Summer is just around the corner, but there is one big barrier between students and their freedom: finals.
High school students across the country are completing projects, preparing for exams, and reciting presentations with hopes of receiving impressive grades. While the eagerness to achieve is admirable, mental health professionals are noticing an unfortunate increase in mental health diagnoses amongst teens.
“I’ve seen an uptick in diagnosable anxiety disorders that almost incapacitate teens,” said Dr. Melissa Holland, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at California State University, Sacramento. “It’s estimated about one in five teens have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and most of them go untreated.”
According to Pew Research Center, teens reported academics as the top pressure in their lives. In the American Psychological Association survey, more than 80% of teens said that school was a ‘somewhat or significant source of stress’. As a result, anxiety and depression are a major problem amongst high school students.
Educators are also taking notice of the increased toll academic stress is taking on students.
“I’ve had students who won’t come to school because they don’t want to compound their stress,” high school teacher Andrew Simmons of Oakland shared. “The academic pressures and stress faced by teens today start long before high school and seem to escalate every year. The pressure comes from parents and educators who worry—and make teenagers worry—that they won’t get accepted into highly ranked universities with increasingly prohibitive tuition or be prepared for a competitive job market once they graduate.”
While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach at managing stress, parents can help teens develop healthy coping skills. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, parents are encouraged to initiate conversations about stress in their child’s life and teach them how to manage it. These skills can be used throughout their life and significantly increase their mental wellbeing.
Some of the top stress management strategies backed by research include:
1. Eat and drink to optimize health
A balanced diet helps the body manage the physiological changes caused by stress. This means teens should consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein, iron-rich foods, and calcium.
2. Exercise regularly
Physical activity is associated with the release of endorphins, or ‘feel good’ hormones. Regular exercise can also aid in lowering the body’s stress hormones over time.
3. Sleeping for 8-9 hours every day (for teens)
Stress can cause interrupted sleep, which prevents entering the deeper sleep stages where the body repairs and recharges itself. According to the American Psychological Association, more than one-third of teens reported lying awake at night due to stress. For individuals experiencing high stress, it is recommended to utilize the 30 minutes before bed to wind down and distance oneself from their stressors. This will help facilitate good sleeping patterns.
4. Make room for fun
Everyone – especially teens – have hobbies and passions that energize them. When experiencing stressful periods, teens often pull away from these activities. It is important that even during exam season teens make time to have fun and laugh.
5. Knowing when to seek help
Children need to know it is ok to ask for help. Most schools have a guidance counselor available for students, but there are many other free resources available. For example, trained counselors are available at no cost by texting START to 741-741 or calling 1-800-273-TALK.
About The Author
Brittany Ciupka Brittany is passionate about helping for-purpose organisations develop the tools and strategies that drive change. She has a keen interest in the health sector, particularly empowering people to take control over, and to improve, their health. Her formal education in health communications, sociology, and public health paired with her experience in marketing and nonprofit management enables her to support clients in the growth and success of their ventures. Read more at www.ciupkafreelance.com.