Teenagers could be among the most stressed out in the nation, according to the recent Stress in America survey from the American Psychological Association (APA). And it should come as no surprise, as they face pressure from parents, school, and their social lives, among other things. What’s most concerning though, is that teens may be more stressed out than adults. If they can’t learn to manage it, they could be setting themselves up for worse problems in adulthood.
Eighty-three percent of teens said that school was a major source of their stress, saying that their stress levels were a 5.8 on a 10-point scale — adults rated their stress at 5.1. By comparison, during the month before the teens were surveyed, which was also during their summer break in August, they reported that their stress levels were at 4.6. These levels were still way higher than their perceived healthy levels of stress, which stood at 3.9. And although they were aware that their stress wasn’t healthy, 42 percent said that they weren’t doing enough to manage it, while 34 percent said their stress was likely to increase over the next year.
Implications of Stress on Teens
“Our study this year gives us a window in looking at how early these patterns might begin,” Norman Anderson, a clinical psychologist and chief executive of the APA, told USA Today. “The patterns of stress we see in adults seem to be occurring as early as the adolescent years.”
Only 50 percent of teens said they felt confident that they’d be able to handle personal problems. With the other half unsure, managing stress can not only become difficult, but the behaviors that are picked up may become unhealthy habits. Thirty-five percent of teens said that they were lying awake at night because of stress. This loss of sleep led to increased stress over the past year for 42 percent of teens who were getting less than eight hours. Meanwhile, 26 percent of teens said they either overate or ate unhealthy foods to deal with stress, with 33 percent of them saying that they did it specifically to distract them from their problems. Conversely, 67 percent skipped meals because stress caused them to lose their appetite, while 25 percent said that they didn’t have time to eat.
Teens who carry these behaviors into adulthood risk a wide range of health problems. Poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of stroke, cancer, and changes in DNA expression. Meanwhile, overeating obviously puts a person at risk of obesity, which can lead to a slew of other problems, including heart disease and diabetes. Combating this is as easy as doing a little exercise, but again, teens find this difficult at times, with only 51 percent saying that they maintain a lifestyle of physical activity.
Why Teens Are So Stressed
Unfortunately for today’s teens, things may be a little harder than they were in the past. With ever-rising pressure to perform well on school standardized tests, trying to get into good high schools, dealing with social lives — both on and off the Internet — and participating in other activities like sports, it almost seems like teens are being pulled in every which way. “You have to be able to perform at a much higher level than in the past, when I was in high school,” Dave Forrester, a counselor at Olympia High School in Olympia, Wash., told NBC News. “We have so many choices for kids. They need to grow up a little faster about what they want to do and how they’re going to do it.” To deal with stress, Forrester recommended that parents and other adults teach teens how to resist and manage stress better through establishing better sleep patterns, screen time limits, and exercise habits.