Coping Through Escapism: New Study Reveals How Today’s Youth Deals With Stress

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A new study by comparing coping styles of different generational groups reveals that younger people are more likely to resort to distraction to cope with difficulties in their life.

Young people may not always use healthy methods to cope with stress.

Young people are more likely to use distracting diversions as a way to cope with stress.

Temporary distraction is fine, but you can’t avoid your problems forever.

The world is filled with a variety of distractions that can arguably be divided into “good” and “bad,” but they all serve the same purpose: To offer us a pleasurable diversion from the pressures of life. Too much distraction, however, is not a good thing. According to the latest research from, distraction is the coping strategy most often used by young people, particularly Centennials and Millennials.

Analyzing data from their Coping & Stress Management Skills Test, PsychTests’ researchers divided participants in their study into four generational groups:

1)    Centennials/Generation Z:
born after 1995, aged 21 & younger as of 2017.

2)    Millennials/Generation Y:
born between 1977 & 1995, aged 22 to 40.

3)    Generation X:
born between 1965 & 1976, aged 41 to 40.

4)    Baby Boomers:
born between 1945 & 1964, aged 53 to 71.

The researchers then examined how each group scored on 12 coping methods, six of which are considered healthy, adaptive strategies, the other six being generally unhealthy.

According to PsychTests’ study, of the 12 coping strategies assessed, the top 5 that Centennials use are:

1)    Distraction (score of 61 on a scale from 0 to 100)
2)    Positive Cognitive Restructuring (score of 60)
3)    Problem-Solving (score of 59)
4)    Negotiation (score of 59)
5)    Emotional Regulation (score of 56)

For Millennials, the most commonly used are:

1)    Problem-Solving (score of 64)
2)    Positive Cognitive Restructuring (score of 64)
3)    Negotiation (score of 63)
4)    Information-Seeking (score of 61)
5)    Distraction (score of 55)

The coping strategies assessed in the study include the following:


  •     Problem-solving: This involves taking a direct approach to a problem or stressor, by actively looking for possible solutions to either resolve the issue or diminish its impact on the person’s state of mind.
  •     Information-seeking: Like the problem-solving strategy, the individual takes an active rather than passive approach by seeking out information to help them understand their problem, and how to deal with it.
  •     Social Support: This strategy involves seeking advice, insight, or support from friends, loved ones, or online community.
  •     Positive Cognitive Restructuring: This approach involves changing the way a person views a stressful situation to something more positive (e.g. finding the silver lining, learning a lesson).
  •     Negotiation: This approach consists of changing one’s goals or behavior in order to better fit within the constraints of the stressful situation.
  •     Emotional Regulation: This method focuses on dealing with the negative feelings surrounding the circumstances by engaging in tactics like meditation and mindfulness, or finding outlets to express these emotions. This tactic is most useful when a stressor cannot be changed.


  •     Distraction: This approach to stress involves engaging in pleasurable diversions to temporarily get one’s mind off the problem.
  •     Rumination: When dealing with a stress or a problem, people who use this strategy give the issue endless thought in an effort to come up with a solution. However, while all problems deserve their due consideration, ruminators do this excessively and incessantly, which is counterproductive because it actually increases the amount of stress and pressure they feel.
  •     Avoidance: Individuals who adopt this tactic are hesitant to take any action to resolve the issue. They ignore the problem and hope it will go away on its own and may even go as far as to pretend that it doesn’t exist (the head-in-the-sandbox tactic).
  •     Helplessness: Individuals who resort to this strategy when dealing with stress feel helpless and simply give up the fight. They make no attempt to resolve or change the situation.
  •     Social Withdrawal: Rather than seeking help from others, people who use this strategy take the opposite approach: They withdraw from others, sometimes even refusing to get out of bed, let alone leave the house.
  •     Opposition: Individuals who adopt this tactic tend to deal with stress by lashing out at others. Rather than take responsibility for the problem, they blame others, take it out on innocent people or animals, or try to argue their way out of a predicament.

Both Baby Boomers and Generation X individuals use healthy strategies as their top 5 go-to stress management tactics (Problem-solving, Positive Cognitive Restructuring, Negotiation, Information-seeking, and Emotional Regulation). Much to the surprise of the researchers, however, seeking out social support from loved ones was the least common coping strategy (among the healthy ones). This was the case for all four generations. Among the negative stress management tactics, Avoidance was the least common, indicating that while most individuals may struggle to cope with a stressful problem, they will compel themselves to face it eventually. The use of distraction, however, particularly in younger age groups, is a concern.

“The use of healthy distractions – exercising, engaging in fun activities – isn’t a problem per se,” explains Dr. Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “When a problem is occupying your mind to the point where it’s making it difficult for you to function, then getting your mind off the issue is a good idea. Rumination is unhealthy, and can make it exceedingly difficult for a person to concentrate or to sleep, and may lead to anxiety and depression if it becomes excessive. The added benefit of distraction is that many solutions often come to us when our brain isn’t overloaded and when we are in a calmer state of mind. However, at some point, you will need to face the reality of your situation. Consistently dealing with stressful situations by resorting to distraction can lead to escapism, where the individual completely loses touch with reality through social media, video games, books, movies and, on the more extreme side, drugs and alcohol. Temporary distraction is fine, but you can’t avoid your problems forever. We need to provide young people with the resources to learn better ways to cope with stress, like seeking social support in-person or online, learning how to manage their emotions through mindfulness and meditation, and changing from a negative, defeatist attitude to a more positive one.”

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About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see The company’s research division, Plumeus Inc., is supported in part by Research and Development Tax Credit awarded by Industry Canada.

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Ilona Jerabek
PsychTests AIM Inc.
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