What Americans Are Worrying About Right Now, From the Silent Generation to Gen Z

drawing of people worrying about various global issues

Verywell / Josh Seong

For the October edition of the Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker, Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief discusses the current outlook Americans have about the future, and how feelings about various issues are broken down by generation.

It’s hardly a surprise that we are, as a nation, worrying about the future. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has hit us hard, affecting everything from mental health to finances. It's completely natural to wonder, "What's going to happen next?"

According to Verywell Mind’s latest Mental Health Tracker survey, 40% of Americans say they have worried about the future multiple times a week over the last month. And 36% say they’re currently more worried about the future than they normally would be.

During times of uncertainty, people often feel anxious. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed so many questions about the future of work, the state of the economy, and ongoing health risks. All that uncertainty makes it difficult to plan—and we're realizing that the plans we do make may not work if things change.

Younger Americans Worry the Most

Millennials are more worried about the future than any other age group at 40%. This generation grew up learning about the American dream and watching older generations follow traditional retirement plans. But clearly, the world is changing. Millennials are less likely to have a nest egg—if any savings at all—and they may be wondering where to put their money or how to save. Millenials hold just 4.6% of US wealth compared to 53% held by Boomers. Plus, skyrocketing real estate prices may also be discouraging them.

Additionally, Millennials are still young enough to be significantly impacted by climate change as they age, and if they have young children, that anxiety only increases.

Meanwhile, less than a third of the Silent Generation are more worried about the future than normal, at 26%. Could this be because they’ve lived through wars, natural disasters, economic downturns, and political turmoil? They're certainly most likely to have survived a great deal of hardship, so perhaps they've been less fazed by the pandemic—at least those who did not personally contract COVID-19. The Silent Generation is also likely to be more financially secure and less affected by changes in the economy.

Nearly half of Americans (48%) feel they worry about the future more than their grandparents did at their current age. By comparison, 31% say they worry about the same amount and 21% say they worry less than their grandparents did.

Most Americans are worried about the near-term future, with 60% saying they’re most worried about the next 5 years, and the next 1-3 years in particular.

Different Age Groups, Different Concerns

Generally, it’s financial and political instability and the possibility of future pandemics keeping us awake at night. But worries do vary by generation. Gen Z is the most worried about global warming at 38%, followed by the Silent generation at 34%. For Gen X, the main worry is financial instability/crisis. It seems reasonable to link this to the 2008 recession, which hit this generation particularly hard.

The biggest age skew for future concerns was political instability. 34% of the Gen X generation are worried about political instability, and it's an even bigger concern for Boomers (49%) and the Silent Generation (54%).

This could be explained by the fact that "digital natives" (Millennials and Gen Z) have come of age in a time of targeted media echo chambers so they may be less sensitized to the increased polarity in American politics. Alternately, they might not be worried because think they don't see the American political system as functional, and thus don't think they have much to lose.

The older generations who have seen political instability in the past are likely concerned about our divided country. They may be seeing how families are fighting and friendships are ending across generations. Large-scale changes in the status quo— especially as public opinion grows increasingly progressive—can also be particularly intense for older individuals.

Tackling Worries About the Future

Gen Z and millennials are most worried about negatively impacting the future of the world (32% and 29%, respectively).

Younger people likely have less money and fewer resources to create the change they want to make. They might find they can't address the environmental issues they want because they don't have time or money. They may also worry that they have to take certain jobs out of necessity as opposed to taking the jobs that they think would really make a difference.

Still, lots of us aren’t giving up hope of brighter days ahead. While 34% of Americans say they’re fearful about the future of the world, 47% of Americans express more feelings of hope than fear about the world’s future. Millennials are most hopeful about the future (59%), with Gen X at 44% and Gen Z and Boomers tied at 41%.

How to Stop Worrying About the Future

It’s reassuring to know that 65% of Americans believe it’s important for them to take care of their mental health. Our survey found that almost as many (61%) say they’ve taken steps to take care of their mental health at least once a week over the last month. Still, we can always do better—only 43% think they’re doing a good job of taking care of their mental health, and 15% say they’re not doing a good job at all.

Taking steps to stop worrying about the future can help you feel in control of your mental health in general. But that doesn't mean a total embargo on worrying or beating yourself up if you do find yourself panicking about what the future holds.

In fact, the opposite approach is likely to be more productive. So make time in your schedule to worry. Set aside 15 minutes every day to worry about anything you want, and when you find yourself worrying outside of that prescribed time, remind yourself it's not time to worry yet. With practice, you can learn to contain unproductive worrying to just 15 minutes of your day.


At the same time, learn how to differentiate between worrying and problem-solving. It's helpful to work toward a goal so if you're thinking about how to overcome an obstacle or how to manage your situation, keep thinking. But if you find yourself replaying unpleasant events in your mind over and over again or you worry about things outside of your control, that's not unproductive. Distract yourself with a healthy activity, like listening to positive music or going for a walk, to change the channel in your brain.

Instead of denying how you're feeling, acknowledge it—whether you'd call your emotion anxiety or refer to it as sadness, giving that worry a name can help your brain make sense of what's going on. And when you are in those real moments of worry, practice relaxation exercises. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness can calm your body and your brain.

Finally, focus on what you can control. Whether you establish a clear routine to stick to or you work on organizing your house, focusing on things you can control will help you manage your emotions when there are things outside of your control.

Methodology

The Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker is a monthly measurement of Americans’ attitudes and behaviors around their mental health. The survey is fielded online, beginning April 28, 2021, to 4,000 adults living in the U.S. The total sample matches U.S. Census estimates for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and region.

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  1. CNBC News. Millennials Own Less Than 5% of all U.S. Wealth. Published October 9, 2020