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Stress in Adolescents: Refine or Define?

Updated on June 7, 2015

One out of eight adolescents is diagnosed with depression, as well as, five thousand of these depressed individuals commit suicide each year (Carwile). Although it is not a direct cause, stress is a great contributor to the problem of depression and suicide in adolescents. Compared to adults, students seem to experience similar amounts of stress. This should not be the case. While adult stress is more attributed to work, financial, and family situations, student stress is closely attributed to academic and social stress. Social stress, in this case, is interpreted as social media outlook, popularity among peers, or being pressured into taking higher level classes by peers. Academic related stress can be interpreted as competition to succeed and overshadow competitors. It can be seen another way as perfectionism issues. Becoming successful is a goal of many. But even so, it was said that in 2011, 40% of employers believed that they could not hire and keep employees due to lack of employability skills, such as work ethic, accountability, timeliness and so on (Bloomberg). This apparent issue highlights the need to teach students the importance of balance in one’s life, making sure that they know how to get support when needed so that they do not develop symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Academic and social stress in high school students significantly affects students’ overall performance, and by identifying these problems and implementing solutions, we can better prepare the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.

Psycho-neurology and genetic makeup both play a pivotal role in whether students can cope with stress. The reason being is the genetics of a given student can impact the way they can psychologically cope with different types of situations (Walker, 2005). The term that refers to an individual’s ability to be able to adapt to acute, trauma, or chronic stress is resilience. If a loved one were to die, depending on how psychologically resilient the adolescent is, he or she may or may not be able to cope properly with the loss. What genetically affects this ability to be able to successfully adapt then cope with stressful events depends on the “adaptive changes in several neural circuits involving numerous neurotransmitter and molecular pathways,” (Feder, 2009). These changes, which inevitably occur as a child develops into an adult, shape the functioning in which these transmitters regulate emotions such as reward, fear, emotion reactivity and social behavior. Because of the fact that individuals are not the same and that not everyone is as stress resilient as others may be, this justifies the reason that some students may not be able to cope with forms of stress.

As human beings, it is rather impossible to be able to live without some form of stress in daily life. In fact, stress is a fundamental component to the growth and development of adolescents when, as it should be, it occurs in healthy dosages. Stress does its job to prepare one for problems that he or she may face. In other words, it can help boost resilience to situations that bring forth distress in the body. A healthy dose of mental strain the individual builds a sense of immunity from future events that share similarities to past events. This can only occur if the individual forms healthy ways of dealing with stress-related events as well as forming a universal method(s) of dealing with stress. Unfortunately, this is also a problem among modern day adolescents. More and more students develop rather unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. In a 2013 survey done by the American Psychological Association, it was reported that 46 percent of students felt that the best way they handle stress is by playing video games and another 43 percent said they do so by surfing the internet. Although it is not safe to assume what kinds of games that these individuals play or what websites they go to, it can be said that sedentary forms of coping with stress are not the healthiest. Depending on what kinds of games are played or what websites are visited, stress levels can actually be increased rather than reduced due to the stimulants that are released by the brain. Increased, rather than reduced, amounts of stress from poor coping habits make stress more unmanageable. When stress felt by an individual gets to a point where they feel as though they are no longer in control is when serious problems develop.

Unmanaged stress creates problems that affect both the physical body and the mental state of the mind. What constitutes as unmanaged stress is when a given individual is no longer able to handle or deal with situations where he or she feels under a particular form of pressure. A hypothetical example is if two students were to get a 75 percent on an exam. One student, after seeing his score, says to himself ‘I probably should have studied more; I’ll make sure to study for the next exam.’ He then ends up doing better on the next exam solely because of the fact that the student exhibited a form of constructive reflection and criticism which signaled to the student that he should prepare for his tests better. The other student however, after seeing his score says to himself ‘this is because I’m dumb, no matter how much I try, I can’t do well on my tests.’ This student continues to do poorly on future exams because of the reason the student felt as though she had no control over what grades she received. One student, over the other, was able to exhibit a healthy form of adaptation to a situation that put to the test their mental adaptive abilities (A. Papadakis, personal communication, December 16, 2014). For the student who was unable to successfully adapt to why she continues to fail on her tests is what leads to chronic stress which, in turn, can lead to more serious psychological problems such as depression.

