Two young women in Cambridge are on a mission to provide a safe and welcoming space for young women to talk about the issues that concern them most. Linxx, a new well being group sponsored by the Harvard Innovation Lab, isn’t your typical discussion group. It addresses general life issues everyone can relate to, like relationships, work and family. But it aims to do it in a way that specifically deals with the frustrations and worries of millennial women.
“I think there’s a lot of struggle among millennials particularly, because there’s so much transition,” said Jessica Kahlenberg, co-founder and president of Linxx. “You’re no longer living in one city, getting married and moving to the suburbs and settling down. It’s more that people are moving from city to city, staying at jobs for shorter periods of time, getting married later and resorting to all this technology that’s not necessarily making people happier.”
“To have an all-female group just provides a sense of safety and sisterhood,” she added. The idea for Linxx came from Kahlenberg’s experience of working with women’s groups in India, Guatemala, Colombia and Uganda. After seeing how the simple exercise of bringing women together to talk about their everyday struggles made such a positive impact on them, she was eager to set up a similar model in Boston.
Kahlenberg, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School, collaborated with Iva Nikolau to create Linxx in the fall of 2015. Nikolau is a member of the Mental Health Committee and an experienced facilitator of discussions on mental health issues.
Linxx began as a series of small meetings in coffee shops. In February, it morphed into a wellness group that partnered with yoga studios around Cambridge for a full mind-body experience intended to relieve the stress and anxiety that so many millennials are experiencing.
“Through research and talking to people and organizing focus groups, we found that millennial women in particular have very high rates of stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety, more so than our parents’ generation,” she said.
“We have all these connections, but we don’t connect that much to people in person sitting right next to us,” Kahlenberg continued. “We have this abundance of resources and professional development networks, especially for young professionals and graduate students, but we lack that personal development and that space for personal reflection.”
While the Internet has made it easier for people to connect and share information, it’s not always the friendliest place, especially for young women. Studies show that millennial women experience online harassment or abuse more often and more severely than young men do, making the Internet a sometimes hostile environment in which to share personal thoughts and opinions.
Kahlenberg wanted to create a space designated for women to speak their minds without the fear of stigma, judgment or criticism. “People come in not knowing what to expect, and by the end of these conversations, you’re able to be in a state where you feel so comfortable that you can tell these essential strangers your deepest fears,” she said.
The bi-monthly, two-hour sessions take place in a yoga studio and are open to all millennial women in the Boston area for a small fee. The participants are given a guided question to think about and are then split into small groups where they’re given time to talk through their thoughts and experiences and respond to the other members in the group.
Discussion topics so far have ranged from how personal expectations have changed before and after starting a new job or degree, to relationships with significant others, friends and family, Kahlenberg said.
The hour-long discussion portion is followed by a yoga session to help everyone wind down. “Sometimes it’s hard to unload all these things that are on your mind and then just leave,” she said. “So this way you end feeling cleansed rather than burdened.”
Kahlenberg said that she and her team have big plans for the future. While Linxx currently only offers sessions in Central and Harvard Squares, an expansion to yoga studios in downtown Boston is in the works for this summer.
“The vision is that eventually we will be in yoga studios in places around the country like New York, San Francisco, DC, Atlanta—cities with high numbers of millennials—so that if someone is in a Linxx group here and then they move to California or the South, they’ll always know that every other Sunday, they’ll have access to these Linxx groups to go to,” she said.
While the idea of face-to-face discussion groups or peer support networks isn’t new, it’s perhaps exceedingly rare among the tech-obsessed millennial generation. “There are such high rates of loneliness among millennial women, no matter how many friends they have or what relationships they’re in, and we really want to make sure that no woman feels alone in what she’s going through.”