We are currently struggling with the problem that our expectations for the current generation are extremely high. There is a huge performance pressure on the young people who feel like they have to do well on every task they get. Next to that, they also want everything at the same time: getting diplomas, a good job, a social life and nowadays travelling has also become a big trend. Besides that they have to perform in these areas in real life, there is also a lot of pressure online, on social media platforms. Where young people also want to stay informed about everything, get many followers and do their best to make their life look as perfect as possible. And it is especially important what everyone thinks of each other. Both these social- and performance pressure are a major cause of the mental health problems that are common among youngsters.

The pressure to be you

Every person creates an identity for them self in the course of their life. Who am I? What am I good at? What do I want to achieve? Creating a self-image has become a lot more difficult over the years. In the past, this self-image was mainly determined by your social circumstances such as religion, social class and gender. Nowadays, we are a so-called multiple choice society, where everyone can choose who he is and what kind of person you want to become (Inmotie, n.d.). Everyone is a self-contained individual. This has a positive side, where everyone gets the chance to be themselves. But it also brings some negative aspects along with it, such as pressure. Having all kinds of possibilities can lead to a great pressure of responsibility and independence, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to make the right choices (Inmotie, n.d.). The freedom in choice therefore creates many doubts and insecurity among young people, where they feel the pressure of society as they still feel like they have to base their choices on “how it should be”.

Nowadays the media is also used to build an identity. Through the media, we are presented with nothing less than perfection, on television, the internet, the magazines we read and the advertisements we see (Inmotie, n.d.), making young people mirror themselves to their role models even more. I think we are all aware of the fact that the media has given us the idea that the body of a Victoria secret model is such perfection, that almost no woman is satisfied with her own body anymore.

In addition, young people are also busy with comparing. Which can be online, but also offline. They compare everything with each other and continuously feel the pressure to meet each other. They base their own goals far too much on the goals of their peers. This can lead to them being unable to meet their own overly high expectations, making them feel more likely to have failed.

The pressure to meet the expectations

First it was the older generation, nowadays it is the young adults who are sooner at home with a burnout. The cause: performance pressure. They have the feeling that parents and society expect a lot from them, which often makes it a bit too much. For example, they want to get good grades, a good job, belonging in groups of friends, which now means that you also have to have those new expensive shoes, making part-time jobs also a must. The pressure is getting higher and higher to meet everyone’s expectations. Sometimes the pressure gets so high that you get stressed. You are then physically and mentally exhausted. Poor sleep and fatigue are signs of stress. If these complaints last longer than six months, we are speaking of a burnout (ParikshaEvents, n.d.).

In addition to the high expectations, the young adults also have to deal with a lot of choices and obligations. It used to be that if you chose a particular study, you would also find a job that suited that chosen study. Nowadays there are so many different studies that it no longer gives you any job security. The possibilities have increased enormously. Furthermore, we also have the student debt that now plays a big role for many students, which is very stressful. Early debt is already a big repayment obligation and it can also affect your mortgage later, giving you already early stress about future decisions.

In recent years, the sleep rhythm of young people has also changed. Young adults around the age of 20 need at least eight hours of sleep a night, but studies show that 50 to 70 percent of the target group is not achieving this (Gourion, 2018). It was noticed that it is mainly students who have difficulty with this. The reason of this sleep deprivation is mainly influenced by, again, the pressure of performance. Psychologist Nicholas Glozier showed that among college students who do not sleep enough, their results quickly deteriorated, while their anxiety, irritability and impulsivity was increasing (2010).

Other countries struggle too

A report by a 2014 HBSC study among young people shows that in the Netherlands, 22 percent of 16-year-olds have emotional problems. This also showed that it is more common in girls than in boys. For example, 31% of girls reported having problems, and only 9 percent of the boys (Gourion, 2018). These problems are not only the case in the Netherlands. In Belgium, an online survey by the Flemish Youth Council showed that among 1,100 young people between the ages of 14 and 25, 38 percent of them suffer from psychological problems (Gourion, 2018). As many as 60 percent feel bad because they think they do not meet the expectations of their environment.

