Regarding Stress and Stress Coping: Adults and Teens Look A Lot Alike

teen girl pushing hand to headThe American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey came out this week. Since 2007, APA has conducted a national survey of the stress American’s experience. This year’s survey places a special focus on teenagers. The full report can be found here. Below are some key assertions and the data points within the survey that support them.

Like adults, teens feel overwhelmed by stress

• On a 10-point scale, teens report that ≤ 3.9 is a healthy amount of stress. However, they rate their stress to be a 5.8 during the school year and a 4.6 during the summer.

• The following is true of 1 out of 3 teens: they report that their stress has increased in the past year, they expect their stress will increase in the next year and they feel overwhelmed.

• Teens reported that one out of four of them feel stress at the highest levels (an 8, 9 or a 10 on the 10 point scale) during the school year.

• Adults report that ≤ 3.6, on the same 10-point scale, represents a healthy level of stress. However, they report their stress averages a 5.1. Moreover, 37% of adults report feeling overwhelmed in the past month, 1 out of 3 believe that stress is having a strong impact on their physical and mental health and 84% report that their stress stayed the same or increased in the past year.

Teens worry about the same sorts of things as adultscharacter burdoned by books

Both teens and adults report worrying the most about their vocational lives and financial matters. For example, these are the top stresses reported by teens: high school (83%), life after high school (69%), and their family having enough money (65%). For adults the top three stresses are money (71%), work (69%) and the economy (59%). (By the way, the fourth rated stress among teens is balancing their time, at 59%)

Teens experience similar symptoms of stress as adults

• Only 41% of teens report that they handle stress well, compared to 35% of adults.

• The top symptoms teens report experiencing secondary to stress are irritability (40%), anxiety (36%), fatigue (36%) and insomnia (35%). This is very similar to the profile reported by adults: irritability (41%), lack of energy or motivation (39%), anxiety (37%) and feeling overwhelmed (37%). (It’s also telling that 51% percent of teens report that someone tells them they seem stressed on at least a monthly basis.)

Teens commonly use the same poor coping strategies as adults

teen video game playing•The following are some of the top strategies for responding to stress that are traditionally ill advised, at least if used as a lead strategy: playing video games (46%), going online (43%), and watching TV or movies (36%).

• Teens report some behavioral responses to stress that also increase the risk of poor stress coping: eating unhealthy foods (26%), skipping meals (23%) and neglecting school (21%). Moreover, half of teens who report being under high levels of stress indicate that they don’t get enough sleep.

Tell me how teens’ potentially maladaptive responses to stress compare to adults’ (i.e., what follows in the next four lines are adult numbers):

√ 62% use screen time to manage stress (42% watch ≥ 2 hours a day of TV)

√ 17% exercise daily; 39% skipped physical activity because of stress

√ 38% have overeaten to manage stress; 30% skipped a meal because of stress

√ average 6.7 hours sleep/night; 20% report that their sleep is sound

• Moreover, these trends seem to be even more true among parents. That is parents, as compared to non-parents, report higher rates of eating unhealthy foods due to stress and sleep disturbance.

Stress management strategies work!

• Teens who are physically active report lower levels of stress (i.e., those who soccer character, coolexercise ≥ 1/week report at average stress level of 4.4–on the 10 point scale mentioned above– compared to 5.1 for those who don’t engage in that much physical activity).

• Teens whose body size is within expected ranges report lower levels of stress (i.e., those with a BMI of 18-24 report a 4.4 stress level, while those with a BMI ≥ 25 report a 5.2.).

• Teens who get healthier doses of sleep report lower levels of stress (i.e., those who sleep ≥ 8 hours a night report being at a 5.2 while those who sleep less indicate they are at a 6.5).

• Teens who report higher stress levels also report engaging in more sedentary behaviors than those who report lower levels of stress (e.g., 54% versus 24% surf the net to manage stress).

Take home messages

I have three take home messages this week:

missing puzzle piece#1: Parenting from the cross sucks. When our kids show needs (and when don’t they?), we tend to act like we have none; over time, this reeks havoc on us and them. (This is why self and relationship care is one of the 10 science-based parenting strategies I stress in my parenting book).

#2: There are plenty of things we parent-lunatics can do to promote stress management in our teens. For my top nine, see the blog entry I guest wrote on APA’s blog.

#3: Why suffer needlessly? Let’s treat ours and our kid’s mental health as we do ours and our kids’ dental health whenever there is a complication: see a pro. For a list of referral databases, click here.

Comments

2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Heard you on On Point. Excellent show. Really glad you brought this research to light. Question: Michael Bradley, the second guest, referred to research about teens and extrinsic motivation. Do you think the two are related? Stress and extrinsic motivation?

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