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U.S. teens feeling more stress than adults

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U.S.teens are experiencing levels of stress that exceed those of adults, according to the Stress in America survey released Feb. 11 by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The APA has conducted the Stress in America survey since 2007. The organization’s latest survey, conducted online in August 2013, focused on teens and involved 1,950 adults and 1,018 adolescents.

“This population is underserved and not taken seriously sometimes,” Katherine Nordal, PhD, the APA’s executive director for professional practices, told Time. “We wanted to shine light on some of the problems we know teens are having and whether they are successful at coping with them or not.”

The survey found that during the school year teens averaged a 5.8 out of 10 on a stress scale, well above the 3.9 score considered a normal level of stress. By comparison, adults reported an average of 5.1 on the stress scale. During the summer months, when one would expect less stress on teens, they reported a score of 4.6.

The survey also found:

  • Feelings of being overwhelmed by stress were reported by 31 percent of the teen respondents.
  • Thirty percent of the teens said they experienced feelings of depression and sadness from stress.
  • More than one-third or 36 percent of the teens reported fatigue or feeling tired from stress.
  • Teens experienced the same symptoms of stress as adults – feeling angry, irritable, nervous and anxious; overeating or skipping meals; not getting enough exercise; or lying awake at night.

What’s causing so much stress in the lives of American teenagers?

School issues, including getting into a good college and deciding what to do after high school was a source of stress for 83 percent of the teens in the survey. Financial concern for their families also contributed to their stress.

“Children learn what they live, so I think when there’s a lot of stress in the household in regard to financial concerns that certainly it bleeds down to children as well,” Nordal explained to HealthDay.

As for coping mechanisms to relieve stress, the survey found that 42 percent of teens are not doing enough to manage their stress. Instead, the study suggests a vicious cycle of poor sleep, eating, and exercise habits that increase stress rather than reduce it.

Because stress can lead to short-term and long-term mental and health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure later in life, healthcare professionals see a pressing need for helping teens cope with stress sooner rather than later.

“It is alarming that the teen stress experience is so similar to that of adults. It is even more concerning that they seem to underestimate the potential impact stress has on their physical and mental health,” APA CEO and executive vice president Norman B. Anderson, PhD, said in an APA news release.

“In order to break this cycle of stress and unhealthy behaviors as a nation, we need to provide teens with better support and health education at school and home, at the community level and in their interactions with healthcare professionals,” added Anderson.

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