Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Teenage Stress and Anxiety

Feeling like there are too many pressures and demands on you? Losing sleep worrying about tests and schoolwork? Eating on the run because your schedule is just too busy? You're not alone. 

Everyone experiences stress at times — adults, teens, and even kids. But there are ways to minimize stress and manage the stress that's unavoidable.

Stress in America™ 2013, Infographics, APA
Source: APA

The Statistics

On the year 2013, the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey found that Millennials, aged 18-33, were the country’s most-stressed generation. Now, the title belongs to an even younger demographic: American teenagers. 

Even before the pressures of work and adulthood set in, for most young Americans, stress has already become a fact of daily life. And this sets the stage early for unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices that may increase the risk of developing stress-related health problems down the road. 

American teenagers are now the most stressed-out age group in the U.S., according to APA’s 2013 Stress In America survey. While adults rate their stress at a 5.1 on a 10-point scale, teens rate their stress levels at 5.8. 

This year’s report, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of APA, consisted of 1,950 adults and 1,018 teens in the U.S. in August 2013. 

Here are some of the survey’s biggest findings about teens and stress:
  • Teens report that their stress level during the school year (5.8/10) far exceeds what they believe to be a healthy level of stress (3.9/10).
  • 31 percent of teens report feeling overwhelmed as a result of stress, 30 percent say that they feel sad or depressed as a result of stress, and 36 percent report feeling tired or fatigued because of stress.
  • Only 16 percent of teens say their stress levels have declined in the past year, while 31 percent say their stress has increased in the past year.
  • Yet teens are more likely than adults to report that stress has no effect on their physical health (54 percent) or their mental health (52 percent).
  • 42 percent of teens say that they’re either not doing enough to manage their stress or they’re not sure if they’re doing enough.

Teens and Homework Stress

Source: WebMD

Teenagers, like adults, may experience stress everyday 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 might include:
  • school demands and frustrations
  • negative thoughts and 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 it happens, inadequately managed stress 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.

Teens’ habits around sleep, exercise and technology (the average teen consumes an average of 7.5 hours of media per day) may play a role in contributing to higher stress levels. More than one in three teens says that stress has kept him up at night in the past month. But most teens aren’t sleeping enough to begin with: The average teen sleeps 7.4 hours on a school night (far less than the 9-10 hours recommended by the CDC), the APA survey found. The survey also found that one in five teens reports exercising less than once a week or not at all, despite the proven stress-relieving benefits of physical activity
The negative health effects of lack of sleep and too much screen time for teens could be significant. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are four times as likely as well-rested teens to develop major depressive disorder, according to a recent University of Texas study, while teens who are already depressed are more likely to lose sleep. Teens who spend a lot of time on the Internet are also as likely to exhibit depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts as teens who misuse drugs and skip school, according to a recent Swedish study.

Parents, who may be a source of stress for teens — research has suggested that adults pass stress down to their children — can also be part of the solution.

 Source: WebMD

What We Could Do

Parents can help their teen in these ways:

As a parent of a stressed out teenager, you may be wondering where you can go for help or even if you should get help.
Your first step is to be watchful for the signs of stress overload. If your teenager withdraws into their own world, is aggressive, becomes ill because of stress, becomes suicidal and/or turns to drugs or alcohol, you need to get help. Doctors, counselors, teachers, and religious professionals can all play a role in helping the teenager find the needed help to get over their stress.

But sometimes the warning signs of stress are not as apparent. 

Here are some ways and techniques you should use when trying to understand your teenager’s level of stress and condition:
  • Be encouraging and positive, talk with them and reach out to them.
  • Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading
  • Be aware of your own stress levels. Sometimes that is what is upping their stress.
  • Be understanding and don’t put their problems down.
  • Monitor if stress is affecting their teen's health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
  • Learn and model stress management skills
  • Support involvement in sports, other pro-social activities and other extracurricular activities to promote healthy outlets to your teen’s stress.
  • Seek outside help if needed. Do not make any agreement to just keep it between you and your teen. Sometimes you will find out information about your teen that is just too much for you to deal with. Make sure to get outside help if needed.

A huge part of monitoring your teenager’s stress level constant communication. Listen and take your teen’s problems seriously. Pay attention to what your teen is saying. 

Here are some techniques for listening to your teenager:
  • Use active listening making sure your teen talks more than you do.
  • Gather information by asking pointed questions.
  • Be encouraging and positive.
  • Make sure you have time to talk before you start.
  • Avoid “yes” or “no” answerable questions.
  • Show interest in specific things in their life.
  • Reflect in your answers that you are understanding what they are communicating.
  • Summarize at the end to make sure everything you have heard is clearly understood.

Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:

  • Exercise and eat regularly
  • Avoid excess caffeine intake 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 about yourself 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 qualified mental health professional may be helpful.


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