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Stress And Its Effects On Youth Essay

Essay On Stress And Its Effects On Youth - Everyone experiences stress to some extent. By learning how to manage stress effectively, young people can improve their physical and mental health and achieve tremendous success in school and other areas of life. Here are 100, 200 and 500 word essays on ‘stress and its effects on youth’.

Stress And Its Effects On Youth Essay

Stress is a feeling of pressure or tension when an individual is faced with demands or challenges they feel they cannot meet. A wide range of factors, such as work, relationships, financial issues, or health problems, causes stress. However, excessive or prolonged stress can negatively affect physical and mental health. Here are a few sample essays on "stress and its effects on youth".

100 Words Essay On Stress And Its Effects On Youth

Stress is a part of our daily life, but excessive stress can have adverse effects on physical and mental health, particularly in youth. Stress can lead to symptoms such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping, which can all impact academic performance. It can also lead to physical symptoms such as stomach pain, headache, and chest pain.

It is crucial for youth to find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, meditation, and talking to a trusted friend or family member, or a therapist. It is also important for adults to recognise the signs of stress in youth and offer support and guidance to help them manage it effectively. By addressing stress early on, we can help youth build resilience and better cope with life's challenges.

200 Words Essay On Stress And Its Effects On Youth

Stress is a very common part of daily life, and everyone experiences stress to some degree.

Stress And Youth

Youth are particularly vulnerable to stress because they are still developing both physically and emotionally.

Physical health problems | Stress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, and difficulty sleeping. It can also make the immune system vulnerable, making young people susceptible to illness.

Mental health problems | Stress can lead to various mental health complications, including anxiety, or depression. It can also interfere with concentration and learning, making it more difficult for young people to succeed academically.

Behavioural problems | Stress can lead to behavioural changes, including irritability, aggression, and difficulty with social interactions. This can create problems in relationships with family, friends, and peers.

Strategies To Manage Stress

Exercise | Doing Exercise releases chemicals in the brain called endorphins that help reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Relaxation techniques | Relaxation Methods such as deep breathing, meditation, and muscle relaxation can help to calm the mind and body.

Time management | Prioritising tasks and setting realistic goals can help to reduce stress by making it easier to manage time and responsibilities.

Social support | Having a strong network of supportive family and acquaintances can help to reduce stress by providing a sense of connection and belonging.

500 Words Essay On Stress And Its Effects On Youth

With the increasing pressure to excel in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities, it has become nearly impossible for young people to escape stress.

Physical Effects Of Stress On Youth

The physical effects of stress on youth can be severe and can lead to various health issues such as:

Headaches: Stress can cause tension headaches, which are often accompanied by neck and shoulder pain.

Insomnia: Stress can make it difficult for young people to fall asleep, leading to chronic insomnia and fatigue.

Digestive problems: Stress can lead to stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhoea.

Weakened immune system: Stress can weaken the immune system, making young people more prone to infections and illnesses.

Mental Effects Of Stress On Youth

The mental effects of stress on youth can lead to various mental health issues such as:

Stress can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, which can eventually lead to depression.

Stress can cause feelings of worry and fear, leading to anxiety disorders.

Stress can affect a young person's ability to concentrate and remember things, leading to poor academic performance.

Stress can lead to negative self-perception and low self-esteem, affecting a young person's overall sense of self-worth.

Managing Stress In Youth

Here are some tips for managing stress in youth:

Exercise | Regular physical activity can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Get enough sleep | Proper and peaceful sleep is essential for managing stress and maintaining good physical and mental health.

Practice relaxation techniques | Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Seek help | It is crucial for young people to seek help from parents, teachers, or mental health professionals if they feel overwhelmed by stress.

My Experience

I remember a time when I was under a lot of stress. I was in the last year of university education, and I had a lot of assignments and exams coming up. I was also working part-time and trying to balance everything. It felt like there wasn't enough time in the day to get everything done and I was constantly feeling overwhelmed.

I started to have trouble sleeping and found myself feeling anxious and irritable all the time. I knew something was wrong, and I needed to do something to manage my stress. Then I decided to seek therapy and decided to take some time for myself and focus on self-care. I started exercising regularly and made an effort to eat healthily and get enough sleep. I also made a list of all the things I needed to do and prioritised them so that I could focus on the most important tasks first.

It wasn't easy, but these small changes helped me manage my stress. I could feel more in control of my life. It's important to remember that it's okay to ask for help when you're feeling overwhelmed and to take care of yourself in times of stress.

Stress is a natural thing in our lives, and young people need to learn how to manage it. Following the tips mentioned above, young people can effectively manage their stress and lead happy and healthy lives.

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Stress And Its Effects On Young People (Essay Sample)

Table of Contents

Stress and its effects on young people today

Stress can be defined as any change that triggers emotional, physical, or mental strain. Stress is in fact the body’s natural response to any unpleasant experience that requires one’s attention. People generally believe that stress only affects adults who have bills to pay and families to look after but that’s not at all true.  Children, preteens, teens, and even toddlers experience stress in different forms.

Generally, anything that causes fear and anxiety can cause stress. Usual causes of stress in children and teens include being away from home, moving to a new place, mismanagement of time, and getting along with other peers.

EssayBasics provides essay writing services for both children and students. They provide both long and short essays ranging from 150 words to 500 words and more. Hit the order button right now to get your own plagiarism-free stress and its effect on young people’s essays.

Good Stress vs Bad Stress

This might sound strange but there are both negative and positive effects of stress. Everyone wants to wake up to the sweet smell of roses and bright sunshine without facing a single stressor in life but we all know it’s not possible. While most of the time stress can be devastating it’s also ironic that people feel the most energetic and prolific when they are under pressure.

Well, we all are familiar with what bad stress is and what it can do to us, here are some insights about the positive effects of good stress.

  • Experiencing stress from similar situations can train you to deal with those problems like a pro. Thus stress from similar situations makes you stronger.
  • Research has shown that moderate stress can boost the brain’s performance. It’s because moderate stress strengthens the connection between neurons which improves attention and memory functions.

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

Almost all students groan at the mention of homework but for some students, homework is more than just a nuisance. The ones who fail to cope with loads of school work every day fall easy prey to teen stress. According to a recent study which surveyed 4300 students from both public and private schools to help determine the effect of school work on high school students, it was found that:

  • Homework is the main cause of ulcers, migraines, sleeplessness, and weight loss in young school-going students.
  • 56% of students in the study were of the view that too much schoolwork is the main reason for stress, both in and out of their schools.

While all students may groan at the mention of homework, it may be more than just a nuisance for children and teens who fail to cope with loads of classwork every day. Among all other causes of stress, this essay on stress and its effects on the youth will highlight problems that are caused by excessive schoolwork as it is the biggest cause of teenage stress, stress among youth, and chronic stress.

To better understand the effects of stress we must first learn about its causes through this stress and its effects on youth essay.

Causes of Stress in Children, Teens and University Students

According to the latest research study, 1 in 6 young students experiences stress and anxiety at some point in their lives. These stress effects on youth lead to symptoms of depression. Following are some of the most basic causes of stress in today’s generation.

  • Too much schoolwork is by far the most notable cause of stress among youth. Not getting enough time for play and other healthy activities can lead to continued tension.
  • Peer pressure and not being accepted in a social circle by friends and relatives also increase stress levels.
  • Failing a test, getting a lower grade, or not being able to come up to parents’ expectations can also make young people feel stressed.
  • College students who are forced to read many books overwork themselves by studying day and night to come up with academic essays and complete assignments.

School counselor Joy Holt who teaches in Harrisburg, Arkansas, reported that younger kids and children also feel pressured and stressed. Among her elementary students, she sees that young kids are terrified of failing tests. “The little ones also know how important tests are, and they never want to fail,” Joy says in an interview. Even the little kids cry out loud, get sick and even throw up on their booklets when they are stressed , she adds.

Effects of Stress on Youth and University Students

Many young people usually find destructive ways to eliminate stress. With one in 15 teenagers using harmful ways to cope with stress. Experts believe that many college and university students indulge in unhealthy activities to relieve academic stress. Many students usually find a safe haven in one of the following activities to relieve stress:

essay on stress and its effects on the youth


Stress eating is a disorder that almost affects everyone. It’s also a symptom that lets the family members know their kid is continuously going through stressful situations.

Stress eating can lead to weight gain that further leads youth to face critical health problems in life. 

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

Drugs Usage

Once teens enter high school they are bombarded with challenges of getting good grades, performing well in extracurriculars, and progressing in social life.  Not performing up to expectations lead to physical and mental health problems. In order to suppress the symptoms of depression and anxiety teens often start to abuse drugs to minimize symptoms.

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

Violence and Aggression

Many adolescents and teens resort to violence and become more aggressive towards their peers, parents, and teachers. They start doing crazy things and even start committing crimes to relieve stress.

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

Sleeping Problems

Many teens start experiencing sleeping problems because of continued stress. Sleep deprivation adds to their problems and hinders their ability to work to the best of their ability hence leading to serious health problems.

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

In Some Cases: Suicide!

Continued stress, anxiety, and episodes of extreme depression can stack up leading to cases of suicide. poor coping skills, academic stress, regular drug usage, and lack of support are the main causes of suicide in teenagers.

High Blood Pressure in Young People

Continuously dealing with stressful situations lead to hypertension. Hypertension in teens then leads to heart disease and high blood pressure.

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

Youth needs to understand that physical and mental well-being is more important than getting good grades. They need to be educated about how to practice good time management, start healthy social relationships, do stress management, and manage work deadlines.

On the other hand, teachers need to understand that the quality of schoolwork assignments matters more than the quantity. They need to know that students can still learn challenging skills even when too much homework is not given to them.

FAQ on Stress and its Effects on Young People Essay

Question 1: how does stress affect the youth.

Excess homework is by far the most common cause of stress among youth. Other common causes of stress among children, teens, and adolescents include being away from home, moving to a new place, time miss management, and trouble getting along with peers.

Q2: What IS stress and its effects?

Any change that triggers emotional, physical, or mental strain can be defined as stress. Stress has both positive and negative effects however the negative ones overwhelm the positive effects.

Q3: What are the main causes of stress for today’s youth?

Fear of being left behind, not being socially accepted by others, failing to cope with loads of homework are common causes of stress among youth.

Q4: How to write an essay on stress among youth?

Start by introducing stress and how it affects youth then discuss its common causes in the body and end the essay by discussing the effects and how to better cope with stressful situations. 


  • https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/stress.html
  • https://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/21/health/homework-stress/index.html
  • https://news.berkeley.edu/2013/04/16/researchers-find-out-why-some-stress-is-good-for-you/

essay on stress and its effects on the youth


Essay on Stress and its Effects On Youth

Students are often asked to write an essay on Stress and its Effects On Youth in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Stress and its Effects On Youth

Understanding stress.

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It’s a reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious.

Stress in Youth

In youth, stress can come from school work, family issues, or even social situations. It’s a normal part of life, but too much can lead to problems.

Effects of Stress

Stress can cause headaches, sleep problems, and difficulty concentrating. It can also make a person feel angry, anxious, or depressed.

While stress is a part of life, it’s important to manage it. Healthy ways to cope include exercise, relaxation techniques, and talking to someone about your worries.

