interdependence can have a negative toll. The growing use of the internet has empowered millennials to redefine their social lives- make it broader in context, but limited in physical interaction. Humans are social creatures. We are built to rely on each other. Whether we admit it or not, compliments make us happy, and criticism makes us question ourselves.

What one aspect of social interaction severely lacks in millennial life is physical touch. Research shows that emotional touch has a wide array of health effects. Touch can boost the immune system. In a study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, participants with “social support and hugging” had a 32% reduced illness time as opposed to those that lacked touch exposure[2]. Other studies link touch to reduced blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and increased secretion of endorphins which reduce pain sensation and uplift one emotionally. Despite having a quantifiably higher number of associations, millennials lack quality human interactions.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports all-time highs in depression. The New York Post called millennials that most depressed generation[3]. Although the liberties of a blank canvas are exciting to some, for many, it can be scary. Having lived almost two centuries under constant parental guidance, many millennials are not adept in maneuvering in the outside world. Clark Poll of Emerging Adults reports not only a change in the definition of adulthood but also a time shift. Many Millennials do not see themselves as “adults” until later in their 20’s. Many young adults are choosing to move back home with their parents after college, and that may very well be due to the lack of “real world training.”

Study into the shift in social dynamics can provide insight into better and more modern forms of communication. Millennials have the courage to push past traditional norms, but they lack experience. The fact is neither the lifestyle of Millennials nor older generations holistically better.

Perhaps success comes with embracing the “social” human nature- working together to build collective understanding, courage, and experience.

[1] http://www.npr.org/2014/10/14/352979540/getting-some-me-time-why-millennials-are-so-individualistic

[2] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614559284

[3] http://nypost.com/2017/02/14/millennials-are-more-depressed-at-work-than-any-generation/

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With a dual degree in Neuroscience and Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Zahraa's studies focus on the intersection between conflict and human cognition. Her interests include developmental trauma, politics, and human rights.

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