Written by : Transcript – What’s Driving Gen Z’s Anxiety (and What to Do About It) With Dr. Lauren Cook 

Transcript – What’s Driving Gen Z’s Anxiety (and What to Do About It) With Dr. Lauren Cook

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: What’s Driving Gen Z’s Anxiety (and What to Do About It) With Dr. Lauren Cook




[0:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for Episode 471 of Live Happy Now. Younger generations are experiencing stress and anxiety differently than previous generations. That’s something we’re making part of the ongoing conversation here at Live Happy. I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week, I’m joined by author and clinical psychologist, Dr. Lauren Cook. Her latest book, Generation Anxiety looks at why Millennials and Gen Z are so anxious and how that’s affecting them.


She’s here today to talk about some of the things that are driving that anxiety, and importantly, offers insight into what we can do to help change this downward spiral, and what that will mean for future generations. Let’s have a listen.




[0:00:46] PF: Lauren, welcome back to Live Happy Now.


[0:00:48] LC: It’s so good to see you again, Paula.


[0:00:51] PF: I’m really excited to sit down have this conversation with you because you’re doing some incredible work with Gen Z and Millennials. As you know, you and I have talked about this. Live Happy Now is really concerned about the mental health of Gen Z. We’re really committed to keeping that dialogue open. So, your book does an excellent, incredible job of looking at, not just Gen Z, but Millennials. I wanted to kick it off, I wanted to know if you could talk about why both of those generations are so anxiety-ridden.


[0:01:23] LC: Yes. We are really seeing an increase in anxiety both in prevalence, meaning more and more people and severity. Intensity of symptoms is increasing as well. So, we’re seeing it horizontally, longitudinally, all the ways. Anxiety is absolutely increasing for folks. I think it’s happening both personally, but also very much communally. When you look at what’s happened in our country in the last two decades, in particular, it’s been one thing after another. There’s a really interesting survey that asked people, “What’s been the most significant effect generationally that’s happened to you in your lifetime?”


You, as Baby Boomers, you asked the great generation who experienced the depression, World War Two, Gen X. They all say – you can probably guess what it is. The number one significant event in their lifetime and Millennials will say this as well.


[0:02:18] PF: 9/11.


[0:02:18] LC: September 11th. There you go. However, if you look at what’s happened in Gen Z’s lifetime, we’ve got the Trump election, Black Lives Matter, George Floyd’s murder, climate change events, the Me Too movement. I mean, I could keep going for quite a while about the long laundry list of things. I don’t say that to be political. These are historical events that are happening. It is really affecting young adults to be living in this world where they’re just inundated by chaotic and distressing news. And, you also have what’s happening personally in their lives as well, with social media, academic pressure.


These two generations, even though they’re the most educated, are the most financially worse off than their previous generations. That’s really frustrating, to feel like you’re told this myth of like, “Work hard and you will be able to succeed.” They’re working really hard, and it’s very hard to succeed, to own a house, all these different things. That breaks the person down over time.


[0:03:24] PF: Can you talk about how they’re different from previous generations? Because I want to dive into that a little bit, because I’ve heard people who seem to not really understand. They think like, basically, we’re all the same. We were just born at different times. So, can you correct that way of thinking?


[0:03:42] LC: Yes. Social media, it sounds almost like low hanging fruit at this point. But it really, I think, has made a difference for Millennials and Gen Z. They grew up at this time when – especially Millennials like myself, social media was just coming on the scene. We didn’t know what was happening. Gen Z, in particular, have been the guinea pigs of social media, of having technology, getting a cell phone when they’re 10 years old, right? We didn’t necessarily know what effects this was going to have on the brain. But now, we’re seeing this play out, where we’re seeing social anxiety increased.


So many young adults, they don’t know how to answer the phone, they don’t know how to have a conversation with a stranger. They also feel really unsafe in this world. The Stress in America survey asked young adults, “What are you afraid of?” Seventy-five percent said their greatest fear is gun violence. For this generation, to wake up and they see movie theaters, concerts, schools, places of worship, no place is safe. Now, everybody looks around their shoulder every time they go out. Am I safe? Is something going to happen to me? Is something going to happen to my loved one?


We could have a whole conversation about separation anxiety, Paula, and how this generation really experiences it. Because our world just feels incredibly unsafe to these young adults. When you look at what has happened, I think it’s understandable why.


[0:05:10] PF: Does the fact that parents are also then trying to protect those children? We’re doing it from a good place, but doesn’t that also increase those feelings of the world’s not safe and I should be afraid?