It needs to be clarified that there are other factors, not just the individuals themselves who play a role in stress that is felt by students. Cultural orientation and cultural value, for example, directly influences the ways in which an individual comes to perceive, experience, express, and respond to stress (Xiao, 2013). In the current cultural norm(s), the environmental factor, social and school sub-factors play one of the larger roles. Looking through an international lens, “Chinese students outperform much of the rest of the word on standardized exams,” (Geraghty, 2013). The overall reason behind this is Chinese students are expected before hand to “…pursue academic success in order to achieve respect, family pride, and social mobility…,” (Xiao, 2013). All of this, however, comes at a major price. While China is known for its core value in education, it is also known for its high, or rather severe levels of competiveness to receive higher education beyond primary and secondary school whereas between 20 to 40 percent of students get the chance to receive higher education. This factor may or may not infringe upon coping and adaptive abilities among students depending on how well they are able handle stressors. But as it should now be noted, depending on what cultural values and orientations are held, the ways in which one can adapt and cope with the stressors that are present vary on a wide scale in terms of the resources that are available.

Focusing more specifically here in the United States, the environmental factor is much more impactful in other ways compared to China. In fact, there are other factors that also influence the amount of stressors that may be present to an adolescent such as school workload, extracurricular activities that the student participates in, as well as family life. When evaluating such factors in the U.S., it must be taken into account the wide range of diversity in culture in different areas among the several states, more so, the social influences that are exhibited in different areas. However, because of the advancement and higher levels of integration of technology in society, the individual cultural norms that can be found throughout the United States have intertwined, and continues to do so as innovation of technology continues to excel to newer heights. Therefore the idea that cultural norms vary dramatically, regarding the behaviors in adolescents, is to an extent irrelevant. Statistics from a survey conducted by Harris Interactive show that 68 percent of girls, compared to 55 percent of boys, say that the main source of their stress derives from how they appear in the eyes of those around them (Jayson, 2013). In other words, external body image is one of the main reasons as to what puts an increased amount of pressure on these young adults, thus effecting performance levels through the social factor.

While the environmental factor is more universal throughout the United States, the other factors mentioned, school workload, extracurricular activities that the student participates in, and family life, play a more local or personal role to an adolescent’s livelihood. School workload is most directly related to the kind of classes that one takes. However, by looking beyond that, one can evaluate that a student’s workload is not only determined by how many rigorous classes he or she is taking but also by how he or she is handling the work that is given by these classes. The best way to understand what this means is by understanding first how workload is defined in this context. As stated by the Erasmus University Rotterdam, “The student workload consists of the hours needed to follow classes, the preparation to classes, taking examinations, [and the] preparation for examinations…,” (2015). The time required to complete work from each class is what truly defines the amount of workload a student has. This can be influenced most particularly by the amount of afterschool obligations that they have, obligations they have at home with their family, and more personally, how well they are able to not procrastinate and set priorities in a way where what comes first is what should be considered a core value to students: a quality education for the future ahead.

A student’s academic performance in the classroom is evidently affected due to different causes and influences of stress. However, one cannot tell if a student’s performance is lagging or excelling by simply looking at ones report card. In order to measure academic performance, it has to be identified what a given student is trying to achieve. “Academic achievement could be defined as self-perception and self-evaluation of one’s objective academic success,” (Joshi 2009). The self-perception and evaluation of the student is what justifies whether the student is performing or not. Performance can also be measured by the kinds of classes that a student takes. To date, a majority of students are taking more rigorous level classes—Advanced Placement (AP), Gifted and Talented (GT), and Honors levels. Although it is encouraged that students take more classes that are challenging, it gets to the point where they are overworking themselves. Thus, workload is increased, and anxiety from tests is greater (Carter, 2011).