250 Words Essay on Stress and its Effects On Youth

Understanding stress in youth.

Stress, a ubiquitous part of life, is particularly impactful on the youth. The pressures of academia, social life, and personal development can often lead to overwhelming stress. Understanding the nature of stress and its effects on the youth is essential for fostering a healthier and more balanced society.

The Catalysts of Stress

The primary catalysts of stress in youth are multifaceted. Academic pressures, career uncertainties, and social expectations are common stressors. These stressors can lead to a constant feeling of anxiety and worry, which can be detrimental to both physical and mental health.

Physical and Psychological Impacts

Physically, chronic stress can lead to sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, and even weaken the immune system. Psychologically, it can lead to feelings of constant worry, irritability, and can increase the risk of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Stress Management and Coping

Effective stress management and coping strategies are crucial. These can include regular physical exercise, mindfulness practices, and maintaining a balanced diet. Additionally, seeking professional help when needed is crucial in managing stress effectively.

In conclusion, stress in youth is a pressing issue. By understanding its causes and effects, and by implementing effective coping strategies, we can help mitigate its impact and ensure a healthier future for our youth.

500 Words Essay on Stress and its Effects On Youth


Stress, an inevitable part of life, has a profound impact on individuals, especially the youth. The modern world’s rapid pace and high expectations have led to an increase in stress levels among young people, affecting their health, academic performance, and overall well-being.

The Nature of Stress

Stress is a physiological response to challenging situations. It is the body’s way of reacting to a threat or challenge, often causing a surge of energy to deal with the situation. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can lead to several detrimental effects, particularly in youth who are still in their formative years.

Causes of Stress in Youth

The causes of stress in youth are multifaceted. Academic pressure, peer pressure, family issues, and societal expectations are among the leading stressors. The advent of social media has also introduced a new form of pressure, where the constant comparison with others can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.

Effects of Stress on Physical Health

Chronic stress can lead to a myriad of physical health problems. It can cause headaches, sleep disorders, and digestive problems. Moreover, it can lead to more serious conditions like heart disease and a weakened immune system. In youth, this can interfere with their growth and development.

Effects of Stress on Mental Health

Stress can also have severe implications for mental health. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Among youth, this can result in decreased academic performance, social withdrawal, and even suicidal thoughts.

Stress and Behaviour

Behavioural changes are another significant impact of stress. Stress can lead to changes in eating and sleeping patterns, increased use of alcohol and drugs, and withdrawal from normal activities. These behavioural changes can further exacerbate the negative effects of stress.

Managing Stress

Effective stress management is crucial to mitigate these effects. This can include techniques such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy eating, and mindfulness practices. It’s also important to seek professional help when needed. Schools and colleges should also play a significant role in providing mental health support and creating an environment that reduces stress.

In conclusion, the effects of stress on youth are far-reaching, affecting their physical health, mental well-being, and behaviour. It is therefore essential to understand the causes and effects of stress to develop effective strategies for managing it. By doing so, we can ensure that our youth can navigate the challenges of the modern world with resilience and equanimity.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

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Being a teen comes with exciting milestones that double as challenges – like becoming independent, navigating high school and forming new relationships. For all the highs that come with getting a driver’s license or acing that difficult test, there are lows that come with growing up in a rapidly changing world being shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, social media and distance learning.

Teens’ brains are growing and developing, and the ways they process their experiences and spend their time are crucial to their development. Each great experience and every embarrassing moment can impact their mental health.

Sometimes a mood is about more than just being lonely or angry or frustrated.

Mental health challenges are different than situational sadness or fatigue. They’re more severe and longer-lasting, and they can have a large impact on daily life. Some common mental health challenges are anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance use, and experiencing trauma. They can affect a teen’s usual way of thinking, feeling or acting, and interfere with daily life.

Adding to the urgency: Mental health challenges among teens are not uncommon. Up to 75% of mental health challenges emerge during adolescence, and according to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum, one in five teens has had a serious mental health disorder at some point in their life.

Not every mental health challenge will be diagnosed as a mental disorder, but every challenge should be taken seriously.

A mental health challenge left unchecked can become a more serious problem that also impacts physical health — think of how substance use, and changes in sleep patterns and eating habits affect the body as well as the mind. Signs of fatigue, withdrawing socially or changes in mood may point to an emerging mental health challenge like a depressive or substance use disorder.

As teens mature, they begin spending more time with their friends, gain a sense of identity and purpose, and become more independent. All of these experiences are crucial for their development, and a mental health challenge can disrupt or complicate that development. Depending on the severity of the mental health challenge, the effects can last long into adulthood if left unaddressed.

How do we address teens’ mental health?

Teens need tools to talk about what’s going on with them, and they need tools for when their friends reach out to them. Research shows that teens are more likely to talk to their friends than an adult about troubles they’re facing.

That’s why it’s important to talk to teens about the challenges they may deal with as they grow up and navigate young adulthood. They need to know it’s OK to sometimes feel sad, angry, alone, and frustrated. But persistent problems may be pointing to something else, and it is crucial to be able to recognize early warning signs so teens can get appropriate help in a timely manner. teen Mental Health First Aid teaches high school students in grades 10-12 how to identify, understand and respond to signs of a mental health problem or crisis among their friends — and how to bring in a trusted adult when it’s appropriate and necessary. With proper care and treatment, many teens with mental health or substance use challenges can recover. The first step is getting help.

Learn more about teen Mental Health First Aid by watching this video and checking out our blog . Your school or youth-serving organization can also apply to bring this training to your community.

teen Mental Health First Aid is run by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and supported by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.

Resource Guide:

  • Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). teen Mental Health First Aid USA: A manual for young people in 10 th -12 th grade helping their friends. Washington, DC: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). The Teen Brain: 7 Things to Know. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-7-things-to-know/index.shtml.

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Health Promotion International

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Introduction, three paradigms of stress research, complex pathways, acknowledgements.

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Stress and adolescent well-being: the need for an interdisciplinary framework

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Inga Dora Sigfusdottir, Alfgeir Logi Kristjansson, Thorolfur Thorlindsson, John P Allegrante, Stress and adolescent well-being: the need for an interdisciplinary framework, Health Promotion International , Volume 32, Issue 6, December 2017, Pages 1081–1090, https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/daw038

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Stress and strain among adolescents have been investigated and discussed largely within three separate disciplines: mental health, where the focus has been on the negative effects of stress on emotional health; criminology, where the emphasis has been on the effects of strain on delinquency; and biology, where the focus has been to understand the effects of stress on physiology. Recently, scholars have called for increased multilevel developmental analyses of the bio-psychosocial nature of risk and protection for behaviors of individuals. This paper draws on several different but converging theoretical perspectives in an attempt to provide an overview of research relevant to stress in adolescence and puts forth a new framework that aims to provide both a common language and consilience by which future research can analyze the effects of multiple biological, social and environmental factors experienced during specific developmental periods, and cumulatively over time, on harmful behavior during adolescence. We present a framework to examine the effects of stress on diverse behavioral outcomes among adolescents, including substance use, suicidal behavior, self-inflicted harm, and delinquency.

Adolescent substance use, self-harm, suicides and delinquency are large-scale problems in most economically advanced societies and of growing concern in developing countries. According to the most recent United Nations drug report, almost one-quarter of a billion people used illicit drugs in 2013 ( United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2015 ). Around 1 in 10 of these users will become addicted, but drug abuse kills around 200 000 people worldwide each year ( United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2015 ). In this context, it is important to note that most drug abusers initiate their use during adolescence ( Sigfusdottir et al. , 2009 ). According to Selfharm UK, it is thought that as many as 13% of young people between the ages of 11 and 16 may intentionally try to hurt themselves at some point ( Selfharm UK, 2015 ). New figures published in 2014 suggested a 70% increase in 10–14 year olds attending accident and emergency hospital departments for self-harm-related reasons over the preceding 2 years ( Selfharm UK, 2015 ). In addition, both substance abuse and self-inflicted harm are positively related to delinquent behaviors such as engaging in stealing, vandalism and violence ( Hirschi, 1969 ; Agnew, 2006 ). All these behavioral problems are also positively related to a host of additional issues in adolescents such as depressed mood ( Mann et al. , 2014 ) and increased risk of school drop-out ( Kristjansson et al. , 2008 ). Without attempting to mitigate the above-mentioned harmful behaviors, of an even graver concern are suicides, which have increased by 60% worldwide during the last four decades and are now among the three leading causes of death in this age group ( Wasserman et al ., 2005 ; www.Suicide.org ).

Often, these problems arise when young people experience major stress in their lives and/or are the result of being born into adverse circumstances. Although quite a lot is known about the effects of stress, there are still major gaps in our knowledge, especially in relation to how stress affects physiological and emotional reactions, and harmful behavior. An important reason for this lack of understanding is the fact that studies of the social environment and human biology have developed largely as independent scientific disciplines. Currently, there is an emerging consensus that integrating factors at multiple biological and social levels is necessary in order to further our knowledge of human health and behavior ( D'Onorfio and Lahey, 2010 ). It is, however, not an easy task to overcome the current disciplinary-based paradigms that are deeply rooted in the organizations of universities, funding agencies, and science policies. Often, studies that concern closely related topics, have developed along the lines of independent scientific disciplines in separate or even parallel ways, using different terminology for similar issues. An example of this can be found in public health and the lack of explicit theoretical and methodological linkages that exist between the disciplines of epidemiology and criminology in their work with marginalized populations ( Akers and Lanier, 2009 ). The concepts with which the two disciplines work essentially have the same meaning but are addressed differently within the disciplines; more theoretically within criminology, and more practically within public health. Research on the important topic of stress is another good example of this. Various disciplines have identified stress as a key variable in relation to health and social problems. We do, however, lack research that brings together knowledge from the various scientific disciplines in a coherent study on stress. One reason for this is the divide between social sciences that focus predominantly on the social environment and behaviors and the natural sciences that concern the human body and biology. We simply do not have the kind of studies that include both refined measurement of social contexts and sophisticated measurement of biological processes that are relevant to understanding specific health problems. Only recently, in part because of the emergence of new technologies, have behavioral scientists begun to think simultaneously about the relevant social and biological mechanisms in the context of an integrated, multilevel developmental analytic framework in order to understand the processes and pathways through which the environment, social circumstances and biology interact to influence healthy adolescent development. As Cullen ( Cullen, 2011) points out, social scientists can no longer pretend that biology is not a part of human behavior and thus an important part of harmful behavior. At the same time, we no longer need to fear that combining biology and social data will lead to ‘blaming the victim’, social engineering or biological reductionism. Ever since the human genome was sequenced in 2001, we have become more aware of the fact that the link between biology and environment is much more complex than we had thought. Studies have, for example, shown that increased maternal care given to rat pups permanently enhances the expression of a certain gene in areas of the brain that eventually affect the ways the animals react to stress ( Francis, 1999 ; Weaver et al. , 2004 ). These studies have provided us with evidence that we have moved beyond the nature–nurture conundrum. We now know that just as our environment is potentially modifiable, our biology is flexible, and may be largely dependent on social processes, and that the two work in tandem to shape the individual and the life course ( Rafter, 2008 ). In line with that, Francis and Kaufer ( Francis and Kaufer, 2011) recently argued that we should finally abandon the nature versus nurture debate and focus on understanding the mechanisms through which our biology and environments are intertwined and affect each other throughout people's lives.

