Stress in Teens
Gen Z has higher levels of stress compared to other age groups. Women have higher perceived stress levels. This is bolstered with the results of a youth report where heterosexual males have the lowest stress levels. This is not to say that men are immune to stress—men are less likely to see doctors about stress symptoms and manage stress differently than women.
- Gen Z: Gen Z is the newest generation, born between 1997 and 2012. They are currently between 9 and 24 years old (nearly 68 million in the U.S.)
- Americans aged 15 – 29 and 30 – 49 have the highest stress levels, 64% and 65% respectively. Worry is also high in both age groups at 50% and 52%.
Teenagers, like adults, may experience stress every day and can benefit from learning stress management skills. Most teens experience more stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and they do not have the resources to cope. Some sources of stress for teens include:
- School demands and frustrations
- Negative thoughts or feelings about themselves
- Changes in their bodies
- Problems with friends and/or peers at school
- Unsafe living environment/neighborhood
- Separation or divorce of parents
- Chronic illness or severe problems in the family
- Death of a loved one
- Moving or changing schools
- Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
- Family financial problems
Some teens become overloaded with stress. When this happens, it can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills such as drug and/or alcohol use.
When we perceive a situation as difficult or painful, changes occur in our minds and bodies to prepare us to respond to danger. This “fight, flight, or freeze” response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to muscles of arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or a sense of dread.
The same mechanism that turns on the stress response can turn it off. As soon as we decide that a situation is no longer dangerous, changes can occur in our minds and bodies to help us relax and calm down. This “relaxation response” includes decreased heart and breathing rate and a sense of well-being. Teens that develop a “relaxation response” and other stress management skills feel less helpless and have more choices when responding to stress.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Parents can help their teens in the following ways:
- Monitor if stress is affecting their teen’s health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
- Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading
- Learn and model stress management skills
- Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities
Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:
- Exercise and eat regularly.
- Get enough sleep and have a good sleep routine.
- Avoid excess caffeine which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.
- Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques).
- Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite, firm, and not overly aggressive or passive ways: (“I feel angry when you yell at me.” “Please stop yelling.”)
- Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress. One example is taking a speech class if talking in front of a class makes you anxious.
- Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks.
- Decrease negative self-talk: challenge negative thoughts – with alternative, neutral, or positive thoughts. “My life will never get better” can be transformed into “I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help.”
- Learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others.
- Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress.
- Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way.
By using these and other techniques, teenagers can begin to manage stress. If a teen talks about or shows signs of being overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professionals may be helpful.
- Based on UNESCO monitoring reports during the pandemic, 9 out of 10 students (87%) in 165 countries were affected by school closures in March due to the coronavirus. This translates to over 1.5 billion primary to tertiary learners.
- 20%, or one in five American college students, admitted in an April 2020 survey that their mental health significantly got worse this year during the pandemic.
- 78% of homes with American high school or college students reported educational disruptions due to COVID-19. Of these students, 80% admitted to suffering from increased stress due to these disruptions.
- 44% of U.S. college students worry if they can still enroll or stay enrolled in college during the disruption.
- 69% of American students experiencing disruptions believe that their school provides enough support throughout the transition process.
Common Student Stress Factors
According to research.com, Stress comes in many forms, as the human capacity for worrying is unlimited. Apart from the usual suspects of exams and grades, stress also comes via the inability to adjust to a life outside your comfort zone (home) and dealing with a new social circle far from your childhood friends and family. Other problems designed for adults, such as budgeting, loans, and getting a job, start at high school or college for most people.
- Finals and midterms accounted as the top source of stress for 31% of U.S. students. Class and workload were third at 23%. Homework placed fourth at 13%.
- 36.5% of U.S. college students pointed to stress as the biggest reason why their academic performance suffered negatively for the past 12 months. In addition, 29.5 % listed anxiety as a factor.
- For American middle schoolers, 61% of teens admitted feeling a lot of pressure to get good grades. In contrast, 29% feel pressured to look good, 28% need to fit in socially (28%), and 21% feel the pressure to involve themselves in extracurricular activities and be good at sports.
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