No one can escape stress - not even the mighty Millennials.

The fact is, they are the most stressed of all generations!

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), Millennials (ages 18 to 33) report the highest average stress levels... and it's climbing. Thirty-nine percent of Millennials say their stress has increased in the last year alone.

When dissecting stress it is important to remember that it's not innately evil. The stress response was built into the fabric of our DNA as a defense mechanism to help human beings survive physical threats by preparing the body to fight-or-flight in a matter of seconds.

Stress has even been shown to produce a positive impact on our physical and mental performance, but when stress levels become too high and/or too chronic we fall from a pinnacle point to that of a valley of distress.

When looking through our ancestral lens, the fight-or-flight response didn't last more than a few minutes of all-out action and fear. Imagine for a second, running from or fending off that surprise attack from a predator lurking in the bushes. The experience was fast, furious, frightening and followed by hours (even days) of complete rest... if you escaped. Today this stress:rest ratio is completely inverted with hours of daily stress and minimal rest and recovery periods.

Millennials are equipped with the same exact stress hardware and software even though times couldn't be more different. The good news is that we don't have many daily physical threats to our survival anymore, but our stress response will be activated just the same by any perceived mental and emotional threat in our past, present, or future! Instead of a tiger or enemy tribe switching our body and mind into a code red alert, it now happens from negative thoughts, traffic, public speaking , bills, zombie movies, conflict in relationships, job pressure, tight deadlines, plane turbulence, and anything that stands in the way of meeting your needs and desires.

Millennials & The Reptilian Brain

Let's take a closer look at that hardware because what we know as the brain has evolved three times. The first evolution of our brain anatomy is the region most responsible for the stress response called the Reptilian Brain. The Reptilian Brain is considered to be the most ancient brain and is structurally located down deep. A reptile's brain primarily focuses on the 4S's: safety, security, sustenance, and sex. These were and are still at the root of our highest needs. Not meeting our primal needs creates stress.

The theory that our Reptilian Brain is still influencing our primary needs and ultimate stress levels was beautifully reinforced by Abraham Maslow's Hiearchy of Needs. As the diagram below shows, a person's basic needs must be met before reaching one's full potential (Self-Actualization). Any unmet basic needs will create a crippling domino effect on the basic needs above it.

Millennial's Threatened Needs

Millennials are most likely to say that they are stressed by work, money and job stability. The APA reports that work is a somewhat or significant stressor for 76 percent of Millennials! Work, money, and job stability are all today's version of safety and security which are necessary for experiencing optimal sustenance (food and water). The lack of money and job stability will consciously and/or unconsciously drive a person's 'sustenance' behavior toward: 1) eating lower quality food and beverages because they are perceived as being less expensive (i.e. Ramen Noodles over organic radishes) and 2) they will sacrifice optimal nutritional habits to work harder and longer in an attempt to make more money or gain more job stability by skipping meals and consuming more caffeine and sugar for energy.

Millennials & Stress Management

62 percent of Millennials have tried to reduce their stress, yet a quarter of Millennials say they are not doing enough to manage their stress. Only 29 percent of Millennials say they are doing an excellent or very good job of managing their stress. In fact, since 2010, the percentage of Millennials who have said they are doing a good job at stress management has decreased (2010: 33 percent; 2011: 32 percent; 2012: 29 percent). It is also worth noting that younger Americans are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors like eating, drinking alcohol and smoking to manage stress.

Work, money, and job stability stress has led to negative consequences. More than 52 percent of Millennials report having lain awake at night in the past month due to stress and 44 percent of Millennials report experiencing irritability or anger due to stress.

Pay close attention at how safety and security stresses are negatively influencing both Physiological needs through disrupted sleep, alcohol consumption, and stimulant use as well as Love/Belonging needs through anger or irritability directed toward self and other. When combined it is obvious to see that all of these negative consequences would hinder a Millennial's performance and productivity towards reaching their fullest potential and purpose.

I hope employers across the world can understand that happy hours, pizza parties, tickets to the ball game, trendy perks, flexible work hours, bigger incentives, and unlimited coffee will not lower the stress or increase your Millennial's performance and productivity better than restoring their inner power and vitality through wellness .

Here are three universal principles to Solving Millennial Workforce Stress:

1. Find Their Dream-Goal-Legacy

The very first step in solving Millennial workforce stress is to help each of them identify something motivating enough to change their current self-management of life, work, and stress. Long-term and effective stress management requires having something worth growing, living, and changing for. Most Millennials are working toward their parents, peers, society's or boss's goals, but guiding them to choose their very own goal can metaphorically put the needle on their internal compass. Otherwise they will continue to be lost and unmotivated to invest the energy and effort to change their current reality.

2. Core Values

Values are the essence of who we are. They represent the things that are of greatest importance in our lives. The most gratifying forms of expression and interaction will happen when standing firmly in our values. Not living our values creates stress, resentment, depression , and illness. Every staff member would gain tremendous benefit from identifying their values with regards to the following needs:

What are my physical health needs? ( exercise , food, hydration)

What are my mental health needs? ( massage , meditation, prayer, journaling, yoga , nature, art, etc.)

What are my time and rhythm needs? (optimal and preferred time for wake/bed, hours of sleep, start and end work, frequency and number of meals as well as breaks per day)

What are my family and team needs? (frequency and method of family and team interactions)

What are my social needs? (frequency and method of social interactions)

What are my space needs? (how much space do you prefer for living and working)?

When Millennials gain clarity on their values they can 1) assess how closely they are currently living their values, 2) build a schedule and work-life that more adequately meets their needs, and 3) determine whether to say 'yes' or 'no' based on that value system.

3. Physiology Before Psychology

As shown in the Hierarchy of Needs, the most basic need of every single human being is Physiological. We can greatly reduce stress by meeting the Physiological needs of breathing, sleep, food, and water first and foremost. Using comprehensive wellness education and training we can optimize our physiology which ultimately becomes the foundation of our psychology through balancing biochemistry and hormones of the brain. Stress is our unique perception of a threat and that originates as thoughts and emotions. What will be the quality of a Millennial's thoughts and emotions if they continue hyperventilating, lacking sleep, dehydrating through stimulants, and eating poor quality, high-carbohydrate foods?

Achieving clarity on a truly motivational goal, living one's core values, and balancing unhealthy lifestyle habits are three universal principles every professional can apply to experience more health, happiness , and higher work performance.

It is critical for Millennials, employers, supervisors, and all generations to realize that managing stress and creating more work-life harmony is an internal process, not external.

Each and every professional has to take personal responsibility for meeting their basic needs starting with the Physiological. You're an adult...no one makes you stay up until 1:00AM. No one pours another cup of coffee in your mouth. No one forces you to eat that candy bar. Life begins by looking square into the mirror, accepting where you are and participating fully in creating your vision for the future every single day.

Author's Bio: 

Lance Breger is an Executive Wellness Coach and the Founder of Infinity Wellness Partners, a comprehensive corporate wellness company that prepares executives and organizations for the most productive and healthy work-life. Lance has led online/on-site training programs for over one thousand professionals through his company’s four pillars of wellness: fitness, nutrition, mind/body and ergonomics.

Lance was named a Top 25 Health Promotion Professional in the nation by the Wellness Council of America. He is also a Master Instructor for the American Council on Exercise and the recipient of the IDEA Health & Fitness Association Program Director of the Year award. Contact Lance for coaching, consulting and speaking at: lbreger@infinitywellnesspartners.com