Stress in America™ 2013 Highlights: Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits?

While no one can avoid all stressful situations, this year’s Stress in America™ survey portrays a picture of high stress and ineffective coping mechanisms that appear to be ingrained in our culture, perpetuating unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors for future generations. While the news about American stress levels is not new, what’s troubling is the stress outlook for teens in the United States. In many cases, American teens report experiences with stress that follow a similar pattern to those of adults.

Teens and Stress

They report stress at levels far higher than what they believe is healthy and their average reported stress level is higher during the school year. Meanwhile, teens report that stress is having an impact on their life.

  • Teens report that their stress level during the school year far exceeds what they believe to be healthy (5.8 vs. 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and tops adults’ average reported stress level in the past month (5.8 for teens vs. 5.1 for adults).
  • Thirty-one percent of teens say that their stress level has increased in the past year and 34 percent believe their stress levels will increase in the coming year.
  • Eighty-three percent report that school is a somewhat or significant source of stress, and 10 percent of teens report receiving lowers grades than they are capable of because of stress.
  • Teens are more likely than adults to report that their stress level has a slight or no impact on their body or physical health (54 percent of teens vs. 39 percent of adults) or their mental health (52 percent of teens vs. 43 percent of adults). Yet teens report experiencing both emotional and physical symptoms of stress in similar proportions to adults, including feeling irritable or angry, nervous, anxious or and tired.
  • Forty-two percent of teens say they either are not doing enough to manage their stress or they are not sure if they are doing enough to manage it.
  • Thirty-seven percent of teen girls report feeling depressed or sad in the past month due to stress compared to 23 percent of teen boys.
  • Although teens do not appear to recognize the potential impact of stress on their physical and mental health, they often struggle to cope. Only 50 percent report feeling confident about their ability to handle their personal problems, and 46 percent say they feel that they are on top of things fairly or very often.

Stress and Sleep

This year’s Stress in America survey shows that stress may be interfering with Americans’ sleep, keeping many adults and teens from getting the sleep they need to be healthy.

  • Forty-three percent of American adults report that stress has caused them to lie awake at night in the past month.
  • Forty-five percent of adults with higher reported stress levels (eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale) feel even more stressed if they do not get enough sleep.
  • Thirty-five percent of teens report that stress caused them to lie awake at night in the past month. And for teens who sleep fewer than eight hours per school night, 42 percent say their stress level has increased over the past year.

Stress and Exercise

Although many respondents to the Stress in America survey report that they experience positive benefits from exercise, few say they make the time to exercise every day. In fact, the survey found that 37 percent of adults report exercising less than once a week or not at all.

  • Forty-three percent of adults say they exercise to manage stress, and 39 percent say they have skipped exercise or physical activity in the past month when they were feeling stressed.
  • Fifty percent say that being physically active or fit is extremely or very important to them, yet only 27 percent report doing an excellent or very good job of achieving this.
  • Fifty-three percent of teens say they feel good about themselves after exercising, 40 percent say it puts them in a good mood and 32 percent say they feel less stressed after exercising. Regardless, 20 percent of teens report exercising less than once a week or not at all.

Stress and Eating

While many factors contribute to the nation’s weight challenges, the Stress in America survey suggests that stress influences our eating habits. Many adults report engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors as a result of stress.

  • Thirty-eight percent of adults say they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the past month because of stress. Half of these adults (49 percent) report engaging in these behaviors weekly or more.
  • Twenty-seven percent of adults say they eat to manage stress, and 34 percent of those who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress say this behavior is a habit.
  • Among teens who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress (26 percent), 33 percent say they did so because it helps distract them from what was causing them stress.
  • Sixty-seven percent of teens who report skipping meals due to stress say it was because of a lack of appetite, and 25 percent say it was because they did not have time to eat.

A Stress Snapshot

Survey results show that adults are living with stress that is higher than what they believe to be healthy and that they are not having much success at managing or reducing their stress.

  • Forty-two percent of adults report that their stress level has increased, and 36 percent say their stress level has stayed the same over the past five years.
  • Sixty-one percent of adults say that managing stress is extremely or very important, but only 35 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job at it.
  • Forty-four percent of adults say they are not doing enough or are not sure whether they are doing enough to manage their stress, but 19 percent say they never engage in stress management activities.
  • Money (71 percent), work (69 percent) and the economy (59 percent) continue to be the most commonly reported sources of stress.