Stress for teens is increasing.
According to a recent national survey, most teens spend a lot of energy managing stress. More than a quarter of teens in the U.S. say they experience “extreme stress,” and more than a third expect their stress to get worse in the next year.
In general, teens are more stressed than we think.
School is the top source of stress for teens
The biggest stress for teens is school. More than 80% of teens say that school is their top stressor. They worry about grades, tests, and getting into college. Ten percent of teens believe that stress causes them to get lower grades.
The next biggest cause of stress for teens is worry about money (65%). High school students often worry about general family finances, and about how to make money after high school. Many college students worry about whether their grades are good enough to justify what college is costing their family.
The 5 most common symptoms of stress for teens, according to the APA report, “Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits”, are below:
Stress for teens and sleep
Stress can steal your sleep. For teens, the most often reported symptom of stress is trouble with sleep. Most teens know how much sleep they need — usually between 8 and 9 hours a night.
Many things get in the way of sleep, such as late night studying along with early classes, and texting with friends late at night. Yet more than a third say stress keeps them awake. Not only that, but many teens say that their quality of sleep is poor.
The irony is that lack of sleep creates more stress and makes it harder to learn. Teens who don’t get enough sleep can’t concentrate as well and don’t remember at much — even if the reason they lost out on sleep is because they were studying.
Teens who don’t sleep enough also feel less motivated and more irritable. This makes getting enough sleep one of the top challenges for teens.
Stress for teens and exercise
Exercise does a great job of reducing stress for teens, and most teens feel good about themselves after they exercise.
Many teens exercise specifically to deal with stress (1 out of 3 teens in the survey), but others say they don’t have time for exercise. In fact, teens skip workouts when they are stressed — exactly when they need it most.
Stress for teens and eating
The body responds to stressors like an over-sensitive smoke alarm. Physical responses that are normal when there’s real danger (like jumping out of the way of an oncoming car), occur even when the danger is small or nonexistent (like getting a low grade on a test).
When you’re running from a lion (or jumping out of the way of a car), you digestion isn’t your top priority. So it’s no wonder that stress often creates indigestion or changes in appetite.
Teens said that during the month of the survey they overate because of stress (26%), used food to distract them from stress (33%), or skipped meals entirely at least once a week (39%). Many of these teens said that they were too busy to eat.
Stress and Teens: 5 Ways to Help
Stress for teens is difficult, but there’s some good news too. You can help your teen manage stress, and they can help themselves.
- Sleep: Create a regular bedtime, and a regular time to wake up. The body loves routine, and with persistence, will adapt.
- Exercise: A top-notch time management system can help here, by allowing you to schedule exercise first. If you follow my time management advice for high school or college students, you’ll be able to make it happen. Most teens say that exercise is their favorite de-stressing strategy (68%).
- Healthy food: Make healthy eating a priority. Most teens say they want to be physically fit, so it’s often a matter of scheduling enough time for meals first (yes, time management again), and choosing healthy foods first.
- Music: Listening to music is almost tied with exercise as a favorite de-stressing strategy for teens (67%), and it works. The right sounds can relax the mind and create a sense of well-being. Music can reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, and lessen the release of stress hormones — possibly because it helps focus the mind.
- Your thoughts: You can reduce stress by changing the way you think. There are real challenges in life, but that doesn’t mean that stress is inevitable. For example, you can reduce stress enormously by making different choices about your time. You can recover from a difficult experience by shifting your internal dialog about it.
Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D., helps help students study smarter, get better grades, and make more time for friends and fun. As a psychotherapist, Board Certified neurofeedback practitioner, and former credentialed secondary school teacher, Pat knows a lot about stress and the brain. She is the mother of college-age twins, and provides Academic Coaching in Berkeley, CA