It's kind of confusing. Do millennials have more health problems than their parents, or is the information age just magnifying everything? Whether or not the actual number of conditions facing this generation is rising,
millennial health issues are objectively different than any other generations.'
No, being a millennial doesn't mean you're susceptible to diseases while people of other ages are impervious to them. But it does mean that the different circumstances of your life and upbringing might be
impacting your physical and mental health. Things that people born before the '80s and '90s didn't experience growing up have become defining issues for the wellbeing of this generation. Conditions like continual blue light exposure, constant access to information, and school and work that takes place solely at computer screens create a unique circumstance for the health of a generation.
"When [millennial's] parents were their same age, they were not having anywhere near the same health concerns,"
Mariea Snell, DNP, Associate Professor and Faculty-Coordinator of the Nursing Program at Maryville University, tells Bustle. "[Millennial] concerns are really mirroring that of a middle-aged person or older.”
Mental health, too, is changing. “The environmental factors that influence mental health in millennials are different from their parent’s generation," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of
The Web Radio show, tells Bustle. "While the same core factors exist — family, divorce, parenting practices, trauma - there is an overlay of information, technology and knowledge access that has created a generational 'stressor.'" This means an influx of anxiety and depression diagnoses.
Of course, not all hope is lost, and there are plenty of things millennials can do to look after their health, but the first is being aware of these seven potential health risks their generation is facing more than others'.
If you're a millennial, you probably heeded a warning or two about not sitting too close to the TV screen. But now, thanks to your smart phone, the world of entertainment is just inches away. And your eyes might not be loving it.
"In the past 10 years our dependence on digital devices has grown," Dr. Jennifer Lyerly, OD,
Transitions Brand Ambassador, tells Bustle. "Exposure to harmful blue light and overuse of devices is especially problematic in young children. As we age the lens in our eye slowly yellows. The yellow pigment filters out blue light and our overall level of exposure is less. Young children have an incredibly clear lens which means more blue light enters the visual system. With children interacting with technology much earlier than our parents, these vision conditions are apt to occur earlier and require protection early on."
There are some intense statistics about just how exposed this generation is to
damaging blue light. " Nearly two in five millennials spend more than nine hours a day using digital devices and nearly 90 percent of Americans as a whole use digital devices for two or more hours each day," Dr. Lyerly says. "This is an extremely large amount of time in front of a screen and something our parents didn’t have to worry about in their twenties and thirties."
The constant exposure can make your eyes quite fragile. "Prevention is the best line of defense," says Dr. Lyerly. The best solution? Try to reduce your screen time, and consider
giving blue-light glasses a try. And if you are still experiencing issues, tell your doctor, and they will help you find a solution.
All the talk in the world about
how bad sitting is for you won't solve the fact that you work over 40 hours a week at a job that requires you to stay put at your desk. But paying attention to the signals your body is giving you is still important.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of neck pain, because when you’re sitting, looking at your computer screen all day long, you’re not getting up and moving and you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to recover from that same position," Dr. Snell says. "If anybody sat in the same position for an extended period of time, we’d start to hurt."
The neck pain is largely due to the way millennials are hanging their head over their computer for hours every day. "These sorts of joint concerns that we would normally see in a much older person, we’re seeing in younger people due to the sedentary lifestyle that a lot of younger folks have by nature of their work ... and it's causing a lot of physical pain," Dr. Snell says. Try walking around once every hour, Dr. Snell suggests, or
try some office yoga.
Screens aren't just making our eyes more sensitive, says Dr. Lyerly, they're making them tired and pained, too.
"When it comes to defining digital eye strain, think of the eyes like any muscle — with constant use or overuse, they can fatigue, too," Dr. Lyerly says. "You have six muscles that move each eye, and one muscle that focuses it.
Studies show 68 percent of millennials experience digital eye strain, with symptoms ranging from headaches, to pain behind the eyes, sensitivity to light, and even a feeling of generalized fatigue," Dr. Lyerly says. So turn Twitter on night mode (or go for a nice walk) and forgive yourself for the headaches, OK?
Did you know that popping an Ibuprofen could later make you need to pop an antacid? Turns out when you pile up on NSAIDs (
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for your screen headaches, you could be paving the way for future heartburn. "It’s another one of those things that all kind of ties together,” Dr. Snell says.
According to Dr. Snell, millennials are reporting gastrointestinal distress more often, and it's largely a side-effect from trying to stop screen headaches. "There’s been a huge increase in acid reflux ... because people are taking a lot of Ibuprofen and over-the-counter pain medicines for their headaches because they’re staring at the computer screen all day," Dr. Snell says. Although staring at a screen may be unavoidable, try more
natural remedies to help with headaches, like ginger. But if headaches, or acid reflux is a consistent issue for you, talk with your doctor about the best solutions for you.
Hearing problems are less obviously caused by the millennial lifestyle than others. Still, it's hard to talk about this generations' health problems without at least mentioning the hype around '
generation deaf.' And it's a natural question to ask if you're constantly blasting podcasts and Spotify into your eardrums with teeny plastic devices: are headphones damaging your hearing?
"Currently, there is wonderful debate about whether the younger generation is being exposed to noise levels through personal listening devices in excess to what the previous generation did,"
Jackie L. Clark, PhD, President of the American Academy of Audiology, tells Bustle. "There have been a handful of studies that have provided contradictory results about whether the younger generation is experiencing more hearing loss than prior generations." Dr. Clark says, although the data hasn't caught up, questioning the physical impact of a generation that's constantly listening to something is important.
"[...] Moderation in all things is wise as we continue to learn more and more about the auditory mechanism," Dr. Clark says. So, although you may not have actually blasted out your eardrums from headphones on full volume, it's crucial that you consider your hearing as part of your overall health. And if you are finding that you are experiencing hearing issues, speak with your doctor about potential causes and fixes.
Although diagnosis rates of skin cancer are
on the rise, not all news is bad. This generation seems to be taking care of their dermatological health in more proactive ways than generations before them. And early-detection survival rate for melanoma is about 99 percent.
"I see millennials coming to me earlier and for smaller issues that their parents would ignore," dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka, founder of
Bobby Buka MD Dermatology, tells Bustle. "They ask about benign bumps and skin growths ... millennials have a heightened sense of awareness and prevention." Knowing the signs of skin cancer, and seeing your doctor when something seems amiss is the best way to look after your health.
It's crucial not to talk about millennial health trends without mentioning the realities of mental illness within the generation. It's about more than just
losing work-life balance and experiencing Instagram FOMO. Having the world at your fingertips also means a very visceral reaction to tragedy. “From 9/11 to school shootings, millennials do not see their world from the same perspective [as their parents] ... They live with the reality of violence versus the threat of it," Dr. Klapow says.
Luckily, the "
anxious generation" is fighting back. "Stigma is still a problem — and for young millennials it may be a stigma that stems from parents regarding mental health. Downplaying by parents and society (i.e. millennials are complainers, lazy, weak) is one of the biggest mistakes and disservices we can do for this generation," says Dr. Klapow. What works is making mental healthcare affordable and accessible, and engaging in conversations that show that emotional challenges are a common part of life.
While access to information technology might be the thing that defines millennials, and overwhelmingly affects millennial health, it is also what makes the generation so strong. Doctors and mental health professionals agree that this generation is open and honest about their health and what matters to them in a way that generations before have not been. And by being upfront with your doctor, you are looking after your health in the best possible way.