In this paper, we propose a multilevel developmental framework that we believe can be used to examine the influence of stress factors on diverse behavioral outcomes among adolescents, including substance use, suicidal behavior, self-inflicted harm and delinquency. Drawing on biological, social and health theories, as well as plethora of research on the effects of stress on physiology, emotions and behavior, we put forth a framework that brings together three different paradigms. We describe the effects of multiple environmental factors experienced during specific developmental periods, and cumulatively over time, on behavior during adolescence, and we elaborate on the bio-social link between stress, physiology, emotions and behavior. Our aim is not to put forth a holistic integrated theory on the effects of stress on adolescent behavior, but rather to call the attention of the scholarly communities to the overlap in knowledge, the increasingly critical importance of consilience and the potential benefit of making scholars in the various communities familiar with the works of each other.

Three main paradigms have been developed and used over several decades to examine and understand the effects of stress on health and behavior. The first one is rooted in biology and focuses on the concept of allostatic load (AL) to capture the cumulative biological burden exacted on the body from repeated attempts to adapt to life's demands ( Seeman et al. , 2001 ). The second paradigm stems from the mental health literature and focuses on the negative effects of stress on emotional and mental health ( Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend, 1969 ; Aneshensel et al. , 1991 ). The third paradigm is rooted in criminology/sociology of deviance and studies the effects of what is labeled ‘strain’ on delinquent behavior ( Merton, 1938 ; Cohen, 1955 ; Cloward and Ohlin, 1960 ).

We argue that the main difference between these three paradigms on the effects of stress on health and behavior is that they study stress on different levels; physiological, psychological, behavioral and group or community levels using different theoretical perspectives, different terminology and often focusing on different variables. For example, the various disciplines have discussed the effects of stress and strain on separate outcomes. The health sciences have focused on the effects on physiological reactions, psychology on analyzing the effects on emotional reactions and mental health and some criminologists and sociologists on the effects of stress and strain on behavior, whereas other sociologists and criminologists have focused on the rates of sickness or crime within groups and the collective efficacy of communities or even populations to counteract health risks and problem behavior ( Sampson et al. , 1999 ). The focus within different fields has also been on diverse levels at which stress/strain is created. Some sociologists and criminologists, for example, have focused on the larger structure of society and the links between social structure and the health-related problems of communities and populations, while research on stress and health within biology and mental health disciplines have placed greater emphasis on different stress exposures experienced by individuals, for example, in the form of negative life events or clinically diagnosed conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders. Hence, there are numerous social factors and conditions that may influence or increase the likelihood of stress and strain; originating within the broader organization of society, in negative life events that include both chronic stressors, such as persistent family conflicts, and acute events, such as a sudden death of a parent. We believe that considerably more knowledge on the processes of how stress leads to physiological, emotional and behavioral outcomes is a necessary prerequisite for understanding stress-related health problems. Below we discuss the different aspects of the three paradigms.

Stress and physiology

The first paradigm is rooted in biology and focuses on the effects of stress on physiological reactions. While humans have evolved to cope well with the occasional instances of acute stress caused by life-threatening events, recurrent activation of the body's stress response, particularly if the individual lacks coping resources, may have harmful effects on the body's physiology in the long run. The hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA) and the sympathetic adrenal medullary system (SAM) are considered primary mediators through which all stressors activate a common set of physiological pathways. These systems stimulate adaptation or ‘allostasis’ as defined by Sterling and Eyer ( Sterling and Eyer, 1988) . In the short term, allostasis allows us to adapt to a wide range of stressors, but when frequent or excessive demands push allostatic processes beyond their normal operating ranges, wear and tear at the cellular level follows. AL is the result, representing the cumulative impact of stressors on the body's regulatory systems, with AL contributing to outcomes such as poor mental and physical health outcomes ( Danese and McEwen, 2012 ).

Prior research has empirically supported some of the pathways by which stress influences physiology. For example, low socioeconomic status and poor interpersonal relationship histories have been associated with increased AL in a number of community-based cohorts ( Johnson et al. , 1992 ; Karlamangla et al. , 2002 ; Seplaki et al. , 2006 ) and prospective research has associated AL at baseline with increased risk for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and declines in cognitive and physical functioning. Family environments, social conditions and psychological processes have in this way been shown to affect biological processes and biological functioning and predispositions influence the ways in which an individual selects and is shaped by the environment ( Rutter, 2002 ; Repetti et al. , 2011 ). All-in-all, research to date suggests that there are multiple interconnected biological systems that respond to psychosocial stress and influence each other. Hence, minor alterations in one system due to psychosocial stress may influence the functioning of the other(s).

Stress and emotions

Based on findings showing that stressful life events contribute to the onset and course of mental symptoms and disorders, the social stress model has guided efforts to examine social experiences and circumstances that are associated with variations in risk for mental health problems ( Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend, 1969 ; Turner et al. , 1995 ; Pearlin, 1999 ). The underlying assumption of the model is that variations in stress exposure are closely related to individual life conditions and social circumstances. In line with this reasoning, Aneshensel ( Aneshensel, 1992) called for a reorientation away from viewing stress as an isolated risk factor and toward its consideration as a link in a causal chain beginning with social conditions and ending with differences in risk for psychological distress. Numerous studies have supported the social stress model. Hence, both negative life events and chronic strain in the form of poverty, family conflict or abuse have been found to predict emotional problems ( Dohrenwend, 1990 ; Aneshensel et al. , 1991 ; Aneshensel, 1992 ; Turner and Lloyd, 1999 ; Ross, 2000 ).

The process through which stress affects emotions is obviously complicated. Understanding the underlying biological systems is a vital piece in this puzzle. A body of research has implicated disturbances in the HPA axis stress response system in the development of depression ( Murray et al. , 2010 ). Researchers have also suggested that perturbations of cortisol may represent a risk factor for the development of depression. Thus, Goodyer et al . ( Goodyer et al. , 2000) studied a sample of high-risk adolescents and found that the occurrence of one or more very high morning cortisol values over several days of salivary collection predicted the onset of depressive disorder in the subsequent 12 months. Adam et al . ( Adam et al. , 2010) reported similar findings, showing that a larger increase in cortisol in the 30 min after waking (i.e. the cortisol awakening response) predicted onsets of depression over the subsequent year among adolescents at risk for depression due to high levels of neuroticism. High levels of negative mood and life events at baseline also independently predicted onsets of depression in the same study.

Stress, social environment and social structure

It is now widely recognized that the social environment and social relationships can have powerful effects on health and behavioral outcomes. However, several studies underscore the complexity of capturing the social influences at various levels ( Brooks-Gunn et al. , 1993 ; Duncan and Raudenbush, 1999 ; Sampson, et al. , 1999 , 2002 ; Bernburg et al. , 2009a , b , c ). Colvin et al . ( Colvin et al. , 2002) emphasize that it is important to note that coercion can happen both at the micro level of interpersonal relations and at the macro level, where it includes economic and social pressure, created by social circumstances such as structural poverty, unemployment and conflict among groups. Thus, strain and conflict at the social and the neighborhood levels may influence the level of stress among groups or individuals. Merton's influential strain theory is good example of this complexity of levels. His ( Merton, 1938 ) classic theory of anomie describes how shared ideology of equal opportunity conflicts with cultural and social constraints that reduce or even hinder certain groups to achieve desirable social goals and may cause strain that is experienced as stress at both the group and individual level. Thus, Merton's theory of anomie and strain has inspired several sociological and criminological theories of the influence of social conditions on individuals ( Merton, 1938 ; Cohen, 1955 ; Cloward and Ohlin, 1960 ). Merton's ( Merton, 1938) theory of anomie also suggests that these cultural and social constraints may cause conflict and strain by hindering certain groups of adolescents to achieve desirable social goals. Researchers that have focused on these group effects of Merton's theory have described how community characteristics influence the life of children and adolescents over and beyond their individual-level experiences ( Brooks-Gunn et al. , 1991 , 1993 ; Kawachi et al. , 1997 ; Sampson et al. , 1999 ; Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn, 2000 ; Bernburg et al. , 2009a ).

Below, we discuss the individual and the community aspects of the social paradigm separately. But before we do that, we would like to make two points regarding this issue. First, while the physiological and psychological paradigms focus on the individual as a unit of analysis, the sociological paradigm operates on two different levels ( Duncan and Raudenbush, 1999 ; Sampson et al. , 1999 ; Billari, 2015 ). Recent advances in multilevel modeling have made it possible to analyze both the group and the individual level. In other words, we now can analyze the group level controlling for individual-level effects. Secondly, the same social mechanisms can operate on two different levels, for example, family conflict may exist between individual spouses, but they may also be influenced by community processes ( Bernburg et al. , 2009c ).

Individual-level effects

Several individual-level theories of stress research, which build on Merton's anomie theory, focus on the effects of strain on delinquent behavior. In 1992, Agnew put forth a revised version of strain theory, which he calls general strain theory (GST). GST combines aspects from different previously developed theories, including those on stress, equity/justice and aggression, to explain the effects of strain on harmful behavior among adolescents. Unlike prior strain theories, GST argues that adolescents are not only concerned with future goals of monetary success and middle class status but are also concerned about more immediate goals, such as doing well at school and being popular among peers. The theory proposes that social conditions may cause strain or blockage that frustrates adolescents and may lead to harmful behaviors.

While Agnew recognizes that there are many opportunities for individuals to experience strain, GST subsumes strain under three broad categories. First, strain may arise because individuals fail to achieve goals that they value. Secondly, GST maintains that strain arises if individuals experience threat or actual removal of valued stimuli, i.e. when individuals lose something that they value, for example, a boy- or girlfriend or when they need to leave their school and attend a new one. Thirdly, strain may emanate from the presentation of negative situations or events. This type of strain reflects the problems that arise for individuals when they experience adverse situations that they cannot legally escape from, such as family conflict, victimization or child abuse. GST proposes that adolescents are sometimes pressed into delinquency by negative emotional reactions that result from strain. In response to strain and its consequent negative emotional states, therefore, adolescents can respond with acts of theft, violence, vandalism and drug and/or alcohol use. Hence, GST can potentially explain a diverse range of delinquent behaviors, and provides an appropriate framework in the discussion on the effects of stress on multiple different outcomes, such as substance use, self-harm, suicides and delinquency.

A number of studies have provided support for GST, showing that strain leads to harmful behavior through negative emotional reactions. For the first 10 years, tests of the theory mainly focused on anger as the critical emotional reaction ( Mazerolle and Piquero, 1998 ; Aseltine et al. , 2000 ; Mazerolle et al. , 2000 ; Capowich et al. , 2001 ).

This was because anger results when individuals blame their adversity on others. It increases the individual's level of perceived injury, creates a desire for retaliation, energizes the individual for action and lowers inhibitions. However, results on the effects of strain on delinquent behavior mediated through anger were somewhat mixed. While extensive evidence has shown that higher levels of anger in adolescence are associated with a host of adverse psychosocial outcomes during that time period and in later life (e.g. Evans and English, 2002 ; Wittmann et al. , 2008 ; Midei and Matthews, 2009 ; Sigfusdottir and Silver, 2009 ; Sigfusdottir et al. , 2010 ), other studies have not revealed anger to be a key mediator ( Unnever et al. , 2004 ).