It would be expected that all students should be striving for the best grades possible in all their classes, however, not everyone is the same, nor do all students care about the grades they receive as other may. This gives more reason to why schools and school systems need to be putting more of an effort to aid students beyond the academic realm. Parents also need to be more aware of their student’s capabilities and judge whether or not he or she is making the right choices; not just in school but on life as it is. It all boils down to how involved external resources are in adolescents—parents and teachers, especially those who are not able to manage stressful situations, and also how well the student is able to realize that he or she needs help and go to these resources. In 2013, the Center of Disease Control calculated that there were a total of 41,149 deaths by suicide in the United States, well above the national annual average at around 30,000. In Maryland, the suicide rate was recorded at around 9.6 percent, below the national average at around 13 percent. However, although the rates are low, the 2013 data census recorded that Maryland had 569 suicide related cases. Maryland is neither among the states that have high rates of suicide, nor among those that recorded up to one thousand suicide related cases, but neither it among the lowest. This means that it still needs to be made a priority that students are aware of external resources, and also for schools and school systems to make such resources more available and widely known to the students. Taking one semester of health is not adequate enough to properly educate students on the risks of stress.

If students continue to fail to recognize that stress really has a tremendous impact on the decisions the given student makes, as well as the decisions the student makes is a significant contributor to stress, can lead to greater chances of developing depression. With 2013 statistics saying that 54% of teens, well over 39% of adults, find themselves to believe that stress has “…slight or no impact on their body or physical health… or their mental health…,” (APA Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults, 2014), it is clear that that teens have yet to be aware of the consequences stress has on the body and mind. It needs to be made a top priority that students are aware of the dangers of stress which can ultimately lead to suicide. They need to be taught how the decisions they make now can significantly influence the way they may interact with others in the future. Most importantly, they need to be taught the skills needed to be able to adapt and cope with environments, interact with others and themselves, cope with negative events that may occur in their lives, and overall, become a well-rounded person. With this sort of education provided, we can ensure that the U.S. excels to greater heights in technology and innovation and stay on par with global competiveness.

One out of eight adolescents is diagnosed with depression, as well as, five thousand of these depressed individuals commit suicide each year (Carwile). Although it is not a direct cause, stress is a great contributor to the problem of depression and suicide in adolescents. Compared to adults, students seem to experience similar amounts of stress. This should not be the case. While adult stress is more attributed to work, financial, and family situations, student stress is closely attributed to academic and social stress. Social stress, in this case, is interpreted as social media outlook, popularity among peers, or being pressured into taking higher level classes by peers. Academic related stress can be interpreted as competition to succeed and overshadow competitors. It can be seen another way as perfectionism issues. Becoming successful is a goal of many. But even so, it was said that in 2011, 40% of employers believed that they could not hire and keep employees due to lack of employability skills, such as work ethic, accountability, timeliness and so on (Bloomberg). This apparent issue highlights the need to teach students the importance of balance in one’s life, making sure that they know how to get support when needed so that they do not develop symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Academic and social stress in high school students significantly affects students’ overall performance, and by identifying these problems and implementing solutions, we can better prepare the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.

Psycho-neurology and genetic makeup both play a pivotal role in whether students can cope with stress. The reason being is the genetics of a given student can impact the way they can psychologically cope with different types of situations (Walker, 2005). The term that refers to an individual’s ability to be able to adapt to acute, trauma, or chronic stress is resilience. If a loved one were to die, depending on how psychologically resilient the adolescent is, he or she may or may not be able to cope properly with the loss. What genetically affects this ability to be able to successfully adapt then cope with stressful events depends on the “adaptive changes in several neural circuits involving numerous neurotransmitter and molecular pathways,” (Feder, 2009). These changes, which inevitably occur as a child develops into an adult, shape the functioning in which these transmitters regulate emotions such as reward, fear, emotion reactivity and social behavior. Because of the fact that individuals are not the same and that not everyone is as stress resilient as others may be, this justifies the reason that some students may not be able to cope with forms of stress.