[0:05:22] LC: Exactly, exactly. It’s a really fine line, between wanting to protect our kids. And at the same time, not over protecting where our kids are learning this message, “I can’t do anything in my life.” I cite this in Generation Anxiety, my book, a really interesting study. That when parents give this message to their kids, that the world is unsafe, people are going to hurt you, we do see that there are increases in depression and anxiety for kids. When parents have a more optimistic outlook, go out there. live your life, yes, bad, scary things can happen. But statistically, the chances of that are pretty slim. Go out there and experience your life. Those kids are less likely to be anxious and depressed.


Even though we turn on the news, and we hear these difficult things. We also have to remind ourselves, okay, what is the chance of that happening to me when I go to a movie theater, when I go to a concert, and not keeping ourselves in such a small box at the same time?


[0:06:23] PF: You know, that’s something Deb Heisz, CEO for Live Happy and I have talked about. We’ve talked about it on the air that when you’re constantly watching the news, you do start seeing the world as unsafe, and very scary place. I think it is important for parents to be mindful of what children are being exposed to, in the home in terms of what kind of news, what kind of television is on at any given time, because that is having a deep, deep effect on them.


[0:06:52] LC: It is. It is. There’s really great conversations happening right now about parental attachment, and really taking time to be with our kids, to be present with our kids. I’m a new mom myself. My son turns one this Sunday.


[0:07:07] PF: Well, congratulations, first of all.


[0:07:09] LC: Thank you. I’m super excited about it. But we don’t even, I think realize at this point how much we use our phones. I catch myself doing it where, “Oh, let me just answer a few emails. Let me get to a few text messages.” Meanwhile, my son is right there by me playing, and he’s, I’m sure, perceiving me being sucked into a phone. That’s something Gen Z has experienced too. Even though I don’t think it’s intentional, we just haven’t had as much face-to-face interaction with each other because we’re face-to-facing with our phone.


[0:07:44] PF: From a parent’s standpoint, if you have someone who is part of Gen Z, what are some things in terms of that mindset of safety? Because, again, we want to keep our children safe, we want to be there. But how do we do that, and advise them without terrifying them? Because the world, we can make it pretty terrifying if we really talk about it.


[0:08:06] LC: We definitely can. I approach things with this mentality, I call them powered acceptance. First piece is, we have to accept what’s going on in our world. If our kids ask about it, we can’t lie to them. We need to be honest about what’s happening, and we need to really have a sense of what’s going on in our world. If we don’t know what the problems are, how do we fix them? But we also have to be empowered, we have to take action. This is the thing; anxiety makes people want to avoid. It makes people want to run away and say, “I don’t want to get on that plane. I don’t want to go to that show. I don’t want to ask that new person to be my friend because it makes me feel anxious.” Anxiety just grows bigger and bigger and bigger.


So, we have to be empowered and start to kind of push the boundaries of what our anxiety is wanting to make us do. We have to take action to see, “Oh, I can ask somebody to hang out, even though that makes me feel anxious.” Or, “I can go to that concert because I love Taylor Swift. Sure, something scary could happen, I will deal with that.”


At the end of the day, anxiety is about not wanting to face the reality of that things end, that things change, that we can experience pain. These are not necessarily warm, fuzzy ideas, right? But if we actually teach ourselves and our kids that we can sit with distress, we can sit with discomfort. The world opens up to us in a whole new way and we no longer have to be in fear of pain.


[0:09:40] PF: How do you start sharing that message? Because that’s huge, to be able to sit with discomfort, especially in a time when there are a million distractions that we can have at our fingertips. First of all, how do we as the adults in the room, how do we learn how to do that, and then, how do you pass that along?


[0:10:03] LC: We have to model it ourselves. We have to show our kids that we’re okay handling discomfort. They are watching us so closely to notice when we avoid when we lean in. Sure, sometimes we do need to take a step back and rest. It’s not always about powering and pushing through. It’s just as important to show our kids how we can set healthy boundaries, how we can say no sometimes. But our kids also need to see us getting a little bit uncomfy, even if it’s something like giving a speech at work, or having a tough conversation with our partner, but in a healthy, appropriate way. These are all modeling examples that our kids are really taking in.


Aat the same time, I think when we can show our kids and encourage them to lean into their discomfort, and cheer them on for that, that’s so, so helpful. Because I do see a lot of parents enable their kid’s anxiety, they feel like it’s an act of love to let them get out of things. But if we can show them, hey, you can actually go to that soccer game when you felt really nervous about it rather than stay home. We’re teaching our kids their resilience in those moments.