In line with these findings, scholars have pointed out that anger is not the only emotion likely to arise under stress and highlighted the importance of furthering our understanding of different emotions as mediating factors in this relationship ( Sigfusdottir et al. , 2004 ). In recent years, studies have shown that although anger and depressed mood are highly correlated emotions, comorbidity does not mean that these emotions are similar in their relations to behavioral outcomes ( Sigfusdottir et al. , 2004 , 2008 ; Asgeirsdottir et al. , 2011 ). Whereas anger energizes the individual for action, lowers inhibitions and hence increases externalizing behavior, depressed mood is not related to this type of behavior. Similarly, depressed mood is highly associated with certain kinds of (internalizing) behavior, such as suicidal ideation and self-harm, while anger is a much weaker predictor of those behaviors. These findings have added to our understanding of the implications of the interrelatedness between these phenomena, showing that whereas depressed mood and anger are overlapping phenomena, they are separate in their relations to behavioral outcomes. At the same time, they have revealed how complicated this process is, and the fact that the way adverse circumstances translate into behavior is still little understood. For example, a recent paper on family conflict/violence and sexual abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempt showed that even though depressed mood and anger were highly comorbid, co-occurring to a high degree, they differed in their behavioral outcomes; depressed mood was more strongly associated with suicidal ideation, whereas anger was more strongly related to suicidal attempts ( Sigfusdottir et al. , 2013 ). Furthermore, the complexity of the associations between stress, emotional reactions and harmful behavior become apparent when considering the findings that; when controlling for anger, depressed mood is strongly related to suicidal ideation and remains also quite strongly related to suicidal attempt, but when controlling for depressed mood, anger is only related to suicidal attempt.

Community-level effects

Merton's ( Merton, 1938) theory of Anomie suggests that some societal or neighborhood factors are contextual in the sense that they cannot be reduced to individual-level experience. They describe how community characteristics influence the life of children and adolescents over and beyond their individual-level experiences. It is therefore important to incorporate higher-level measures on the local community level and policy environment (e.g. counties, districts) that may now be studied in conjunction with individual-level outcomes using multilevel analysis techniques (e.g. hierarchical linear models, growth curve models, multilevel structural equation models). Such approaches provide an important way to study how community characteristics influence the life of children and adolescents in combination with individual characteristics. Studies on community-level stress have focused on important structural factors, such as community poverty, neighborhood instability, inequality and relative deprivation ( Brooks-Gunn et al. , 1991 , 1993 ; Kawachi et al. , 1997 ; Sampson et al. , 1999 ; Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn, 2000 ; Bernburg et al. , 2009a ). For example, community levels of family conflict influence not only the likelihood of harmful behavior among adolescents that experience disruption personally, but also that higher aggregated community levels of disrupted family processes increase the likelihood of harmful behavior among all adolescents in such communities ( Bernburg et al. , 2009c ). This point is important, especially given the central role that families play in many theories of child and adolescent harmful behavior ( Hirschi, 1969 ; Agnew, 1992 ; Sampson and Laub, 1993 ). The recent multilevel findings indicate that research on the effect of stress, including family conflict on adolescent behavior, should not be limited to individual-level analysis. Time and age also appear to matter in this respect; Odgers et al . have recently shown that neighborhood effects on child outcomes may be detected as early as from the age of 5, and that this association tends to increase over time ( Odgers et al. , 2012 ). In order to fully understand the processes through which neighborhoods affect individuals, we need to focus not only on the link between neighborhood characteristics and behavioral outcomes, but also on the mediating mechanisms in the form of emotional and biological responses. Recently, Wallace ( Wallace, 2012) made an important point by suggesting that disorder needs to invoke feelings of fear in order to affect peoples' health. Hence, it is necessary to study not only the main effects of neighborhood characteristics on outcomes, but to include possible mediating mechanisms, in the form of emotional reactions and biological responses. The framework we are putting forth proposes that stress, including neighborhood stress, affects behavior through both physiological and emotional reactions. Hence, the framework argues for the need to capture neighborhood characteristics all at once, is fit for neighborhood modeling and includes a variety of individual-level survey and biomarker measures. Recent findings indicate that research on the effect of stress, including family conflict on adolescent behavior, should not be limited to individual-level analysis, therefore adding a new dimension to previous research paradigms. In short, prior findings from multilevel analysis show that limiting research to the individual-level approach provides an incomplete account of the effects that the social environment has on children and adolescents.

Each of the three paradigms above have guided studies showing that stress affects our physiology, emotions and behavior. However, the relationships between stress, physiology, emotions, behavior, and social structure are complex. Exactly how stress translates into outcomes such as harmful behavior is little understood. Hence, it is highly likely that whether or not an environmental stress becomes relevant to an individual does not only depend on how often a stressor occurs and how severe it is, but how strongly the individual physiologically, and emotionally, reacts to stress. To corroborate the view of how complicated this process is, recent studies on disruption of the HPA axis and cortisol production paint an inconsistent picture on its relations with emotional reactions ( Tyrka et al. , 2010 ) and harmful behavior ( Sondeijker et al. , 2007 ; Ruttle et al. , 2011 ). In order to come closer than previous work has in estimating how environmental stress and strain may affect biological responses among adolescents, the framework presented in Figure  1  proposes that stress and strain at the community and individual levels affect physiological and emotional reactions along the early life to childhood continuum that can result in harmful behavior during adolescence.

Community-level stress and strain and the proposed pathways to harmful behavior, with associated measures.

Community-level stress and strain and the proposed pathways to harmful behavior, with associated measures.

This proposed multilevel developmental framework argues for the importance of examining the impact of stress on biological systems and specific emotions, as well as the interplay between these factors in order to elucidate the relevant pathways to different behavioral outcomes. The framework suggests that future studies examine in detail the influence of cumulative as well as specific stressors on emotional reactions, while identifying essential moderators and the potential mediating role of the biological systems in this relationship and the development of these pathways across important developmental transitions. The arrows connecting these factors to harmful behavioral outcomes in adolescence represent the pathways of primary interest. Thus, stress experienced early in life may have implications for harmful behavior in adolescence, through physiological and emotional reactions.

During the last 20 years, research with children and adolescents has linked stress to poor health and harmful behavior. Research has demonstrated that social conflict at various levels, ranging from societal levels to specific social groups, such as the family or peer groups, can increase stress that has harmful consequences for health and the well-being of children and adolescents. First, research at the societal level has shown how social environments can influence the consequences of stress. Secondly, research at the psychological level has demonstrated how stressful situations and life events interact with personal characteristics to produce harmful stress-related outcomes. Thirdly, research on stress at the biological level casts light on the biological and physiological mechanisms involved in the harmful influences of stress on human health. The diversity of concepts applied in the study of stress and strain mirrors the fact that the domain has been largely investigated and discussed within separate academic disciplines, each focusing on a certain level of analysis; with the biological sciences focusing on the effects of stress on physiological reactions, psychological sciences examining the effects of stress on emotional reactions and social sciences focusing on the effects of stress/strain on behavior. Within different fields, the focus has also been on diverse levels at which stress/strain is created, with sociologists and criminologists, for example, focusing on the larger structure of society and the links between social structure and population strain; they have mostly worked with the term strain and its effects on delinquency. Research on stress within health disciplines, however, has placed greater emphasis on different stress exposures experienced by individuals and their effects on individual mental and physical health.

There is no doubt that research at these different levels has furthered our understanding of the harmful effects of stress on the welfare of children and adolescents. But despite several decades of robust findings on the effects of adverse experiences on health and harmful behavior, major gaps still remain in our knowledge about the mechanisms through which adverse experiences work to increase the likelihood of poor health and harmful behavior during adolescence ( Cullen, 1994 ; Colvin et al. , 2002 ). We know, for instance, that exposure to, and experience of, stress increases the odds for later negative development, including emotional problems, deficits in physical health and even harmful behaviors. What we do not know is whether these odds are cumulative, can be quantified or can be reversed with external supportive interventions during early developmental stages and later adolescence.

We believe that bringing together knowledge from the various scientific disciplines in a coherent study on stress is critical for advancing our understanding of threats to adolescent well-being. Such an approach would have important implications for policies within education, criminal justice and physical and mental health. We propose that in order to come closer than previous work has in estimating how environmental stress may affect biological responses that in turn lead to different emotions and behavior among adolescents, a comprehensive research approach must form the basis for future empirical studies. Moreover, it is important to design longitudinal studies where data on participants are collected at several times over the lifespan, including data drawn on key variables from the pre-birth period, such as maternal and intrauterine factors. Developing a research design that allows us to combine developmental approaches and various contexts in a comprehensive and effective way is one of the major challenges for future research (see Duncan and Raudenbush, 1999 ). Also, to provide a basis for developing a novel and comprehensive understanding of adolescent health and harmful behavior, it is important to examine both mediating and moderating effects of social–environmental predictors on physiological, emotional and behavioral outcomes. By taking such a theoretical approach, we would overcome the methodological weaknesses that many studies focusing on the early determinants of children's environment on later outcomes have faced. Moreover, as pointed out in a recent review, clinical samples do not provide a comprehensive understanding of confounding and comorbid factors, as the thresholds of discrete conditions are already defined, while cross-sectional studies cannot enhance our understanding of developmental processes ( Thompson et al. , 2010 ). Thus, in addition to issues pertaining to research design, we argue that it is important to combine different theoretical paradigms of research on the effects of stress on behavioral outcomes.

It is important to capture variables from biological, individual and community levels in one comprehensive analysis. Such a holistic conceptual approach would allow us to disentangle how multiple environmental factors intertwine to produce greater odds for unhealthy development. To accomplish this task, we need to move beyond a narrow discipline-based approach by adding together viewpoints and methodological approaches from different fields. To facilitate such work, we need a universal language and uniform concepts and measures to describe similar processes that heretofore have been discussed using different terms within diverse disciplines. A prerequisite for such common language is a multilevel developmental framework, accompanied by empirical tests, telling us whether similar processes may be at work in different fields. The framework we have proposed provides such a prerequisite for investigating the effects of multiple-level factors, within the larger structure of society as well as in closer social circumstances of the individual, experienced during specific developmental periods, and cumulatively over time, on physiology, emotions and behavior in adolescence. Such a model would provide a unique opportunity to begin to understand the questions about whether the effects of stress may be conditioned by outside factors and what intervention approaches prove most beneficial in hindering harmful emotional and behavioral reactions to stress during adolescence.

This work was supported by a Project Grant (206580-21-22-23) from RANNIS, the Icelandic Centre for Research and a Research Consolidator Grant (ERC-CoG-2014—No. 647860) from the European Research Council.

We thank George Bonanno, Department of Clinical and Counseling Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University, for offering insightful comments on an early draft of the manuscript. We also thank Ingibjorg Eva Thorisdottir, research assistant at Reykjavik University, and Lindsay Huffhines, Department of Community, Family, and Addiction Services, Texas Tech University (a Fulbright Student Program Scholar at Reykjavik University at the time), for their assistance in the preparation of the manuscript.

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Think Out Loud

How youth are coping with anxiety and stress.

