2014 Stress in America survey addresses teen stress levels

Findings indicate stress may begin manifesting early in people’s lives.

American teens report experiences with stress that follow a similar pattern as adults, according to a new survey released Feb. 11 by the American Psychological Association. In fact, during the school year, teens say their stress level is higher than levels reported by adults in the same time period. For teens and adults alike, stress has an impact on healthy behaviors like exercising, sleeping well and eating healthy foods.

Findings from Stress in America™: Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits?, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive Inc., (on behalf of APA) among 1,950 adults and 1,018 teens in the U.S. in August 2013, suggest that unhealthy behaviors associated with stress may begin manifesting early in people’s lives.

Teens report that their stress level during the school year far exceeds what they believe to be healthy (5.8 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and tops adults’ average reported stress levels (5.8 for teens versus 5.1 for adults). Even during the summer — between Aug. 3 and Aug. 31, 2013, when interviewing took place — teens reported their stress during the past month at levels higher than what they believe is healthy (4.6 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale). Many teens also report feeling overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent) as a result of stress. More than one-third of teens report fatigue or feeling tired (36 percent) and nearly one-quarter of teens (23 percent) report skipping a meal due to stress.

Despite the impact that stress appears to have on their lives, 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 versus 39 percent of adults) or their mental health (52 percent of teens versus 43 percent of adults).

“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,” says APA CEO and Executive Vice President Norman B. Anderson, PhD. “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.”

The report was released during a live press webinar and discussion of the findings by Anderson and APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD. The report has already generated media coverage from USA Today, “NBC News,” “Fox News,” TIME Magazine and more. The latest report is available on the Stress in America website. In addition to the report, members can access articles and tip sheets on the Psychology Help Center website to use with patients on how to better manage stress for themselves and their families. In conjunction with the survey, the APA Practice Directorate also released a new video, “Stress in America — Conquering Your Stress” that explains how a psychologist working with your primary care provider can help you manage stress.

Since 2007, the annual Stress in America survey has provided insights into leading sources of stress among Americans. It creates a platform for educating the public about the connection between prolonged stress and health and promotes psychologists as the best-trained health care providers to support healthy lifestyle and behavioral changes.

Stress in America also provides an opportunity for APA to promote the value of psychologists in studying and treating physical health problems by drawing attention to how stress and unhealthy behaviors can contribute to the development of chronic illnesses. The report gains considerable national media coverage for psychology each year and is part of APA’s Mind Body Health public education campaign.