Teenagers and Stress
Coming home from a club meeting, her third extracurricular meeting this week, junior Cynthia Garza heads straight to her room and quickly falls asleep in her bed. Involved in eight extracurricular activities, Garza often feels overworked and exhausted.
A natural response to strenuous events, the body releases chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline from the adrenal glands which cause it to prepare for a high-energy moment. Stress can come in a variety of forms and have many sources. Over time, stress can build up and wear on an individual, leading to problems with mental, emotional and physical well-being. A study published in the Clinical Psychology Review noted a significant rise in the number of younger people reporting anxiety-related problems, with an all-time high occurring after the turn of the millenium.
“Unfortunately no matter how prepared one can be, when it comes down to it, there’s always something that turns out unexpectedly,” Garza said. “Stress is something I have constantly.”
Stress comes in two forms, eustress and distress. Eustress includes things like exercising, mental stimulation and challenging tasks promoting growth and overall health. It also helps with responding quickly to emergency or alert situations. At a certain point, however, stress begins to have unhealthy effects on the body. Known as distress, this ranges from breaking bones to overworking oneself. Even teachers feel the weight of stress at times. Between time spent with her family and working to improve her curriculum, English teacher Stephanie Bonneau always feels stressed.
“I worry every year that I’m not making a difference – that’s a constant stress,” Mrs. Bonneau said. “Tack on all of the mom stresses of having teenage kids and it can become overwhelming.”
Especially during school stress can have many sources, known as stressors. Stressors vary in degree and each can have differing side effects, from light headaches to severe depression. School, personal insecurities, bodily changes, peers and family, death, moving, and disease make up the most common stressors among teenagers. With school requiring so much of her attention, Garza easily feels weighed down during the peak of school activities.
“It does take a toll on me when I have to attend meetings, deal with projects currently going on or have to be a good example to to other members,” Garza said. “The clubs take away from my free time and study time.”
According to a 2008 study, students can experience the effects of stress for up to two days after its initial cause. Students with stressful lives at home and outside of school tend to have lower grades and a greater chance of academic failure, both short and long term. The stress from their home life spills over into their academic career with harmful effects, something Garza has experienced herself before.
“I need activities to keep me going and help me focus,” Garza said. “But I have my moments where I just get too overwhelmed that I have to drop everything and take some time off.”
To cope with and manage stress, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends several methods for the physical and emotional sides of stress. A healthy diet accompanied by regular exercise, practicing breathing exercises, avoiding caffeine and other substances capable of increasing anxiety or agitation, and avoiding illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco can help the body take on larger loads of stress without as many harmful effects. Controlling one’s thoughts, rehearsing stressful situations, learning skills associated with coping and breaking from mentally straining activities keep the mind from becoming overburdened. To relax Garza takes yoga and dance classes, which serve to take her mind off things.
“[The classes] relax me,” Garza said. “And they’re the few places I can just let go and have fun, just go and get the worries out of your system and go on with life.”
The AACAP also suggests building a network of friends for encouragement and help in managing stress and calls on parents to monitor their children during times of stress.
“My family lets me have space and helps me when I have something to get done, and I have a good group of friends that listens to me and understands all I have to do,” Garza said.
Aware of what it might cost, Garza plans on continuing her involved high school career in hopes of perfecting herself with time.
“I always want to work on my flaws and better any situation because I’d rather face stress than personal disappointment,” Garza said.
Some Tips to Manage Your Stress:
- Don’t overschedule yourself – the less, the better.
- Don’t try too hard to reach perfection. You never will, so it can only add to the pressure.
- Sleep. Six hours a night isn’t enough for a teenager.
- Take time to relax. Everybody needs time to calm down.