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

Broadcast: Thursday, March 3

file photo

Courtesy MissMayoi

The COVID-19 pandemic is having dramatic impacts on the well-being of youth in many ways. School districts are struggling to maintain safe learning environments for their students, staff and teachers. For many young people, the most significant impacts are on their mental health. And even if we’ve turned some corners in the pandemic, the emotional effects linger .

We held a live Zoom conversation recently, where we heard directly from students, from mental health professionals and from participants in a youth support circle. The event was a co-production between OPB and “ Call to Mind ,” American Public Media’s initiative to foster new conversations about mental health. We talked about how young people are coping with mental health struggles and how the individuals and the institutions in their lives could best support their resilience. Our guests were Alyssia Menezes, a junior at Portland’s Lincoln High School, and Jospin Mugisha, a sophomore at Portland State University.

We also wanted to get another view of students and stress, and the adults who are helping them. So we turned to Katherine Iliyn, a counselor at Cascade High School in Turner, and Craigan Usher a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University with a special focus on child and adolescent psychiatry. We also got a closer look at one specific response to help young people cope from Shalene Joseph. She co-facilitates a youth support circle for the Native Wellness Center . And we met Andy Miller, a high school freshman who is part of that circle.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show, or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter , send an email to [email protected] , or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.

Note: The following transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller : This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. The COVID-19 pandemic is having dramatic impacts on the well being of our youth in many ways. School Districts are struggling to maintain safe learning environments for their students, staff and teachers. For many young people, the most significant impacts are on their mental health because even if we’ve turned some corners in the pandemic, the emotional effects linger. We held a live Zoom conversation last week where we heard directly from students, from mental health professionals and from participants in a youth support circle. The event was a co-production between OPB and Call to Mind. That’s American Public Media’s initiative to foster new conversations about mental health. We talked about how young people are coping with mental health struggles and how the individuals and the institutions in their lives could best support their resilience. We started with Alyssia Menezes is a Junior at Portland’s Lincoln High School and Jospin Mugisha, a Sophomore at Portland State University. I asked Alyssia what she remembered most from the first days and weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, when everything changed almost overnight.

Alyssia Menezes : I think for me, my mental health journey over the pandemic didn’t just start on day one. I didn’t realize that we would be gone for school for not two weeks but almost a year. So it took a little while for it to settle in and just when the pandemic started, I was basically doing the same thing I was before the pandemic. If anything, I was happy to have the time off.

Miller : But my understanding is that at a certain point you ended up having panic attacks for the first time in your life. Did you know what was even happening to you?

Menezes : That’s true. So after I did start to experience life during the pandemic, I realized that we wouldn’t be returning to normal, I did start having increased stress and increased anxiety. So whereas when I was with peers, when I had a support network where I knew, relatively, what was going on, I was doing relatively fine. But when I was more isolated, when my time management... I didn’t have time to talk with friends or social time within my schedule. I think I got a little bit overwhelmed. I started getting panic attacks when the new school year started, when I was having harder classes when I was doing more extracurriculars and I just didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t have like other students to talk to about what I was going through. I was just becoming really, really stressed. Somewhat, I didn’t know what I was going through. I had heard about what mental health was in the past. I never really thought that I had anxiety. I just assumed like, ‘Oh that’s something that other people have, I don’t have it.’ So then when I got so stressed that I struggled to write an email because my hands were shaking, I just had no idea what I was going through, but I was like, I need to figure this out because I couldn’t write an email, that’s crazy.

Miller : At that point, did you feel like you had anyone you could talk to, anyone you could turn to?

Menezes : I think so, I think I had to make the decision that I was going to be open about what I was going through, and I think that was a somewhat tough decision to make, because for a lot of my life, some emotions I tell people about, and some emotions I don’t tell people about and that had been working out for me, but then when I realized that I wasn’t able to do this alone and I tried handling what I was going through alone and it wasn’t working, I had to make the conscious decision to reach out to people, which ended up being my immediate family,

Miller : How’d that go?

Menezes : I think it overall went well, I am very lucky to have a supportive family. I think towards the beginning, just like I didn’t know what I was going through, I don’t think my family knew what I was going through as well, so we were somewhat working through it together. Sometimes, there’s a little bit frustrating when I was saying one thing, but they weren’t quite understanding what I was going through, but I think just being really, really clear about what I was going through helped the most and obviously they can’t completely understand what I’m going through. I’m a different person, I have a different mind, different age, but just through really listening to what I was saying, I think that helped me the most.

Miller : Before you realized that you’re dealing with serious anxiety yourself, how did you think about mental illness?

Menezes : I definitely completely bought into the stigma around mental illness, which is really sad to me now.I had relatively learned off and on about mental health, probably starting in about Middle School, so, Sixth grade. I learned that some people have anxiety and depression, but I always thought that’s a weakness, that’s a choice, like it might impact other people, but I’m going to be stronger than that, that’s not going to happen to me. And I just had so many bad ideas with it, which, then when I started getting it firstly, it took me a really, really long time to realize I had anxiety. I remember the first panic attack I ever had, was in fifth grade, but I didn’t realize I had anxiety, let alone try to help my anxiety until just this year, which just blows my mind because I bought into that stigma and I didn’t think it was for me. And, because I bought into that stigma, I wasn’t really paying attention when people and resources in my life told me how to deal with mental health when they told me steps to take to help my mental health because I said, I would assume that I don’t have mental health they don’t need to worry about that. I’ll be stronger than that. Which is clearly untrue.

Miller : Jospin, I saw you nodding a little bit, as Alyssia was telling us the beginning of her story. So let’s hear some of your story, now. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but my understanding is that your family originally came from Burundi that you spent five years in a refugee camp in Tanzania before getting asylum and arriving in the US and that you started kindergarten here, outside of Portland not speaking any English and then zooming forward you graduated with a 4.1 gpa from Century High School in Hillsboro. I’ve encapsulated a lot of history in 45 seconds. But I’m imagining that you couldn’t have done what you did, succeeded the way you did, without some pressure to excel. Is it fair to say that?

Jospin Mugisha : Yeah for sure. Especially because where my family came from there was definitely some pressure to succeed from everybody. We all felt like, okay we came from a refugee camp. We’ve been at the bottom, so from everybody, like we’ve always had this mindset to just grind, grind, and work as hard as possible, especially because that’s what my parents did when we first got here. At one point they were both working two jobs; working 12 hours per day or more. So for me, I think part of the reason I struggled with anxiety and managing my stress is because, instead of actually getting the help that I needed, I believed that, oh I can just work it off, you know what I mean? I just need to keep working, working harder instead of actually addressing how I was feeling and like the emotions that I was going through.

Miller : Even if that work, that drive, was one of the reasons behind the anxiety. There was still some hope that just pushing even harder, and the anxiety will go away. So what happened when that drive ran smack into the pandemic?

Mugisha : The main reason I feel like I came to a breaking point, was because after high school, I played three years of varsity basketball, I was the team MVP two years in a row. I was first team, all league. My plan was to play basketball in college and due to the pandemic I didn’t have opportunities to do that. I had to transition from a life where my life was surrounded around basketball to a life without basketball, and luckily I did so well academically throughout high school that I was able to get into PSU with the full ride, academically with a few scholarships, so I didn’t have to stress on that side of school, but I didn’t really know what to do, and then having all that free time, I felt I was kind of confused almost to where, okay, what am I supposed to do now? And I had all this time and like I think she touched on something that I want to reiterate- when I was younger, I had the same symptoms that I do now, but I didn’t recognize them because I was always working. I always had a distraction. I always had something else that I could work at or do, whether that was school or basketball; it just was a distraction. I wasn’t able to process my emotions. But because of the pandemic, I didn’t have basketball, I didn’t have school. I didn’t have any friends or anybody else to distract me. I was alone with my emotions and just having that much time to really process everything, made everything just hit me all at once almost. Where once I went back into the normal life, is just like I had all these emotions that were like bottled up for so long that were ready to explode almost.

Miller : It almost sounds like for both of you, the pandemic exacerbated what had been going on, in painful ways and difficult ways, but one small benefit was it also forced you to realize what was happening and maybe what had been happening for a long time. So Jospin, were you then, able to get help when you talked about your breaking point, when you arrived there, what came next?

Mugisha : When I arrived there I actually had like a pretty decent support system. I had a girlfriend at the time and she encouraged me to go to therapy, and reach out to somebody and just figure out what I can do about how I’m feeling and just at least understand why it’s happening or why I’m feeling this way. Because I’ve never had a problem with talking about what I was going through in my emotions, but I still didn’t understand how to deal with them. And so I just wanted to talk to somebody and so I reached out to Kaiser which is my insurance provider and I tried to set up a meeting and I actually called them a month ago and I got my first like call back this morning at 8:35. So it took almost a month just to get a call. And even then just today they just gave me a referral to make an appointment with a different organization that’s affiliated with Kaiser. And so I still have not reached somebody that can I actually talk to and it’s been a month of talk to multiple people and it was just really difficult and then on top of that going there is no resource within the Kaiser website to actually- there’s no mental health dedicated section where you can just schedule an appointment. It’s weird, if you search ‘mental health’ within Kaiser it’ll just direct you to a phone number and then you call that phone number, that phone number will take you to the mental health department and then from there then you schedule an evaluation to see what type of mental health that you need. And so that’s what the appointment was for today but it was really difficult. I felt like I needed the help immediately, or to talk to somebody immediately and I just never was able to and within that time from when I made that first appointment to now my life is completely different. It got to the point where I did have that mental breakdown where I was on my way to school and I just ended up crying multiple days in a row, it was just overwhelming and I was just like, bro, I really desperately need to talk to somebody and I just feel like when I really needed that help, I didn’t really have anybody to go to, even though that resource was there and I knew what to do. I still felt like it was out of reach.

Miller : It’s the difference between having insurance and having theoretical access to care at some point and having care when you really want it. Alyssia, from what I understand, you’re developing a presentation about mental health for elementary school students right now. What made you want to do that?

Menezes : After I started realizing I had anxiety, I started addressing my own anxiety. I was reflecting on my life and what my fellow speaker had been going through. I realized that I had been experiencing symptoms of having anxiety even before the pandemic, I just didn’t realize that. And, partially the reason why, was because I totally bought into this stigma, which I must have learned early on in life. So then I kind of put two and two together and I realized that like within elementary school, maybe within fifth grade, and also middle school, even though I was hearing about, vaguely, what mental health was, it clearly wasn’t getting to me. Maybe it was because it was taught by teachers who never dealt with mental health in life. Maybe it was because I didn’t realize the stigma was a thing, because it was just taught, and not really talked about the stigma, or just I didn’t know how to handle my emotions. And I realized that I could change that. So I reached out to some local elementary schools, middle schools and I asked them if I would be able to teach their students about mental health, along with some of my friends who I got into it. And so far the counselors have been... I think it’s really interesting, but we’re still struggling with a lot of teachers who can’t make time in their schedules, are still trying to fit this into schedules, which is unfortunate because I do think that learning about mental health is just as important as learning about a day of algebra or reading, but I started this program because I think that if I can present to students, if I can tell them about my stories, they’ll realize that fellow students do deal with mental health. If I can talk openly about the stigma and then try to give advice for people who think they’re dealing with mental health problems or people who think their mental health is just fine about how do you have better mental health and how to live more happily? And I hope I can actually make a difference for the younger generations.