Unfortunately, some young people are having such a hard time, that they no longer see life as worth living. For example, suicide, with as many as 400 cases per year, following road accidents, is the second leading cause of death in France among young people. In Belgium, it is the number 1 cause of death among 15-24 year olds. However, it should be mentioned that suicide itself is more common in other age categories, but when it comes to attempts, young people are at the top of the list (Gourion, 2018).

I’ve seen it before

This topic of social- and performance pressure reminds me a lot of a previous project that I have done for the GGD. In this project, together with three other students, I provided information about sexting to a secondary school via the GGD throughout a “voorlichting”. Since social media, sexting has become a big trend that often causes for many problems. Children often send nude pictures to a person they like, without thinking about the consequences. It has often happened that these photos were distributed causing for a young person’s life to extremely change. There have even been teenagers who have committed suicide because they no longer saw a way out. Their life was ruined.

The sexting project naturally also has to do with certain pressures. The social pressure where someone feels obligated to forward the nude picture they received to their friends, so that they will ‘fit in’ or ‘be cool’. But if you are the one whose photo has been forwarded, you will also experience a lot of feelings, mentally; Shame, stress and fear, for example. Here we come back to the challenge where it is extremely important to be able to talk about your thoughts and feelings. To be able to turn to someone who can help you. Before it is too late and these children think that the only way out, is to take their own lives.

My own thoughts

Looking back at this blog as someone of the target group, I must honestly admit that I can relate to this, and I think that I am not the only one. We live in a society where we indeed compare ourselves a lot with others. Whether this is a neighbor or that one actress from America. We catch ourselves looking at that one profile more often to see what fun things that person is doing again. Or we experience that unpleasant feeling when you have to find out through a snapchat that your friends are doing something fun while you are sick in bed. It’s the pressure to want to be everywhere, the pressure to be accepted, the pressure to perform well, because you want to find that one thing that makes you more exceptional for that job than anyone else, and for some, the pressure that at such an early age you already have a big debt with the bank, while you don’t even know if you are going to find a good job that will pay well.

I think that somewhere social media has a lot to do with all the pressure. Social media keeps us in touch with people, which makes comparing easier. It also gives you more information as you are always up to date. If you didn’t get that job, then who did? It affects us mentally. But it makes me wonder: How did we all become so judgmental? Why can’t we just be happy for each other? Why does everything have to affect us personally? We are all perfect the way we are. Instead of being jealous or judgmental, we should be happy for each other. And help each other. Because everything you see on social media is ‘perfect’, but nobody knows what is going on behind the scenes. And that is what we need to talk about. The pressure of creating the perfect Instagram that everyone is so jealous of can also be tiresome. Why do you think that many influencers suffer from a burnout? They are dealing with the pressure where they feel like they always have to be perfect. Just like everyone else.

I’m a recovering perfectionist and an aspiring Good-enoughist  – Brene Brown


Gourion, D. (2018, November 26). hedendaagse jongeren hebben vaker mentale aandoeningen dan hun ouders op dezelfde. Retrieved from eoswetenschap: https://www.eoswetenschap.eu/psyche-brein/hedendaagse-jongeren-hebben-vaker-mentale-aandoeningen-dan-hun-ouders-op-dezelfde

Inmotie. (n.d.). sociale-druk-bij-jongeren-de-balans-tussen-kunnen-willen-en-moeten. Retrieved from inmotie: https://inmotie.nl/sociale-druk-bij-jongeren-de-balans-tussen-kunnen-willen-en-moeten/

ParikshaEvents. (n.d.). jongeren-van-prestatiedruk-tot-burn-out. Retrieved from mixedmatters: http://www.mixedmatters.nl/blog/jongeren-van-prestatiedruk-tot-burn-out