Stress in Teenagers: Patterns Rival Adult Stress
Health Watch – March 11, 2014
Dr. David Prescott – Eastern Maine Medical Center Behavioral Medicine
Teenagers in the Stress In America Survey: Each year, the American Psychological Association conducts a national survey to examine Americans’ perceived level of stress, sources of stress, and how we are coping. This year’s survey continues to suggest that most Americans find their stress level to be higher than they would like. But, this year’s survey revealed that the stress outlook for teenagers mirrors that of adults, and that stress negatively impacts the lives of many of our teens.
The Negative Impact of Stress Begins Before Adulthood: In 2013, American teenagers rated their level of stress higher than adults for the month prior to being surveyed. Like adults, most teenagers believe that their stress level is higher than it ought to be. Not surprisingly, teenagers report that their stress level is higher during school months than when school is not in session. And, about one-third of teenagers believe that their stress will get worse in the coming year.
Stress is Part of Life – But How Well Do Teens Cope? Most health experts agree that some level of stress is unavoidable. A more relevant question than whether or not people feel high levels of stress, is how they address it. In this area, it appears that teenagers, like adults, are more likely to use sedentary or passive coping techniques, rather than techniques which promote physical and emotional wellness. For example, frequent coping responses that teenagers use to cope with stress include:
· Playing video games (46% of teens report this as stress coping technique)
· Going online or surfing the Internet (43% of teens report this as stress coping technique)
· Watch TV or movies (36% of teens report this as stress coping technique)
· Reducing Sleep (teens with less than 8 hours of sleep per night rate their personal stress higher than teens who sleep at least 8 hours)
How well to Teens Understand the Impact of Stress on Their Health? Like adults, teenagers appear to downplay the impact of stress on their physical and emotional health. However, it appears that teenagers are less likely than adults to acknowledge that stress can have negative health consequences. For example:
· 54% of teens say that stress has little or no impact on their physical health;
· 52% say stress has little or no impact on their emotional health.
Yet, when questions are phrased in terms of specific behaviors, teenagers readily acknowledge that stress makes them more nervous, angry, and tired.
Teaching Teenagers More Effective Stress Management: Helping teenagers develop effective stress coping strategies can have lifelong benefits. Some ideas for places to start include:
1. Move your body. Physical activity is one of the most effective stress busters. That doesn’t mean you have to go for a jog if you hate running. Find activities you enjoy and build them into your routine such as yoga, hiking, biking, skateboarding or walking. The best types of physical activities are those that have a social component. Whether you’re into team sports, or prefer kayaking or rollerblading with a friend or two, you’re more likely to have fun – and keep at it – if you’re being active with friends.
2. Get enough shut-eye. Between homework, activities and hanging with friends, it can be hard to get enough sleep, especially during the school week. Ideally, adolescents should get nine hours a night. Most teens, though, are getting less. According to APA’s Stress in America Survey, teens say they sleep an average of just 7.4 hours on a school night. That’s unfortunate, since sleep is key for both physical and emotional well-being. To maximize your chance of sleeping soundly, cut back on watching TV or engaging in a lot of screen time in the late evening hours. Don’t drink caffeine late in the day and try not to do stimulating activities too close to bedtime.
3. Let yourself shine. Spend some time really thinking about the things you’re good at, and find ways to do more of those things. If you’re a math ace, you might tutor a younger neighbor who’s having trouble with the subject. If you are a spiritual person, you might volunteer at your church. If you’re artistic, take a photography class. Focusing on your strengths will help you keep your stresses in perspective.
For More Information:
American Psychological Association Help Center: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/index.aspx>