How would you rate your stress today? How would you rate your stress back in your teen years? A new survey by the American Psychological Association finds on a 10-point scale, American teens rate their stress above the level adults do – 5.8 compared to 5.1. Further, most of the teens expressed their level of stress wasn’t healthy, but either didn’t know what to do to manage their stress or just weren’t doing it. These figures are alarming to both parents and health care providers, as unaddressed and unmanaged stress can have negative health implications in both the short-term and long-term including, depression, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Cause of Stress in Teens
According to the survey, 83 percent of teens said school was the source of most of their stress. Teens are also worried about what is going to happen after high school regarding their future and college. Some teens cite financial situations as a source of stress, which experts say is a direct response to parental stress often trickling down to children (of all ages). Authors of the survey hope shedding light on a portion of the population often overlooked when it comes to stress management, will spark a conversation to direct resources to the teen population, improving coping and management strategies for stress.
Impact of Stress on Everyday Health
There is no denying stress impacts our everyday health in a negative way. In fact, did you know as many as 80 percent of visits to primary care physicians are attributed to stress? Stress can disrupt sleep, digestion, cause emotional problems, reduce concentration and focus, compromise the immune system and lead to chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
We experience stress throughout the day as a reaction to real or perceived threats. Most threats today are perceived threats (such as an upcoming final exam or deadline at work) versus real threats to our livelihood. The body has a natural response system to protect itself from these threats and does a poor job at distinguishing between real and perceived – releasing stress hormones, while raising heart rate, blood pressure, energy supplies and blood sugar levels. Continued stress puts our response system into overdrive, contributing to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, obesity, inflammatory disorders, anxiety and depression.
While we cannot eliminate the causes of all stress in our life, we can find a way to better respond to that stress. First, give your body the best chance to fight off the negative impact of stress through a healthy diet, regular exercise and good, quality sleep. This will help support a healthy immune system, while also giving you an opportunity to release that stress through exercise and give your body the time to restore itself through sleep. Second, try to change the way you mentally respond to stress. Be aware of what you can control and what you cannot control. For those things you can control, address the source of the stress in small steps, so it is not overwhelming. In the example of an upcoming final exam, set a schedule for preparing and give yourself breaks for exercise or something else more enjoyable. Finally, find fun ways to relax, whether that is listening to music, spending time with friends or trying a new hobby.
If you are concerned about your level of stress, or that of your child’s, talk to your health care provider. You can find a Utica Park Clinic physician here or call 918.579.DOCS (3627).