The world is getting more and more anxious.
San Diego State University social psychologist Jean Twenge recently published a paper that examined “Multiphasic Personality Inventory” data dating back 80 years. Surveys were issued in schools and colleges and asked students a variety of questions, including some that indicated levels of personal anxiety.
The findings are pretty startling. Despite advancements in technology, ever-increasing access to wealth and longer life expectancy, anxiety has been steadily rising since the 1930s. In 2013, 30 percent of college students reported feeling “overwhelmed” by all they had to do, as opposed to 20 percent in 1989.
Forty-four percent of college students have below average emotional health, up from 37 percent in 1989. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that more than 5 million college students struggle with mental health—including anxiety and depression.
Though there’s no way to link the rise in stress to any single factor, some researchers have suggested that isolation because of technology and a lack of community could be contributing to the problem.
“Modern life doesn’t give us as many opportunities to spend time with people and connect with them, at least in person, compared to, say, 80 years ago or 100 years ago,” Twenge told New York Magazine. She also pointed to millennials’ tendency to desire fame and money as a possible contributing factor.
“There’s clear evidence that people who focus on money, fame and image are more likely to be depressed and anxious,” she said.
But another study, also led by Twenge, may offer another clue. Not only is belief in God at an all-time low, but the amount of people who say they pray is five times less than the number of individuals who prayed in 1980. And the demographic that saw the biggest drop in both categories was 18- to 29-year-olds.
Though correlation isn’t necessarily causation, a study of college students from the National Institute for Health Care Research found that religious students actively involved in ministry not only reported less stress during difficult times—they even visited doctors less.
It turns out, dropping out of your community group probably wasn’t the best way to find margin.