According to Leaf, the reason lies in their ability to contextualize the future. What does this mean? Well, the millennial age group is in a unique time of their lives where they’re just starting to understand the weight of the future—and they start to realize that the elusive “future” has an end date.
“When you’re 18 to 24 and younger, death and those kind of things in the future seem like it’s not very tangible,” Leaf says. “But your millennials can see the future as more tangible—so it’s kind of there, but they can’t see their way through.”
In other words: The future seems palpable, but they’re not exactly sure how they’re going to get there—and that chronic uncertainty can leave tons of open space for anxiety to creep through.
She saw this process first-hand in her research: As soon as millennial participants were diagnosed with clinical anxiety disorder, energy immediately dropped in the front of their brains. “When your energy drops in the front of your brain, you have less blood flow, less oxygen. You can literally get little holes in your brain, and then those brainwaves don’t flow like they should,” Leaf explains. “So your cognitive flexibility—your ability to introspect, which we need to access in order to make sense of life—starts going away.” And, thus, your ability to contextualize the future becomes compromised.