[0:11:14] PF: I love that. I absolutely love that. What are some of the signs that we should be looking for that someone is struggling with anxiety? Because we can kind of tell internally, when we’ve got it going on ourselves, but we might not always see it in someone else.


[0:11:28] LC: I’m really glad you asked that, Paula. There’s a few things to really make note of. If you notice any sleep difficulties, that’s a classic one of someone who’s having trouble falling or staying asleep. If you notice somebody’s having difficulty concentrating. Sometimes that can get a little confusing with ADHD, but that’s also a sign of anxiety. If somebody feels or notices that they’re really keyed up or on edge, it’s like a hamster on a wheel, go, go, go. Here’s one that people often miss, irritability. We think irritability is its own thing, but irritability is actually often a sign of anxiety and depression. So, if you notice somebody’s getting snappy or quiet, that’s something to pay attention to. Again, any kind of avoided behavior, if you notice your kiddo or yourself, “Oh, we used to always go out to dinner together, and now my kid doesn’t want to go out for a meal.” Or, “I’m noticing my kiddo doesn’t want to go on car rides, or plane rides.” All these different things where avoidance could be really coming into play, that’s a hallmark of anxiety.


[0:12:32] PF: So then, once you start seeing it, and not just as a parent, because I’m not a parent, but I have a lot of young people in my life. You’re in it, it’s a different situation, because there’s a lot of things you cannot do. So, what is it? If you see anxiety, if you start recognizing, “Hey, this person might be struggling with anxiety.” What are some things that you should start doing to reach out to them?


[0:12:59] LC: Self-disclosure here is really powerful. Anxiety is something that, just about everybody has some touchpoint with. Self-disclosing when you yourself have felt anxious and humanizing yourself in that way is so relieving to someone with anxiety. Because the thing, and I see this with so many of my clients, they don’t want anyone to know they’re anxious. They think it’s so embarrassing, and it’s like, welcome to the human club. If we can make it okay to be anxious, ironically, that’s actually when anxiety starts to go down. But people get so much anxiety about hiding their anxiety. “I don’t want anyone to notice.” It really magnifies it for them. So, if you yourself, show your humaneness of like, “Oh my gosh, I felt really anxious about this or really worried about this, how do you feel about it?” It really opens that door for someone to share what’s behind their own curtain.


[0:13:57] PF: Then, once they start sharing that, and once they kind of start unpacking the cause of their anxiety, where do you go from there? I mean, one thing is, I’m reading your book. Just the depth and the breadth of how far-reaching anxiety can be, and how deeply emotional river that runs through it is, it made it a bigger issue than I even really had looked at it from. So, once someone shares with you, then what do you do? Other than say, “Call Dr. Lauren Cook.”


[0:14:28] LC: Thank you, Paula. Well, I’d like to take a holistic approach. That’s something I really hope comes across in the book to move beyond just a westernized model of care. I am all for therapy, I’m all for medication. I’m a psychologist, so I’m very much for those things. However, I also believe there’s a lot of different things that can work for people with anxiety and anxiety is such a physical experience. I mean, especially when you look at the gut brain access connection, and how much of our anxiety really can settle into our gut and our stomach. We’ve got to look at all of those different things. The food, the drinks we put into our bodies.


Amazing book on this is Dr. Uma Naidoo’s This is Your Brain on Food, and really getting curious about what we’re eating is either inflaming or healing our gut. Quick tip, everybody listening, please get your bloodwork done. Because people can spend thousands of dollars on therapy, when something is going off in your chemistry. Your vitamin D levels are low, magnesium, B12. If those things are out of whack, doesn’t matter how much cognitive therapy you do, you’re going to feel anxious, my friend. It’s important to do the due diligence of looking at yourself holistically, not just from the neck up, but really looking at our entire physical body for overall healing.


[0:15:54] PF: I love that you brought that up. Because for myself, I’m very big on what I eat. I know that everything has – there’s a cause and effect. So, being very careful about avoiding preservatives, and dyes, and sugars, and things like that. I see that as an area where that does get overlooked, because so much of what we have on our shelves today is – well, it’s not food, actually. It’s just chemicals in a really nice package. So, I’m super happy to see you bringing that up. Do you see that when people change some of the things that they’re eating, they start having a different experience with anxiety?


