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Stress in America survey says teens feel more pressure than adults

Stress and mindset can spark cardiac problems 03:23

American teens are more stressed than adults, a new survey suggests, and it’s impacting areas of their health including sleep, exercise and their ability to eat well, according to the latest Stress in America Survey.

The 2013 Stress in America survey results, which were unveiled Tuesday by the American Psychological Association, involved responses from 1,950 adults and 1,018 teens. The annual questionnaire has been tracking the stress levels of Americans since 2007.

Teens during the school year averaged a 5.8 out of 10 on a stress scale, far above the 3.9 score considered to be a normal level of stress. For comparison, adults averaged a 5.1 on the scale. Even during the summer months when school was out, teens reported a 4.6 score.

The vast majority of teens said school was a major source of their stress, and one out of 10 percent said stress led to lower grades. For adults, money (71 percent), work (69 percent) and the economy (59 percent) were top stressors.

The biggest problems teens reported were feeling overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent). Girls were more likely to feel down from stress than boys.

Teens reported feeling irritable, angry, nervous, anxious and tired at around the same rate as adults. More than one-third of teens said they were exhausted due to the stress in their lives, and 25 percent skipped a meal because of the added pressure.

A little over four out of 10 teens said they weren’t actively doing enough to manage their stress, and 13 percent admitted they didn’t do anything to help deal with the added pressure on their lives.

 “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 that stress has on their physical and mental health,” APA CEO and executive vice president Norman B. Anderson said in a press 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 health care professionals.”

Teens were more likely to feel that their stress levels didn’t impact their physical or mental health than adults. But, it was clear from the results that they had the same problematic stress-related health symptoms that adults experienced.

The survey specifically looked at how stress affected sleep, exercise and eating habits. Forty-three percent of American adults said stress kept them up at night, compared to 35 percent of teens. The adults with the highest levels of reported stress -- scoring between 8 and 10 on the scale -- said they were more stressed when they got less sleep.

Eating habits also suffered because of stress. Thirty-eight percent of adults and 26 percent of teens said they overate due to the stress in their lives. A little over a quarter of adults said eating helped control their stress levels, similar to the one-third of teens who reported stress eating to help lower the pressure they felt.

As for exercising, 43 percent of American adults said they used physical activity as a stress management technique, and 32 percent of teens said they were less stressed after working out. But, four out of 10 adults said they had to skip exercise because of stress, and 20 percent of teens said they worked out once a week or less when stressed. 

“When spending time with teens, we can encourage them to exercise, eat well, get the sleep they need and seek support from health care professionals like psychologists to help them develop healthier coping mechanisms for stress sooner rather than later,” said Anderson.

Last year's Stress in America survey found that millennials were the most stressed-out generation. In that survey, the 18 to 33-year-old group averaged a 5.4 stress level out of ten. A June 2012 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology also showed that overall American stress levels have increased between 10 and 30 percent between 1983 and 2009.

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