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U.S. teens feel high levels of stress that they say negatively affects every aspect of their lives, a new national survey suggests.

More than a quarter (27%) say they experience "extreme stress" during the school year, 13% in the summer. And 34% expect stress to increase in the coming year.

Stressors range from school to friends, work and family. And teens aren't always using healthy methods to cope, finds the latest Stress in America survey from the American Psychological Association, based in Washington, D.C.

This is the first time the survey has focused on teens; while some research has looked at depression and other mental health concerns, officials say this may be the most comprehensive national survey of stress in teens to date.

The survey's findings, on about 1,000 teens and 2,000 adults, suggest that unhealthy stress behaviors may start early and continue through adulthood. It says 21% of adults report "extreme" stress and notes that teens "mirror adults' high-stress lives," so they are "potentially setting themselves up for a future of chronic stress and chronic illness."

The study "gives us a window into how early these patterns might begin," says clinical psychologist Norman Anderson, the group's CEO. He cites stress-related behaviors such as lack of sleep, lack of exercise and poor eating habits.

Teens' average stress level was 5.8 out of 10 during the school year, 4.6 in the past month (the survey was in August). Adults averaged 5.1 for the past month.

Teens said stress makes them irritable or angry (40%) and nervous or anxious (36%). A third say it makes them feel overwhelmed, depressed or sad.

Only about 37% of teens surveyed exercise or walk to manage stress; 28% play sports. Many more choose what experts say are less healthy activities, including playing video games (46%) and going online (43%).

Despite teens' own perceptions, some experts question whether stress is merely a convenient excuse for teen behaviors.

"I think they get stressed because somebody puts a demand on them and they don't want to do it," says Michael Bradley, a psychologist in Feasterville, Pa.

"Some stress is very therapeutic ... and helps us become strong. The hard part is what's appropriate. We do know the more we try to mitigate all stress in our child's life, the less resilient that child becomes and they feel hopeless about their own future."


February 11, 2014


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