Miller : Jospin, what would you tell young students? I mean if you were going into an elementary school right now, what would you want to focus on?

Mugisha : I would honestly focus on getting them to understand that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, it’s okay to feel burned out. It’s okay to feel upset, it’s okay to feel those emotions. I feel like a lot of times like there’s just a workaholic mindset within a lot of American society, we’re like, ‘oh if I get like I can just get through it, you know, by myself, I can just like dug through it’ or like, ‘oh if I’m sad or whatever, it makes me weak, if I’m overwhelmed, it makes me weak, if I’m struggling with this then I’m not strong enough’, and so just getting them to really understand that everybody in the whole world goes through what you’re going through. It might not be for the same reasons, but a lot of people struggle and even the people that you admire may also be going through the same things and so just truly, really getting them to understand that even the most successful people out there have struggled with mental health- anxiety, stress, depression, whatever that person might be going through. And so I think that’s the most important thing, just getting them to truly understand that it’s just as common as getting a cold or something like that; removing that stigma away from the negative connotation attached to mental health.

Miller : Jospin, what’s giving you joy right now? What’s giving you resilience?

Mugisha : Honestly, what’s given me joy is I started a clothing brand called Be Proud. It’s a little weird, but the whole idea behind the clothing brand was just being proud of yourself, being proud of the things that make you unique, that identify what you identify with. And so, that’s literally our whole mission and it’s been really cool to see the impact of it. A month ago we partnered with PSU and we had this in-person shop for two weeks and we did this wall where we had people just write. It was a glass wall, we had these markers, and there was a sentence structure where I said ‘I am proud to be…’. and then you just fill in the sentence and it was one of the most eye opening experiences because I was expecting people to put their race, their gender identity, their sexuality, all these different things. What really touched me was people were just proud to be here. They said they were proud to be loved, they were proud to be able to love, they were proud to be healthy, mentally. I wasn’t expecting those answers and I didn’t know that my brand could mean that to different people. They’re just proud to be themselves, proud to be liked. I didn’t realize it could actually apply to mental health and stress. Ever since then we’ve been more active and just more focused on advocating for mental health and that’s part of the reason why I’m here. Since I’m the co-founder, I wanted to show people that we’re behind mental health and stuff like that.

Miller : And Alyssia, what about you? What’s giving you joy these days or making you feel more resilient?

Menezes : For me. I’d say it’s a lot of things. One of them, so happy to be back in school. I don’t think I realized how much I missed just talking to people every day until I came back to it, and I was like ‘Wow, this is absolutely incredible.’ I get to go to school with all my friends every day, which of course in-person school has its benefits and drawbacks but it definitely does offer a support network. I made a lot of really strong friends and I fostered a lot of strong friendships that I had pre-pandemic and that I finally realized that I forgot about over the pandemic. I’d say other things that bring me joy is just focusing on me and prioritizing my mental health which I didn’t do pre-pandemic which has definitely given me a bigger outlook on life. So whether that means making time to go for runs and do exercise or if I’m feeling overwhelmed telling myself that I should prioritize myself and whether that means not finishing all my homework or not being able to make a club one day, just going into things with the mindset that focusing on me is the best thing I can do, has just brought me a lot of joy as it’s been a bit freeing.

Miller : Alyssia and Jospin thanks so much for joining us today. I appreciate it.

Menezes : Thank you so much for having us.

Mugisha : Thank you, thank you for the opportunity

Miller :That was Alyssia Menezes, a junior at Portland’s Lincoln High School, and Jospin Mugisha, a sophomore at Portland State University.

Coming up after a break, we’ll get a wider picture of the experiences of young people right now from a school counselor and a Psychiatrist.

Dave Miller : From the Gert Boyle Studio, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller, we’re focusing this hour on how young people are coping with stress and anxiety as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Before the break, we heard from two young people about the stress and anxiety they’re facing and how they’re dealing with it. We wanted to get another view of students and stress and the adults who are helping them. Katherine Iliyn is one of two Counselors at Cascade High School in Turner, Oregon, near Salem. She tries to provide a safe space for students and has just wrapped up a program to help kids deal specifically with social anxiety. Craigan Usher is a Professor of Psychiatry at OHSU with a special focus on child and adolescent psychiatry.

I asked Katherine Iliyn what she took from the stories she had just heard.

Katherine Iliyn : What they’re doing to fill their cup. Jospin’s ‘I’m proud to be here.’ That was really deep, to hear that ‘proud to be here, proud to be alive,’ rather than a race or spirituality or ethnicity; people are just proud to be here, and I thought that was really powerful during this time.

Miller : Craigan, Stacy in Zoom wrote, ' My daughter goes from ‘okay’ to ‘overwhelmed’ instantly. She can’t even talk about it but has to leave the room when she is stressed. I’m curious how all this tracks with what you’ve been seeing in your patients or appearing from your colleagues?

Craigan Usher : That’s really consistent. I think over the pandemic one of the things that I learned from Jospin and Alyssia is that youth who are struggling right now, with going from 0 to 60 in terms of feeling calm to anxious and overwhelmed, unable to speak about their problems. Anyone who is dealing with that is very much not alone during this pandemic. Rates of anxiety and depression for youth in a study that came out in August in JAMA Pediatrics [ Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics ] showed that those rates have doubled and that was with over 80,000 youth polled in 29 different studies. So if this young person is suffering, she’s very much not alone.

Miller : It’s such a striking place to start, it reminded me of one of the other comments that we saw on Zoom: Christine wrote this. Well, she wrote that, what would help her now is to know that the experience she’s having with her children is normal. I think she too is talking about not feeling alone. That feeling like hers is not the only family going through something. But it also makes me wonder what any of us mean, now, when we talk about being normal -- I mean what does it mean to be normal?

Iliyn : I don’t know.

Usher : That’s funny. That’s something that comes up in sessions a lot. Like, well let’s define what is a ‘disorder’ versus what is ‘normal.’ How would we even define that, given that this is sort of a variation on a way of being? This is a variation on a way of living. I think that’s what made going back to what Alyssia was saying was if only she had known perhaps if she had had someone who came from Lincoln High School and came to her elementary school and said, this is actually a thing that can happen to you, and it’s normal. It doesn’t feel good, but you can live through the experience. And these are the, these are the symptoms. I was just thinking about how powerful that intervention would be, but I think we’re all right to wonder about that dividing line.

Miller : Katherine, let’s get to some specifics. Amanda from Portland says on Zoom, ‘As a principle we are seeing big behaviors at school.’ I’m curious and we can all imagine what the big behaviors are. We’ve seen reports of serious fights and really serious behavioral disturbances in classes or in bathrooms over the last half year or so. What are you seeing at your school?

Iliyn : Well, at Cascade we were one of the few schools to come back not hybrid. We did a hybrid model last year, but then toward the end of the year we did have all the students back for half, or shortened, days and for that month we were all prepared for a bunch of disciplinary things to happen,and now looking back on it, it was this magical golden month and a half, where we did all the sports, all the activities, all the things for seniors. We held graduation, we did three of those, and it was really awesome. And then press ‘play’ on this year, and we’re seeing a lot of disciplinary issues as well as that stress; and really, disciplinary issues are linked with stress, sometimes anxiety and depression is seen as anger, and is seen as defiance. And so I really think that it’s a huge possibility that they’re very connected.

Miller : What do you find that your students most want from you right now, or most need from you right now?

Iliyn : They need me to listen and I’m here.

Miller : But I mean, you always need to listen, right?

Iliyn : I know… [Voices Overlap]

Miller : Isn’t that a huge part of your job?

Iliyn : Yes. It is, but I have a lot of teens that need reassurance, that need a reminder of boundaries and self care. But I have a lot of kids that just come in and it feels like a whole two years worth of things that they need to tell me, and I really feel that. I’ve gone through so many tissue boxes. They want to help everyone, they forget to help themselves. I’m seeing a lot of emotions, which is really, really good. I missed it last year.

Miller : Do you find that they know how to ask you for what they need? I ask this because from what we heard earlier, I got the sense from Alyssia and from Jospin that it took them a little while to realize what they were going through because of the stigma they talked about, and because of their lack of awareness, the lack of societal awareness to a great extent about mental health issues. Do your students know even the questions to ask you to get the help that you know they need?

Iliyn : That is a wonderful question. I would say that there’s a good amount of kids that do know, but there’s also going to be another population that isn’t sure how. I often ask kids because as a school counselor here at this building, I also do schedule changes, which is different for different high schools. I do get a chance to see every kid on my caseload in one way or another and sometimes I tell them, do you know who I am? Do you know what I can do for you? I talk about everything that I can do and they’re like, ‘what, I had no idea.’ So I am aware that not all of them are aware of those things. So last year, not being in school, kids being in school, I worked with one of our interns from Willamette University to try and continue to reach out to everyone through social media, making really quirky little videos and just trying to get the word out to kids that your school counselor is here. You need to email me or call me, but I’m here and waiting for you. They’re still gonna be kids out there that aren’t sure of how to ask for help. But the counseling office is a buzzing place of kids coming in. I’m really grateful that they know that they can come in and the teachers have that relationship with our office that if a kid says that they need to go to the counseling office that they’re coming here.

Miller : I want to hear more about the teacher’s role in this. And we had some folks who have questions about that, but Craigan, to go back to you, you and I last talked on Think Out Loud in January of this year, which I was thinking back on. It is so long ago in terms of the emotional roller coaster of what’s happened. So that was before vaccines were widely available but also before the Delta variant and before the latest political divisions about vaccines. It was before the widespread return to in-person school, but also before the challenges of the return to school. And also in that time there were different waves of high case counts and then cases going down and just a true emotional roller coaster, just a lot of uncertainty. I’m curious what that uncertainty specifically does, how it affects young people in particular.

Usher : I think it’s led us all- and I want to include adults here because I think we are perhaps suffering in the same way and alongside youth, we don’t have all the answers, we’re living in a state of hypervigilance where danger seems to lurk just around the corner. Alyssia talked about this, it was two weeks to flatten the curve, and then it was, well the rest of the school year is out. So like you say, there’s the expectation relief has just been ‘right around the corner,’ and the expectation of danger is also alert and I’m seeing increasing youth online, thinking more and more, ‘What’s the next thing -- when is the other shoe going to drop?’ And it’s causing us all a lot of anxiety, but especially the young people that I’m working with.

Miller : It’s worth mentioning now, the next thing that we’re not just talking about the pandemic for young people or for anybody but to focus on young people. I mean obviously, they have school issues, family issues, racial justice protests and uprising and climate change and even huge, meaningful, scary questions about the resilience of our actual society and democracy. So it’s everything together.

Usher : Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s so hard to know. We as adults don’t have a space for thinking about, ‘how would I promote resilience of these conditions?’ We’re asking ourselves these very questions, so we don’t have a lot of ready made answers. And I think when Katherine said, ‘well what do I do first, listen?’ We’re at that level right now, where we really need to listen for those signals and to hear someone’s anxiety out, before we answer. I think some of our pat answers, from pre-pandemic times.

Miller : Lynn, in Portland is on Zoom. So after the listening, if you both emphasize the listening, but her question is she’d like to know about language, or specific words that could help to get a young person to open up and to talk about their feelings, Katherine, could you take a stab at this first? I mean what have you learned about effective ways to get maybe a reticent or a shy or scared or an angry young person to open up.

