Young Americans Are More Stressed Than Ever

If you have a child, grandchild, or loved one who’s a young adult, I urge you to pay special attention to today’s issue of Sound Health.

That’s because recently, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that a whopping 90 percent of young people between 18 to 22 (also known as “Generation Z”) claim to regularly experience high levels of stress.

In fact, according to the APA’s 2019 Stress in America report™, Generation Z has the highest average stress level (5.8 out of 10), followed by Generation Xers (5.5), Millennials (5.4), Baby Boomers (4.2), and older adults (3.0).

And of those stressed Generation Z-ers, a staggering 91 percent also reported symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Although these are troubling figures, I’ve got to say, I’m not at all surprised by them…

Teaching at a university, I encounter young people all day, every day. And I can’t help but notice how overwhelmed and sad many of them look. Their worries are plastered all over their faces.

And I’ve seen first-hand just how stressed out my three teenage kids can get.

While it might be easy to shrug it off and think “What do these kids have to be stressed about?”, the fact is, growing up in today’s high-paced, plugged-in world presents a unique set of challenges older generations simply can’t relate to.

Generation’s Z’s stress triggers

According to the APA, this is what’s stressing out our kids the most:

Of course, the report also includes a laundry list of other stress triggers that span generations, like:

IMAGE SOURCE: American Psychological Association

Of course, we all get stressed out sometimes, but high levels of chronic stress—paired with anxiety and depression—can cause some serious problems. Especially in young adults, whose brains and bodies are still developing.

This stress-based combination can cause:

  • Chronic pain
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Poor quality of life
  • Problems functioning at school or work
  • Sleep disorders
  • Social isolation
  • Substance misuse
  • And even suicide

Obviously, these are all things we, as parents, grandparents, educators, etc. want to protect our children from. And while we can’t shield them from stress, we can help them find effective ways to deal with it. So, today, I want to share a very powerful way to manage the “out-of-control” feeling brought on by stress.

I encourage you to show this exercise to the young people in your life. I’m sure many of them could really use something like this. But I also encourage you to try it, too. After all, one of the best ways to influence kids is to lead by example. 

Eliminate stress and anxiety with the power of five

This exercise is called the “5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique.”

It works by short-circuiting your brain’s anxiety response and refocusing it on your senses.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Begin taking a few slow deep breaths. You’ll continue deep, slow breathing throughout.

    Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. This will naturally calm your heart rate and nerves.

  2. Next, you’ll execute the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique in this order:
  • Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be the floor, a couch, or anything in your surroundings.

  • Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your knees, a chair, or even the ground under your feet.
  • Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound, like birds chirping, the crackling of the fireplace, or even just the sound of your own breathing.
  • Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe it’s the aroma of a candle, the scent of your laundry detergent on your clothes, or a comforting cup of tea.
  • Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. Can you taste any lingering flavors? Perhaps coffee or what you had for lunch?It might also be a good idea to keep some gum, chocolate, or mints handy for this portion of the exercise, so you can really savor the flavors.

    3. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly. Feel free to repeat the exercise as needed. (Sometimes I like to change my location or move to a different room and repeat the technique.)

    By intently focusing your attention on your senses, you’ll start to regain control of your thoughts and return to the present moment.

    If you really want to amplify the calming effects of this exercise, try humming during each exhale. This stimulates your vagus nerve—the longest nerve in your body. I call this my “Brain Humming” technique. You can learn how to do it here.

The best part? You don’t need a special pill or tool to do this exercise. It’s free and can be done pretty much any time, anywhere.

The main takeaway for today is that while you can’t eliminate stress from your life—or the lives of the people you love—you can lessen its harmful effects.

And if life ever feels unmanageable, it’s always ok to seek help from a professional. Asking for help is among one of the strongest (and kindest) things you can do for yourself.

Always make taking impeccable care of yourself non-negotiable.

P.S. – Are you interested in learning even more easy, pill-free techniques to manage and eliminate your stress and anxiety? Then you might really enjoy my Sound Mind Protocol. Simply click here to learn more about this unique online learning tool, or to get started immediately.


American Psychological Association. (2019). Stress in America™: 2019. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from:

American Psychological Association. (2018). Stress in America™: Generation Z. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from:

Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from:

Smith, S. (2018, April 10). 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety. [Blog post]. Retrieved from:

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.