As human beings, it is rather impossible to be able to live without some form of stress in daily life. In fact, stress is a fundamental component to the growth and development of adolescents when, as it should be, it occurs in healthy dosages. Stress does its job to prepare one for problems that he or she may face. In other words, it can help boost resilience to situations that bring forth distress in the body. A healthy dose of mental strain the individual builds a sense of immunity from future events that share similarities to past events. This can only occur if the individual forms healthy ways of dealing with stress-related events as well as forming a universal method(s) of dealing with stress. Unfortunately, this is also a problem among modern day adolescents. More and more students develop rather unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. In a 2013 survey done by the American Psychological Association, it was reported that 46 percent of students felt that the best way they handle stress is by playing video games and another 43 percent said they do so by surfing the internet. Although it is not safe to assume what kinds of games that these individuals play or what websites they go to, it can be said that sedentary forms of coping with stress are not the healthiest. Depending on what kinds of games are played or what websites are visited, stress levels can actually be increased rather than reduced due to the stimulants that are released by the brain. Increased, rather than reduced, amounts of stress from poor coping habits make stress more unmanageable. When stress felt by an individual gets to a point where they feel as though they are no longer in control is when serious problems develop.

Unmanaged stress creates problems that affect both the physical body and the mental state of the mind. What constitutes as unmanaged stress is when a given individual is no longer able to handle or deal with situations where he or she feels under a particular form of pressure. A hypothetical example is if two students were to get a 75 percent on an exam. One student, after seeing his score, says to himself ‘I probably should have studied more; I’ll make sure to study for the next exam.’ He then ends up doing better on the next exam solely because of the fact that the student exhibited a form of constructive reflection and criticism which signaled to the student that he should prepare for his tests better. The other student however, after seeing his score says to himself ‘this is because I’m dumb, no matter how much I try, I can’t do well on my tests.’ This student continues to do poorly on future exams because of the reason the student felt as though she had no control over what grades she received. One student, over the other, was able to exhibit a healthy form of adaptation to a situation that put to the test their mental adaptive abilities (A. Papadakis, personal communication, December 16, 2014). For the student who was unable to successfully adapt to why she continues to fail on her tests is what leads to chronic stress which, in turn, can lead to more serious psychological problems such as depression.

It needs to be clarified that there are other factors, not just the individuals themselves who play a role in stress that is felt by students. Cultural orientation and cultural value, for example, directly influences the ways in which an individual comes to perceive, experience, express, and respond to stress (Xiao, 2013). In the current cultural norm(s), the environmental factor, social and school sub-factors play one of the larger roles. Looking through an international lens, “Chinese students outperform much of the rest of the word on standardized exams,” (Geraghty, 2013). The overall reason behind this is Chinese students are expected before hand to “…pursue academic success in order to achieve respect, family pride, and social mobility…,” (Xiao, 2013). All of this, however, comes at a major price. While China is known for its core value in education, it is also known for its high, or rather severe levels of competiveness to receive higher education beyond primary and secondary school whereas between 20 to 40 percent of students get the chance to receive higher education. This factor may or may not infringe upon coping and adaptive abilities among students depending on how well they are able handle stressors. But as it should now be noted, depending on what cultural values and orientations are held, the ways in which one can adapt and cope with the stressors that are present vary on a wide scale in terms of the resources that are available.

Focusing more specifically here in the United States, the environmental factor is much more impactful in other ways compared to China. In fact, there are other factors that also influence the amount of stressors that may be present to an adolescent such as school workload, extracurricular activities that the student participates in, as well as family life. When evaluating such factors in the U.S., it must be taken into account the wide range of diversity in culture in different areas among the several states, more so, the social influences that are exhibited in different areas. However, because of the advancement and higher levels of integration of technology in society, the individual cultural norms that can be found throughout the United States have intertwined, and continues to do so as innovation of technology continues to excel to newer heights. Therefore the idea that cultural norms vary dramatically, regarding the behaviors in adolescents, is to an extent irrelevant. Statistics from a survey conducted by Harris Interactive show that 68 percent of girls, compared to 55 percent of boys, say that the main source of their stress derives from how they appear in the eyes of those around them (Jayson, 2013). In other words, external body image is one of the main reasons as to what puts an increased amount of pressure on these young adults, thus effecting performance levels through the social factor.