Iliyn : One thing that I get a lot with kids that are new to my office is ‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’ and kind of that apathy piece. I’ve found the asking, and actually, we talked about it in my grad program. Okay, well, what if you did know? No pressure here to get it wrong. And actually, it’s surprising how often that works. Or just trying a bunch of icebreakers. I talked about my tapestry on the wall here, there’s all sorts of vessels of transportation, Led Zeppelin is on there and there’s dragons and there’s all these animals and sometimes they’ll say, okay, well, I see you looking at that map, if you could be on one of those ships going somewhere, which ship would it be and why? And it opens up a huge conversation because especially in high school and trying to find who we are and Erik Erikson’s stages of development, this stage of high school that I deal with is role identity versus role confusion. And I see that time and time again. And so I talk about the journey of high school and the journey of life and it all relates to this map here. And so that really does open up a lot of really good conversations with kids.

Miller : Craigan, what about younger kids, well before high school because they too are having serious issues right now. Kids, I don’t know, 5, 6, 10, 11, who may have less access to language skills and less access to emotional regulation or emotional intelligence.

Usher : I think one of my favorite techniques is to draw with kids; I draw a squiggle and, ‘You turn it into something...’ Often it becomes a creature or a vessel and I wonder ‘well what are the people on this boat thinking right now?’ And I draw a thought bubble. And I really introduced a lot of play because the language of childhood in terms of our emotional lives is expressed through play. It’s expressed through drawing, it’s expressed through singing. So I think again, what we wish to do is to sit alongside our kids, ask them a little bit about, ‘Well, how is it that you see the world,’ and if we can’t talk about it, could we draw this out? So I think, also I want to say for parents, one technique is to really sit on your hands and truly play, set a timer for 15 minutes without criticism, without a command. See if you can just play and immerse yourself in the world of a child for that much time,

Miller : What comes from that, what comes from truly playing and being with their kid in that way?

Usher : I think a lot of times it’s a lot of surprises, a lot of depth. Sometimes kids will play out themes, maybe of something that they’re stressed about occurring at school and so a parent can watch it unfold almost like a movie or a tv show, a theme will emerge, or a drawing will emerge, there will be a conflict. And one thing for all of Freud’s faults, he did teach us something about dream life and about artistic life that we are in our dream life, that in our characters that we draw, we are. There’s an element of us in everything that we put out on paper and there’s an element of us in everything that we play. And so I think if parents can read things in that way and play with kids, not over them, just immersing themselves in the world of a child, they’ll learn a lot of things that will give signals on how they might help them move forward.

Miller : Katherine, Michelle from Kaiser says on Zoom that she has seen anxiety about making new friends. That reminded me of the small group that you started for students to help with social anxiety. How did that group come about? And what did it entail?

Iliyn : I actually came up with a model for a gardening group linked with social anxiety in about 2018 in my grad program at George Fox University, wonderful program by the way. I kind of just had it because it was a project for school, but I was like, oh man, this would be so cool. And then, well then this crazy pandemic rolled around and we could really get kids in the building and then we could do it outside and there was funding for it. I linked it with dropout prevention and it just came about because there was... man, last year was so hard, it was so hard for everyone, but a bunch of teachers and counselors and therapists together, we’re like, wow, what do we do? And so we had this time to try and kind of recreate things and do things outside. We had several outdoor classes. This was one of those things that started and I partnered with the school... Trillium-based school counselor or therapist that we had here. And we did the group together and with the help of teachers sending in names of kids that they remember from the past year or even, you know, this kid isn’t really participating in Zoom or even from parent contribution. We even sent out a survey to all the students about anxiety or about just what’s going on with mental health -- if you didn’t agree, what would you like to do? And through months and months of data collection of feedback of reaching out to families, we were able to get it down to a small group and we built a garden on campus and we set those posts in concrete and it’s a permanent structure and it’s right next to our ag greenhouse. And we plan to do it every year.

Miller : Why a garden? Why connect gardening to a group focused on helping kids dealing with social anxiety?

Iliyn : Working with your hands, getting dirty, getting in that soil. There’s just endless lessons they get from the earth, and patience and failure and working with people, working alone, responsibilities, there’s just so many different lessons that you can learn in gardening. I enjoy gardening and I enjoy the outdoors. I’m also the Director of Outdoor School for our district. When I came up with this in grad school I was reading a couple of things on how, it’s really soothing, it’s calming and I’ve done it, but it’s really good for anxiety to be able to have that alone time, to have that time with others. And it turned into a social anxiety group because we didn’t have a lot of social things happening, and we were hoping for, you know, moving toward bringing everyone back the next year. And so we were working with that transition time and so we actually met once a week and harvested through the garden.

Miller : What was harvest like for the kids?

Iliyn : Oh gosh, it was so fun. I was talking with my counterpart from the garden group today about our garden and what was so fun about it. I think one of my favorite memories was the zucchini because we only met once a week, sometimes the zucchini were about three ft long, zucchini grows wild. But one of our students was so excited. They said that they had to put the zucchini in the passenger seat and put the seatbelt on it because it was so heavy that the car kept dinging. [Laughter] But really, hearing the following week from students of the looks on their parents or their family’s faces or their friends’ faces when they brought them sunflowers or when they brought him home a huge bag of tomatoes and just what joy they were bringing to people that they cared about. That was truly beautiful.

Miller : Craigan, Patricia from Portland asked questions on Zoom that I think either of you could answer, but I’d love to get your take on this. She wants to know how can we as members of the community support the great work that all of you are doing at this time? We got a similar question from Kelsey who wrote, ‘How can coalitions or community partners support schools?’ I wanted to ask you because I was curious about broadening this. What do you see, both of you are mental health professionals, this is your job, but these questions get to something more interesting, which is what is the community’s role now in helping young people?

Usher : That’s a great question. And I I think I have never had a better recreational soccer season; I volunteer recreational soccer coached for about six years, and I don’t think that the season has ever meant so much to me, nor to the boys that I work with. And I think relishing every opportunity you have to build that sense of community, to build that sense of trust, to build that sense of affiliation. I mean, these are research shows at the school level, these are anti-suicidal measures. These actually help prevent suicide, a sense of belonging and respect from adults. So, I would invite people in the community again, I hope there are policy changes. I hope that no one has to go through what Jospin has gone through, but I know thousands of youth and families are right now, which is dead end calls or endless bridges that seemingly go nowhere to mental health. So I’m certainly hoping that we can improve that at a policy level and hold our care organizations accountable and our insurers. But, at the community level, I also think looking for any opportunity you have to create space for youth to have that sense of affiliation is just so vital.

Miller : Craigan and Katherine, thanks so much.

Usher : Thanks so much. It’s an honor.

Iliyn : Thank you so much. This is so awesome.

Miller : That was Katherine Iliyn, one of two counselors at Cascade High School in Turner, Oregon. Craigan Usher is a Professor of Psychiatry at OHSU. We turn now to our last two guests, Shalene Joseph works for the Native Wellness Institute that’s a national nonprofit based in Portland. She runs the institute’s youth support circle on Zoom. It started shortly after the pandemic really hit in Oregon in March of 2020. Andy Miller is one of the young people who attended the support circle. He is a freshman at Adrian Nelson High School in Happy Valley. I asked Shalene how much the institute focuses on mental health as a part of overall wellness.

Shalene Joseph : It’s a big part of our work. So looking at ourselves holistically, spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally. No matter the work we’re doing, that is at the basis, that is at the center. So, community is built of individuals, the mental health aspect is the most important piece.

Miller : How did the pandemic affect the work that you were able to do and the work you had to do?

Joseph : At first it was a bit of a panic right? We work in Tribal communities and so with our work we’ve been doing our training and facilitation all through Zoom, and really trying to be careful about when we’re going to go back into communities, right? Because Tribal communities were really hit hard. A lot of the panelists before were talking about access. So access to healthcare in some of these rural communities is very different than what we see here in Portland.

Miller : Can you describe what would happen in some average youth support circle meeting?

Joseph : Yeah. Andy knows this all too well. We check in at the very beginning, and we have our same staple question, so we make them say their names so that their name, even though we know them obviously meeting every week, they say their name to bring themselves into that space on a scale of 1 to 10, how are you? Really knowing and checking in with ourselves, how do we feel? What’s one positive thing about ourselves? So reminding ourselves we have good things and it’s okay to say, hey, I am optimistic or I am a hard worker and we just go right into games and we teach through games and my co-facilitator who is also one of my best friends, we don’t ask our youth to do anything we’re not willing to do.

Miller : Andy, if you don’t want to do this, no problem. But since Shalene would always start meetings on the 1 to 10 scale, how are you doing right now on that scale?

Andy Miller : On, I’m a little nervous.

D Miller : Well, I’m thrilled to have you on the show. I’m thrilled to meet you. Let’s go back a little bit because Shalene was talking about the beginning of the youth support circle. But I’m curious about what your social life was like before the pandemic hit?

A Miller : Well, like most kids I didn’t really have a direction in my life, kind of just going along the ride with everyone else. And then when the pandemic came along, I was looking at myself and became a little self conscious and so I started getting into science stuff and I never had been in my entire life. I was getting into Biology, specifically and over time I got these little goals and then of course the youth support circle came along and that was like just... I don’t know what the word would be, what really kept my life stable, I guess.

D Miller : That’s a big way to put it, adding stability to your life. Shalene, you’ve said in the past that you have an abundance-based approach to your programs. What does that mean?

Joseph : It’s just that. It’s focusing on the things that we do have. As Native people, we’re constantly told we’re ‘less than,’ or ‘we don’t exist,’ or all of these things and we tell our youth this as well, right? If we have our cup, and we’re constantly filling other peoples’ cups until we have nothing left, what does that do for us? We need to continue to fill our cups so that we can continue going. With our support circles, we let our youth pick what we want to do and we’ll really work. And our kids always wanted to cook, we were doing deliveries like madness, but we would give them enough food that they wouldn’t just cook for themselves. They’re cooking for their families. And so really coming from abundance, they are the provider.

D Miller : Andy, let’s close with the same question that I asked our first young people at the beginning. I’m curious what’s giving you joy these days? What’s filling your cup, or making you feel resilient?

A Miller : I think what’s really helping is finding a sense of meaning in life. And I know that’s sort of not really what kids should be thinking about. Maybe, like as a college students, but I still think it’s, it’s something to think about. And what happened during the pandemic is that’s all I had all that time. It was just me thinking about just sort of the meaning of life. I got kind of dark in some parts, but once I started finding, I don’t know what you call it, like gestures towards the world, it could be anything, it could be just going on a walk and seeing nature, those little tiny things, they’re like little steps. And another thing is, I just imagine if every kid who has lost or they need help or something, imagine what, how the world could be, imagine if our future had a vision and had a direction, maybe solving climate change, maybe finding a cure for cancer, I don’t know. And thinking outside the box, if all kids can do that and the kids are future, so can really, really go far.

