Why the Pandemic Has Taken A Toll on Gen X

gen x
Image credits: Shutterstock

Lately, I feel most of my friends have one thing in common. They all say, “I am tired.” That’s how it’s been since the pandemic started. Meet the overworked and underappreciated generation called Gen X — people born between 1965 and 1980.

In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, 33% of Gen Xers said their mental health had worsened throughout the pandemic and 58% had experienced unwanted weight changes. So, why are many Gen Xers are facing midlife crises during the ongoing crisis brought upon by the pandemic?

Let’s go back to Generation X and their childhood. Many of my peers grew up as latch- key kids, which meant both their parents worked. A set of keys was either in their lunch box or hidden inside a little flower pot outside the main door. Most members of Generation X grew up on their own. Those were the times of “Stranger Danger,” so you ate your meals, completed your homework, finished dinner before the parents returned from home, and stayed home…all without any adult supervision.

I studied in a boarding school in the Himalayas and saw my parents twice a year. The late eighties and mid-nineties did not offer the luxury of mobile phones or emails. My school didn’t allow phone calls, so I basically heard my parents’ voice two times a year. I was trained to not depend on anyone.

In a nutshell, Gen Xers grew up too quickly and learned to fend for themselves. There was no handholding for us. There was no emotional therapy at home. There was never “What can I do for you?” Parents were busy trying to survive/make ends meet, and we learned to play along. Many parents also had unfulfilled dreams, and we were tasked with accomplishing them. No questions asked. No complaints heard. This isn’t true only for India; my Gen X American friends talk about their weekday TV dinners and company of zero.

Despite being a “survivor” generation, Generation X focuses on learning about parenting and caring about work-life balance. They tend to hold space for others — thrusting their choices on their children or their parents isn’t their style. Gen X understands the importance of individualism. They are more supportive of their children’s choices and different lifestyles — at least definitely more than past generations. That, too, can become an issue as I’ve heard several Boomers criticize how Gen X bring up their children with too much freedom.

Gen X was already severely stressed about job instability when the pandemic hit. Gen Xers are the primary breadwinners and spenders in their families. We are in the prime of our career. However, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, even though Gen X significantly outspends other generations, it is commonly overlooked and undervalued. Generation X represents 60% of the workforce, yet doesn’t feel acknowledged. Employers tend to mollycoddle millennials. On the job, HR professionals tend to focus on younger, larger generations when creating programs and resources.

Psychologist Adam Grant wrote, “The absence of mental illness doesn’t mean the presence of mental health.” We are sandwiched between our boomer parents and millennial children. Balancing the competing demands (both emotional and financial) of aging parents and children has been detrimental to our own well-being. We didn’t have the support growing up, but Gen X is the foundation in most families. Between lockdowns and ‘pauses’ during the pandemic, Gen X has had to juggle remote work with remote school while figuring out solutions for the elderly. We have had to pay college tuition and eldercare while figuring out our own retirement plans.

For those of us with aging parents in a different country or continent, the stress levels are exponentially higher. I have several friends who lost a parent or both to the coronavirus, and they couldn’t travel to the homeland to support the one parent alive because of the pandemic travel restrictions. A few had to wait for an entire year before travel abroad became a safe option.

I am not lumping all boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and families in one box. There are always exceptions. But the reality is that every generation navigated the pandemic differently. The pandemic has shown us how lonely our boomer parents are, while they were the ones who touted family values or bragged about their 50 people dinner parties. Their lives were filled with noise, but not meaningful relationships. We assumed millennials and Gen Z are the socially connected generations, so online connectivity would suffice during the pandemic. We forgot that this overscheduled generation doesn’t know how to handle the pandemic or being alone because they are used to depending on others. Remember, their childhood included play dates, after-school activities, and parents fussing over them.

Being caught between caring for two generations can be exhausting. Gen X is increasingly labeled the “forgotten” or “lost” generation, despite being the ones who show up for boomers, millennials, and Gen Z. My generation is tired of being the sensible one. We adapted to being alone, the lockdowns, the masks, and social distancing without rebellion. You play parent, provider, therapist yet get slammed for not caring enough. You are depleting your savings along the way.

It’s no surprise that Generation X is battling mental health issues.