While the environmental factor is more universal throughout the United States, the other factors mentioned, school workload, extracurricular activities that the student participates in, and family life, play a more local or personal role to an adolescent’s livelihood. School workload is most directly related to the kind of classes that one takes. However, by looking beyond that, one can evaluate that a student’s workload is not only determined by how many rigorous classes he or she is taking but also by how he or she is handling the work that is given by these classes. The best way to understand what this means is by understanding first how workload is defined in this context. As stated by the Erasmus University Rotterdam, “The student workload consists of the hours needed to follow classes, the preparation to classes, taking examinations, [and the] preparation for examinations…,” (2015). The time required to complete work from each class is what truly defines the amount of workload a student has. This can be influenced most particularly by the amount of afterschool obligations that they have, obligations they have at home with their family, and more personally, how well they are able to not procrastinate and set priorities in a way where what comes first is what should be considered a core value to students: a quality education for the future ahead.

A student’s academic performance in the classroom is evidently affected due to different causes and influences of stress. However, one cannot tell if a student’s performance is lagging or excelling by simply looking at ones report card. In order to measure academic performance, it has to be identified what a given student is trying to achieve. “Academic achievement could be defined as self-perception and self-evaluation of one’s objective academic success,” (Joshi 2009). The self-perception and evaluation of the student is what justifies whether the student is performing or not. Performance can also be measured by the kinds of classes that a student takes. To date, a majority of students are taking more rigorous level classes—Advanced Placement (AP), Gifted and Talented (GT), and Honors levels. Although it is encouraged that students take more classes that are challenging, it gets to the point where they are overworking themselves. Thus, workload is increased, and anxiety from tests is greater (Carter, 2011).

It would be expected that all students should be striving for the best grades possible in all their classes, however, not everyone is the same, nor do all students care about the grades they receive as other may. This gives more reason to why schools and school systems need to be putting more of an effort to aid students beyond the academic realm. Parents also need to be more aware of their student’s capabilities and judge whether or not he or she is making the right choices; not just in school but on life as it is. It all boils down to how involved external resources are in adolescents—parents and teachers, especially those who are not able to manage stressful situations, and also how well the student is able to realize that he or she needs help and go to these resources. In 2013, the Center of Disease Control calculated that there were a total of 41,149 deaths by suicide in the United States, well above the national annual average at around 30,000. In Maryland, the suicide rate was recorded at around 9.6 percent, below the national average at around 13 percent. However, although the rates are low, the 2013 data census recorded that Maryland had 569 suicide related cases. Maryland is neither among the states that have high rates of suicide, nor among those that recorded up to one thousand suicide related cases, but neither it among the lowest. This means that it still needs to be made a priority that students are aware of external resources, and also for schools and school systems to make such resources more available and widely known to the students. Taking one semester of health is not adequate enough to properly educate students on the risks of stress.

If students continue to fail to recognize that stress really has a tremendous impact on the decisions the given student makes, as well as the decisions the student makes is a significant contributor to stress, can lead to greater chances of developing depression. With 2013 statistics saying that 54% of teens, well over 39% of adults, find themselves to believe that stress has “…slight or no impact on their body or physical health… or their mental health…,” (APA Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults, 2014), it is clear that that teens have yet to be aware of the consequences stress has on the body and mind. It needs to be made a top priority that students are aware of the dangers of stress which can ultimately lead to suicide. They need to be taught how the decisions they make now can significantly influence the way they may interact with others in the future. Most importantly, they need to be taught the skills needed to be able to adapt and cope with environments, interact with others and themselves, cope with negative events that may occur in their lives, and overall, become a well-rounded person. With this sort of education provided, we can ensure that the U.S. excels to greater heights in technology and innovation and stay on par with global competiveness.

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