Stress is Serious

Ashley Sysyn, Contributing Writer

Everyone who goes to school knows that it can be stressful. You’re expected to balance great grades, obscenely large amounts of homework, about seven billion clubs/volunteer activities/sports (maybe a job if you can find the time), and somehow get the recommended nine hours of sleep every night. Anything else, and you risk being called lazy. It’s no surprise that today’s students are facing higher stress levels and more teens are experiencing clinical depression and anxiety.

According to the American Psychological Association, teens are reporting stress levels that exceed what the APA believes to be healthy – which is nothing new. Now, however, teens are reporting higher stress levels than any other living generation. A survey done by the APA found that on a ten-point stress scale, teens consider 3.9 to be healthy. The average stress level for teens during the school year actually hovers around 5.8. That’s 0.7 points higher than what adults reported as their average stress level!

The American Psychological Association recently revealed that teens seem to be less aware than adults of the impact of their stress despite the fact that they report symptoms of stress almost as frequently. Teens are 15% less likely to report that stress has an impact on their physical health, and 11% less likely to report that stress has an impact on their mental health. Teens are so accustomed to these symptoms that they don’t attribute them to stress; they’re just considered a fact of life by now.

In addition to feeling more stressed than ever before, teens are getting worse at handling their stress in healthy ways.  Instead of focusing on staying healthy by exercising, eating well, and sleeping enough, students do the opposite. They skip meals, have trouble sleeping, and rarely devote time to their physical wellbeing. In fact, a study done by Child Trends in 2001 found that one in four teenagers show symptoms of depression (persistent irritability, anger, withdrawn behavior, and deviations from normal appetite or sleep patterns), while 29% of high school students have felt sad or hopeless every day for two weeks or longer due to high stress levels.

While some stress can be helpful as a motivator and teacher, it has more severe effects when observed at high levels. People often think that there is nothing that they can do about stress, and it is almost impossible to eliminate entirely. You can’t just quit all of your clubs, stop going to school, and avoid all other people, after all. But there are still some steps you can take. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) makes the following recommendations for coping with stress:

  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Nutrition has been found to improve mental health, as well as physical.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Your brain needs time to process the day’s events, and your body needs time to replenish its energy levels.
  • Don’t be afraid to give yourself a break if you feel overwhelmed. This can be difficult if you have a deadline to meet, and you have nothing accomplished, but it will help you in the long run. Taking your mind off of things, even for five or ten minutes, can help to relax.
  • Talk to others. Being able to share your experiences provides emotional support, and others may be able to help with some of the issues you’ve been facing.
  • Recognize when you need more help. If you start contemplating suicide, or can’t muster up the motivation and energy to do anything that you used to enjoy, it’s not something that you should ignore. It’s a sign of depression, a mental illness, and should be taken seriously.

Additionally, there’s the much favored method of consuming dark chocolate. It’s high in antioxidants and will release endorphins in your brain to make you happier. Substances like alcohol, smoking, and drugs can make stress much worse, and should be avoided.

It’s important to remember that stress shouldn’t be the controlling factor in anyone’s life. Set aside time to relax and enjoy yourself, and don’t let stress define you. If you feel like talking to somebody would help, but don’t want to open up to anyone you know, there are a ton of resources available to you. Websites with trained listeners include:

Take charge of your schoolwork and activities in order to make the most out of your high school experience.