Young people in America are more stressed out about school pressure and family finances than their parents think, according to a national “Stress in America” survey from by the American Psychological Association (APA).
The study, which built upon past research that found stress to be a top health concern for US youth in grades 9-12, found that teens and tweens are more likely than parents to say that their stress had increased in the last year:
- Nearly half (45%) of teens ages 13-17 say that they worried more this year, but only 28% of parents think their teen’s stress increased.
- One-fourth (26%) of tweens ages 8-12 say they worried more this year, but only 17% of parents believed their tween’s stress had increased.
Similarly, only 2-5% of parents rate their child’s stress as extreme (an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) when 14% of tweens and 28% of teens say they worry a lot or a great deal.
Parents’ responses about sources of stress for their children are also out of sync with what children reported as sources of worry, the study found. Children are more likely to say they worried about their family’s financial difficulties than parents were to say this was a source of stress for their children (30% vs. 18% of parents).
Results are similar for doing well in school (44% vs. 34% of parents). In general, children also are more likely to report having? physical symptoms often associated with stress than parents were to say their children experienced these symptoms, including headaches, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite.
- Tweens (30%) and teens (42%) say they get headaches vs. 13% of parents who say their offspring get headaches.
- Tweens (39%) and teens (49%) cite difficulty sleeping vs. 13% of parents who say their kids have trouble.
- Tweens (27%) and teens (39%) report eating too much or too little vs. 8% of parents who say their children eat too much or too little.
“It’s clear that parents do not fully appreciate the impact that stress is having on their kids,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice. “What we’re seeing with stress is in line with existing research about parents’ perception of their kids’ engagement in risky behaviors. Parents often under report drug use, depression and sexual activity in their children. Now it appears the same may be true for stress.”
Perceptions of Stress in Adults
The survey results reveal that adults also continue to report high levels of stress and many report that their stress has increased over the past year. Additionally, many adults are reporting physical symptoms of stress.
Three-fourths (75%) of adults report experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month (24% extreme, 51% moderate) and nearly half report that their stress has increased in the past year (42%). Two-fifths (43%) of adults say they eat too much or eat unhealthy foods as a result of stress and 37% report skipping a meal because they were under stress.
In terms of stress relief, the study found that 44% of adults report that they exercise or walk to relieve stress, but more Americans also say they rely on more sedentary activities to manage stress (49%? listen to music, 41% read, 36% watch TV or movies more than two hours per day, and 33% play video games.)
Overall, many adults say they have felt the physical effects of stress in the past month:
- 47%? of all adults report that they have lain awake at night.
- 45% report irritability or anger.
- 43% report fatigue
- 40% report lack of interest, motivation or energy.
- 34% report headaches;
- 34% report feeling depressed or sad.
- 32% report feeling as though they could cry.
- 27%? report upset stomach or indegestion as a result of stress.
“The prevalence with which Americans continue to report increasing and extreme stress levels is a real concern,” said Nordal, who believes that the current healthcare system in the US does not do a very good job in helping Americans manage the symptoms or effects of their stress. Further, she added that the problem is being exacerbated by the fact that insurance companies “often don’t cover preventive services or the kinds of services people need in order to better manage chronic illness.”
Lifestyle and Behavior Change
Of perhaps more concern than just reports of stress alone, a full two-thirds (66%) US adults have been told by a health-care provider that they have one or more chronic conditions, most commonly high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
While the vast majority of adults indicated that their health care provider recommended lifestyle and behavior changes (70%), few adults say their health care provider offers support to help them make lasting changes or follows up with them to see if the changes have been made.
Denver Most Stressed City
In terms of stress levels in specific cities, the survey revealed that more Denver residents than Americans nationwide say that their work, money and job stability are significant sources of stress. More than 75% of city residents report significant stress from work and money.
The survey found that the number of Denverites who said their average stress level is in the extreme range is higher than those nationally. More than one-third (35%) rate their average stress levels as an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale (compared with 24% nationally), and nearly half (48%) said their stress has increased over the past year.
Residents of Denver also more commonly report a variety of stress-related physical symptoms than others in the nation.
About the survey: The 2009 Stress in America Survey was conducted online within the US by Harris Interactive on behalf of the APA, from July 21 – August 4, 2009 among 1,568 adults ages 18+.? This report also includes the results of a YouthQuery survey conducted between August 19 and 27, 2009 among 1,206 young people aged 8-17 years old. Results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income. Reports for specific metropolitan areas also are available.