America, we have a stress problem.

According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, millennials are the most stressed out generation in the US today, followed closely by Gen-Xers — representing the majority of people in the workforce.

(Source: American Psychological Association)

Stress has been found to be associated with many physical and psychological symptoms, including irritability, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease and weight gain.

(Source: American Psychological Association)

It’s undeniable that prolonged stress and burnout at any level is detrimental to our wellbeing, which in turn has a large impact on our society and economy.

This is the very reason Thrive Global now exists.

In a recent interview with Change Creator Magazine, Arianna Huffington stated, “Thrive Global is a response to the escalating global epidemic of stress and burnout, which is costing hundreds of billions of dollars per year — in health-care costs, in high turnover, employee disengagement and productivity.”

What Makes Millennials More Stressed Than Others?

The usual suspects — financial concerns, work, family, and health — are cited as the most common sources of stress.

Yet, don’t all generations have to deal with all these issues? Millennials are not the first generation to face a recession, to juggle work and life, or to deal with health issues.

What, then, makes them more stressed out than the rest of the population?

If you pay attention, you may notice some sort of stressor humming in the background that most people can’t put their fingers on. Yet it’s eating at those who are starting out in life and trying to figure it out.

In this digital, hyper-connected era, we’re able to see what everyone else is doing 24/7 (if we choose to.) When you’re trying to figure out what you want to do in life, you’d come across all sorts of stories…

Some people jumped into entrepreneurship and made their first billion before the age of 25.

Some became digital nomads, made a living while kite-boarding 4 hours a day somewhere in Southeast Asia.

Some found their calling and started a movement that changed our society.

Some decided to give up everything, live out of a 300 square foot houseboat while pursuing their dream as a writer.

All these possibilities, and the “comparison trap” that comes with it, can be quite stress inducing. When we’re told, “anything is possible,” the uncertainty can be unnerving.

We’re constantly questioning ourselves — am I doing it right, where’s my life going? What if I do this instead of that? Can I really live like this person does… or should I follow the “success blueprint” we’ve all been told to follow?

Living your life purpose seems easy to do when personal development gurus talk about it. But it never happens over night for anyone. You might think, “is there something wrong with me.” There’s not, don’t stress it.

Such doubts and uncertainty trigger our fears — the fear of change, the fear of being criticized, the fear of missing out — which send us into a mental loop that makes our stress level even higher.

On a personal note, I did professional work for 15 years, started 2 companies and several random efforts that I thought were my purpose, like creating a hemp water bottle! It’s all great experience and I enjoyed the process. The important part was that I was constantly trying to find my way.

How Can We Break the Pattern and Reduce Internal Conflict?

It’s time we look at what we do with our lives, as well as what we do in our lives. Please understand that change means doing things you don’t normally do. And that requires discomfort. As you change yourself, the world around you will change.

Research has shown that doing meaningful work is associated with a reduced level of stress.

A study posted on Sage Journals, Meaningful Work as a Moderator of the Relation Between Work Stress and Meaning in Life, found that people who reported greater work stress were more likely to be searching for life meaning and less likely to be experiencing life meaning.

Conversely, meaningful work was positively linked to life meaning and negatively linked to the search for life meaning.

(Source: Sage Journals)

You don’t have to move to a third world country, build mud huts for children and lead a life of poverty in order to find meaning in life.

The key to creating meaning in your day-to-day work is to identify opportunities and companies that are in alignment with your personal values.

Doing work that is in alignment with our values reduces internal conflict — a reason for that low-level chronic stress humming in the background and eating at our wellbeing.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Global Report, prepared by Babson College and other universities, showed that, “entrepreneurs in economies where people tend to go into business to pursue an opportunity rate their well-being higher than those in necessity-driven economies, where people start businesses because there are few other options for economic survival.”

Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is when someone uses entrepreneurial skills to build a business to addresses social or environmental challenges. While this has been around for a while, only recently has it gained quite a bit of attention and traction. This is what Change Creator Magazine is specifically focused on.

Arianna Huffington is no stranger to social entrepreneurship because she wrote the forward for the book, Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works.

In the book, Huffington states:

“A select few disrupters — the social entrepreneurs — develop, build, and scale their solutions in ways that bring about truly revolutionary change.”

In the interview with Change Creator Magazine Huffington shared her thoughts about the role of social entrepreneurship in the world today:

“I think social entrepreneurship is incredibly important and will play a vital part in redefining the role of business in the world, which we urgently need to do. Our world is facing multiple crisis, and government action alone isn’t going to be enough to meet our challenges. Business has to play a role, and within that, social entrepreneurship will lead the way. Sustainable and responsible business models are the way — the only way — to a sustainable planet.”

It satisfies not only the need to “make a living” but also to connect with life purpose, keep motivated, create lasting happiness, deliver tremendous values to society and be empowered with more autonomy and control — all of which are linked to less stress, psychological well-being and in turn better physical health.

At the same time, our society is becoming more aware of the story behind brands. The data by Neilson and Pew Research clearly show that people are far more inclined to by products from brands that are responsible, sustainable and support a cause.

Becoming a social entrepreneur doesn’t happen overnight. Just like building any business, you need to have courage and put in the work.

Of course, not everybody needs to be a social entrepreneur, or is ready to start a business. That’s OK.

There are an increasing number of mission and value driven companies you can join. By working for someone else who has a company you align to or even volunteering, you can quickly test the waters, with low risk, to find out if that’s the work you were meant to do.

Selecting an employer with a mission that’s in alignment with your own values can help create more meaning and satisfaction in your professional life. It definitely makes it easier to get up in the morning!

Given that most of us spend at least 40 hours at work, this could have a huge impact on our stress level and overall wellbeing. At the same time it’s incredibly motivating to wake up each day to do something you truly care about.

There are many different kinds of social enterprises you can consider.

Obviously, you can work for social entrepreneurs (i.e. founders of companies.) Then there are non-profit organizations, for-profit companies with a social and/or environmental mission embedded into the business model, and those with a hybrid structure.

You can also look up intermediaries that provide resources, tools, and training to social enterprises; or funders such as venture capital funds, venture philanthropy firms, incubators and crowdfunding platforms that are geared toward supporting social causes.

56% of millennials have ruled out working for a particular organization because of it’s values standards or conduct. (Source: Deloitte 2016)

73% are willing to pay more for sustainable products (Neilson 2015 Sustainability Imperative)

In Conclusion

It may take a while to find work that aligns to your values or to establish your own business. However, the journey is part of the process and should be enjoyed just the same. Once you truly decided to make a change and pursue a path that reflects who you are, it’s exciting.

This doesn’t mean you should leave your current job and start a new life mission. You need to get yourself organized, plan and start testing ideas on the side. Risks will need to be taken but they can be calculated risks.

If you’re not sure what your purpose is or what mission is important to you. I would highly recommend taking a self-inventory. For example, what are your values, what skills do you have, what is important to you, what issues in the world frustrate you, or what has someone come to asking advice about? Those are all important questions that help you narrow down your direction. You can learn more here about it.

As you find more meaning and develop more passion for your work, you’re likely to perform better. This can translate into career advancement and better compensation, which will in turn ease other stresses caused by career and financial concerns.

Over to you — what can you do or are you doing to create more meaning in your life/work? Leave a comment below and share your story! I’d love to hear from you.

Developed in collaboration with Ling Wong.

Originally published at