[0:16:33] LC: Big time. big time. Yes. It’s everything from cutting back on preservatives, cutting back on sugar. That’s hard for me, because I’m such a sweet tooth myself. Alcohol is a big one. A lot of my college-aged clients will tell you, “Oh, I have anxiety” on the next day. They get bad anxiety with the hangover. So, a lot of them are starting to get sober curious, as we say, and starting to play with, “Okay. What happens when I’m not drinking for a while?” Because, even if someone’s drinking every other day, their sleep patterns never have a chance to equilibrate. Sleep is a huge part in anxiety and treatment. So, this is all wrapped up in itself.


Even hydration, staying hydrated with water. We see when the brain is not getting enough water, things spiral quickly. So, absolutely, I think that’s something that has been missed in the narrative, because it seems so simple. We’re told from a young age, eat your fruits and veggies, blah, blah. It has a real effect on brain health.


[0:17:39] PF: That is great. I hope more people will jump on that and look at what they’re putting in and what that’s doing to their bodies. I know Dr. Drew Ramsey, is someone we’ve had on the show before. When someone comes in with depression, the first thing he does is look at what they’re eating. Before he tries medication, he will have them change their diet, and most times, medication is not needed. That just really supports the kind of work that you’re doing too.


[0:18:07] LC: That’s incredible. I believe it.


[0:18:10] PF: So, as I said, your book really outlines just how massive this issue is right now. Do you see this as a solvable problem? Because it is huge. It’s kind of like, can we have world peace? I feel like this is somewhere out there with it.


[0:18:25] LC: I did have a stint in beauty pageant days. So perhaps, this is my world peace moment. I don’t know. I am forever an optimist. I love Seligman’s work on positive psychology, and the effects of optimism. I do believe that things can get better. I always have that hope. I’m also a realist, though, and the book is not about trying to make anxiety go away. It’s about learning how to live with anxiety. I think that’s something people get a little bit lost on. They feel like they’re a failure if they can’t get their anxiety to stop. The reality is, sometimes your anxiety may be here to stay. But the more you fight it, the more the beast is going to grow bigger in you. But if you embrace what I call your inner sea otter, lay back in your waters, and say, “All right, I’m anxious. So, what?” It really starts to lose its power. I’ve seen that in my own life. I’m very open about my own lived experience with anxiety and emetophobia in particular, which is a phobia of vomit, really fun. But I’m very open about how I’ve lived with that and have worked hard to not let it stop me living the life that I want to live.


[0:19:40] PF: Yes. What’s interesting in your book, you also explained where that came from. I found that very, very fascinating. I’m not going to tell the listeners how because now they have to go find your book and look it up.


[0:19:51] LC: Tease.


[0:19:52] PF: It is. That actually played into another question that I had for you, which is about generational trauma and epigenetics is such a huge area of study. I think it’s been disregarded a lot in the past, where we don’t look at the effect of what happened with our parents and our grandparents, and how that anxiety and other types of traumas get passed along. Can you talk just a little bit about what role that intergenerational trauma plays and how we kind of can use that and correct the trajectory of that trauma?


[0:20:27] LC: I’m really happy that you reference that, because I think we can get very quickly into the blame game of, “What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?” It is generational buildup, it’s like emotional tartar that has been passed down. One study, I found this so fascinating in the research for the book about Holocaust survivors, how it was actually their grandchildren that had more anxiety than the Holocaust survivors themselves. Really seeing how this generational trauma gets passed down.


Now, I also found research though that it can be changed as well, in a better way as too, that diet, nutrition, what people eat can really make a positive impact for people. But it makes us really think about. “Wow, the choices I’m making for myself now, it doesn’t just affect me. It affects my kids and even my grandkids.” You even look at studies with smoking, and how that impacts people for generations to come. This is something I think we can get more curious about. I think we were really just at the tip of the iceberg with epigenetics research. I’m staying closely aware of it, because I think we’re only going to see more and more. This is where I do have an optimistic lens here, that we can make better choices that are going to be good for more generations to come.


[0:21:51] PF: If we don’t figure this out, what are the consequences for future generations? Knowing what we just said, that it’s passed down. If we cannot start correcting the true trajectory of happiness for Gen Z now, what is the consequence?


[0:22:09] LC: Unfortunately, I think it means we’re only going to see more anxiety, more depression, and potentially even more suicidality. That’s something that I think is very important for us to talk about, as well, that we lose on average 12 people a day to suicide between the ages of just 15 to 24. That’s one every two hours. That’s incredibly concerning to me. This is something we’re all going to have to collectively get on board with, especially when it comes to climate change for example. There is more and more research about kids who grow up in environments where there’s a lot of smog in the air, that we’re seeing increases in anxiety and depression for those folks. How do you tackle that? That is going to be more than just food and drink. That is something we are all going to have to really get on board with. I think part of it is really tapping into our empathy for the human experience.


My husband and I were just talking about this the other day about how we live in such an individualistic society. You see cars cut in front of each other, people cut each other in line. We’re so much thinking about what’s fastest and easiest for me. I think we really have to get into our empathy of, how might someone else be experiencing this, what is it like for the life of someone else, and how can I make changes in my life? Not just to self-serve me, but to serve someone else. We know that is so good for our brain, ultimately, to tap into altruism and generosity, but it’s a practice. I think as we become more isolated, we have become more individualistic and selfish, so we’ve got to really start pushing up against that.


[0:23:57] PF: I agree. I know during the pandemic; they saw empathy decline greatly. We weren’t face-to-face, we were in our little silos, and bubbles, and didn’t interact. I don’t know what current research shows if we’re bouncing back from that at all. But what is your recommendation? Okay, doctor, what’s your prescription for us? Where do we start and how do we start changing things for Gen Z and for subsequent generations?


[0:24:26] LC: I think this is one of the greatest strengths of Gen Z. They really care about other people, even though they may be more socially anxious around other people. They do really have compassion for one another. You see that when they have these protests on gun violence, when you see them protesting what’s happening in Gaza. They’re doing it because they’re thinking about somebody who’s thousands of miles away. So, that ability to empathize with another person’s experience in that lens, I think is really inspiring. I think it’s something that we all need to get called back into, of realizing a lot of us got a lucky draw, honestly, to be born where we may live, have the families that we may live.


I think sometimes, we can think like, “Well, I earned all this.” Sure, we all work very hard, and at the same time, realizing when we wake up, I could have just as easily been that person down the road or that person in another country. How can I have empathy for that experience, even though it may not be my own lived experience that’s uncomfortable? But the more we build our distress tolerance skills of being willing to sit with discomfort, I think the better off we’ll be.


Lastly, I’ll say, giving ourselves the permission to hold the dialectic, because I see people get a little bit all or nothing with this of like, “Well, if I sit with the sadness of what’s happening in the world, I’m never going to be happy.” But really, we can expand it where our human emotions can hold great capacity to say, “I feel the pain of the world, I acknowledge it, I feel it, and I still can give myself permission to enjoy and savor the life that I have at the same time.” Both can exist.


[0:26:17] PF: I love that. it also can just be a way to encourage us to do something for others. Being able to sit with that and say, “Alright. What can I change? I cannot change what’s going on across in another country. But I can change what the experience is for my neighbor, or for this person down the street. or for the homeless person on the corner.”


[0:26:38] LC: Yes. I really do believe that the tiniest little things make a positive impact. If we would just smile at each other, the world, would feel that change. So, I’m always encouraging my clients and young adults that I work with, lift your head up from the phone, share eye contact with someone, feel another person’s humanity, things will start to feel a lot different.


[0:27:06] PF: That is excellent advice right there. That’s what we all need to be doing. This is fantastic. I know your book gives so much information, so much insight. It’s obviously a labor of love and research, and very, very well done. I’m excited to tell our listeners about it. I think we might be having something from you on the website coming up. We’ll keep talking because Gen Z is front and center in our minds right now, and we want to keep this conversation going, and I appreciate you sitting down and being a part of it.


[0:27:39] LC: Paula, the feeling is mutual. Thank you so much for caring about this and bringing a microphone to it. I’m grateful for you.


[0:27:47] PF: All right. Well, Lauren, until next time. Thank you so much.


[0:27:51] LC: Thanks, Paula.




[0:27:55] PF: That was Dr. Lauren Cook, talking about anxiety and Gen Z. If you’d like to learn more about Lauren, check out her book, Generation Anxiety or follow her on social media. Just visit us at livehappy.com, and click on the podcast tab. While you’re there, you’ll also find an article from Dr. Lauren, explaining why the world looks so different for Gen Z and how that’s affecting them. We hope you enjoy this episode of Live Happy Now. If you aren’t already receiving us every week, we invite you to subscribe wherever you get your podcast. While you’re there, feel free to drop us a review and let us know what you think of the show. That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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