D Miller : That was Andy Miller, he’s a freshman at Adrian Nelson High School in Happy Valley and he attended the Youth Support Circle created by the Native Wellness Institute. Shalene Joseph is one of the facilitators of the group. This show was a part of a national tour focused on youth, mental health with wellbeings and American Public Media as with all of our shows, you can get the podcast of this hour wherever you get your podcasts. There’s also our nightly rebroadcast that’s Monday through Friday at eight p.m. Thanks very much for tuning in to Think Out Loud on OPB and KLCC. I’m Dave Miller, we’ll be back tomorrow. Think Out Loud is supported by Steve and Jan Oliver, the Rose E. Tucker Charitable Trust and Ray and Marilyn Johnson.

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Joseph E. Davis Ph.D.

Youth and Anxiety

The imperatives to stand out and be all you can be are exacting a heavy toll.

Posted August 23, 2020 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina

Earlier this year, I wrote a short essay for the Institute for Family Studies on “ The Deeper Roots of Youth Anxiety .” I argued that the typical explanations of rising youth anxiety do not go deep enough. They miss the impacts of the ongoing and unprecedented restructuring of society in recent decades and the imperative it places on young people to define themselves and the shape of their life by reference to their own preferences, desires, and choices. Interviews with youth show that enacting life in terms of choice carries many risks, especially in a social context where one’s status and worth are measured by standing out from the crowd and living up to one’s distinctive (and highest) potential.

After the essay appeared, the Institute on Culture and Society at the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain contacted me about an interview , which appeared on their website in Spanish in July. The following are excerpts.

Q: What are the implications of living in a society where continuous success and “standing out” are the norm?

A: While suffering always feels unique to the sufferer, we can only understand it in light of the society we live in and the normative standards and ideals that make it possible. In our “liquid times,” to use the late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s apt phrase, much of the taken-for-granted social order—social roles, cultural institutions, formative communities, and the like—have declined. We are now each expected to author our life as if on a blank canvas, without fixed points. It falls on us to choose and decide, at younger and younger ages, who we are and seek to be.

That reflexive authoring of self would be challenging enough, but we don’t make the identity choices in a vacuum. As I found in my interviews with young people, there are very specific social norms and performance expectations that they felt a strong obligation to live up to and against which they (and others) measured themselves. One of these obligations was to optimize themselves, to constantly improve and be all that they can be. In practice, this meant a continuous demand for and need to demonstrate tangible achievements. A related obligation was the need to establish and make visible their distinctiveness; to show that their self-making project was singular and successful, a life that others would take notice of and even envy .

There are many implications of trying to live this way but let me mention just two. One, especially for young people, is that they become preoccupied with social comparisons in almost every area of their life. They used peer comparison to understand what identity options were available and how they were measuring up, and, at the same time, sought constant feedback to avoid the shame and humiliation of doing the wrong thing or appearing naïve or weird. Self-making in these terms generates a lot of uncertainty, dissatisfaction, and regret.

A second implication of trying to live these standards is the possibility of paralysis and loss of motivation . Without the guidance of institutions and traditions, how is one to decide what to be? Are all the proliferating options equally good? How does one decide and how can one know the consequences of the decision? What about failure, the possibility of disappointing people, the possibility that one might appear average and undistinguished? The specter of falling short or making the wrong choices fosters anxiety and self-blame, and, for some, leads to withdrawing or dropping out.

Q: What is the role of social networks in this process of self-making?

A: I have already mentioned the crucial role of peer comparison and feedback for accessing the identity options and gauging one’s choices. Social media platforms have come to serve an important function in facilitating, in real time, the acquiring of this information.

Another role corresponds with the demand that accomplishments be documented and publicized. Among the reasons for all the striving to optimize yourself and stand out is to not let others or yourself down—not to be a disappointment or a “loser.” Social media provide a space where people can demonstrate and confirm the success of their self-making and these forums are especially attractive for this purpose because they allow people to present a picture of themselves that’s heavily curated and airbrushed. The better to show that one is standing out. The mundane details of one’s life can be made to glow. Of course, more perniciously, one can claim a superior position by using social media to make others appear inferior. This is all too common.

Q: You wrote that nowadays we leave kids to develop themselves in an autonomous way and that this creates problems. What is the importance of structure—cultural, social, family, and so on—for the development of young people?

A: An old sociological idea, going back at least to the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, is that the more people are thrown back on themselves because of weak institutional guidance and constraint, the more vulnerable they become. If quote the philosopher Hans Blumenberg on this point: He says that our existence is a “potentially self- assertive [‘emergent’] autonomy that is constrained by anthropological limits and stabilized and humanized by institutions, which by forming a livable world limit arbitrariness and make action and reflection possible.” Put differently, in order to realize our potentialities, we need structure and rules and an orientation to our place in the world. We, as individuals, can’t give these things to ourselves.

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

Instead of imparting a way of life to our kids, a task requiring traditions and stable institutions and communities, we ask young people to make up a life out of themselves and then freight their choices with high expectations of success. We call them to exercise agency and even “ leadership ,” but do not give them the knowledge and experience that makes genuine achievement possible. We call them to be and demonstrate their individuality, but without grounding them in what is commonly shared or given the space to experiment or fail or live unmeasured. And on it goes. A freedom that is little more than our preferences provides no grounds on which to realize ourselves or form commitments to others. In fact, it is a recipe for the very disaster we see playing itself out in the tremendous rates of anxiety and other mental health problems.

Q: Does considering a person as an autonomous chooser affect our understanding of human dignity?

A: Of course, on the one hand, the freedom and autonomy to decide who we are and what we care about is a great good, allowing us to control and direct important aspects of our lives. Being stuck without choices in important matters is itself very stressful . And having standards by which we judge our own and others’ actions is both proper and necessary. The standards are what make social order and human excellence possible.

The trouble enters the picture, as I’ve already suggested, in a conception of freedom as a disengagement from anything unchosen. Disengagement also fosters a way of relating to ourselves as a kind of object or abstract image (such as on the model of a product “brand”). Social media platforms, as I’ve mentioned, can encourage this objectification. They can foster in young people (everyone actually) a way of looking at themselves as though they're looking at someone else, or, more accurately, at some thing that can be sculpted and molded from the outside. They can foster an instrumental view of themselves, their experience, and their “network” of relationships. This view is inconsistent with genuine human dignity.

Joseph E. Davis Ph.D.

Joseph E. Davis is Research Professor of Sociology and Director of the Picturing the Human Colloquy of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

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Stress and Its Effects on Health Essay

Introduction, physical effects, psychological effects, behavioral effects.

Stress is the emotional strain or tension experienced by an individual due to a reaction toward various demanding and influential situations. The challenging or compelling situations are termed stressors. Stressors can be internal or external and include life changes such as losing a significant figure, low socioeconomic status, relationship problems, occupational challenges, and familial or environmental factors. An individual’s response to stressors influences the outcome of their life. Health is a state of complete social, emotional, and physical well-being and not merely the absence of disease. Stress is a common risk factor for negative health status secondary to negative adaptation and coping with the stressors. Stressors can create a strain on one’s physical, psychological and behavioral well-being, leading to lasting effects that are detrimental to one’s health.

Stress is associated with various physical health impacts on an individual. In an online cross-sectional survey by Keech et al. (2020) to determine the association between stress and the physical and psychological health of police officers, the findings illustrate that stress negatively impacts physical and psychological well-being. One hundred and thirty-four police officers were involved in the study (Keech et al., 2020). The findings demonstrate that stress resulted in various short and long-term physical effects that included increased heart rates, sweating, high blood pressure, and long-term development of the cardiac condition. In addition, stress resulted in the development of gastrointestinal disorders such as peptic ulcer and irritable bowel syndrome. Keech et al. (2020) note that stress’s associated physical health effects are explained by various mechanisms that include overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis.

Overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system results in increased sympathetic actions on the peripheral body organs leading to increased sweat production, heart rate, respiration rate, and urinary and bowel elimination. The study notes that chronic stress without positive adaptation measures results in the progressive development of hypertension, peptic ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome as long-term effects (Keech et al., 2020). Within the gastrointestinal tract, chronic stress activity on the sympathetic nervous system results in increased parietal cell action. Overactivity of the parietal cells results in excessive gastric acid production, gradually eroding the mucosa, and ulceration occurs.

The effects of stress on the cardiovascular system are explained in a review by Kivimäki & Steptoe (2017) to determine the impact of stress on the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases. In the review, stress is identified to cause cardiovascular conditions secondary to the effects of sustained sympathetic action on heart contractility and peripheral vascular resistance (Kivimäki & Steptoe, 2017). The sympathetic nervous system contributes to normal heart and blood vessel contractility. However, when the system is overstimulated, a surge in contractility above the normal limits ensues, leading to the progressive development of heart conditions.

Psychological well-being incorporates a positive mental health status evidenced by an individual’s satisfaction with life, happiness, rational thinking and decision-making, and positive mood patterns. Stress has been associated with alterations in an individual’s psychological wellness. An explanation for alteration in an individual’s psychological well-being secondary to stress is negative adaptation. Keech et al. (2020) note that an individual’s response to a stressor determines whether stress results in positive or negative effects. In the online cross-sectional survey by Keech et al. (2020), the findings illustrate that pressure resulted in the development of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders as long-term effects among the participants. Exposure to stressful situations resulted in progressively developing anxiety among the individual secondary to persistent worry over the issue. The anxiety results in other physical manifestations, including increased heart rate, palpitations, sweating, and altered mobility. Depression and bipolar conditions were also associated with chronic stress secondary to the impacts of stress on neurotransmitter function and nerves.

Similar findings are noted in a cross-sectional study by Zhang et al. (2020) to compare the prevalence and severity of stress-associated mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and insomnia among healthcare workers during the COVID pandemic. Five hundred and twenty-four healthcare workers were involved in the study. The study findings illustrate that 31.3% of the participants developed depression secondary to the stressful working environment, 41.2% reported anxiety, and 39.3% reported sleep disturbances (Zhang et al., 2020). The scientific explanation for the relationship between stress and depression was attributed to the effects of stressful periods on neurotransmitter homeostasis. Chronic stress results in the altered regulation of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. Alterations in serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine resulted in the progressive development of depression and anxiety. Sleep disturbances reported by the participants are attributed to alterations in cortisol hormone homeostasis secondary to overstimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis.

Stressful situations can also lead to alterations in the behavioral patterns of an individual. The most common behavioral effects secondary to stress include the development of eating disorders, altered sleeping patterns, impaired concentration, and drug abuse especially alcohol. Alterations in sleep and eating patterns are linked to stress’s effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA). Exposure to stressful events leads to increased activation of the HPA axis with a net effect of increased catecholamine production (adrenaline and noradrenaline) (Moustafa et al., 2018). Increased adrenaline and noradrenaline production results in dysregulation in the eating and sleeping patterns. Sustained high levels of cortisol results in difficulty falling asleep and increased metabolic processes. The biological clock regulates the typical sleeping pattern that relies on producing the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin production by the pineal gland is regulated indirectly by the concentration of serum cortisol levels and directly by light perception. Imbalances in the serum concentration cycle secondary to stress results in imbalanced melatonin production and concentration with a net effect of sleeping difficulties.

The emotional strain caused by stress increases the risk of alcohol and other illicit drug use and dependence. Moustafa et al. (2018) conducted an integrative literature review to determine the relationship between childhood trauma, early-life stress, alcohol and drug use, addiction, and abuse. The review findings illustrate that stress increases the risk of alcohol and drug use, addiction, and abuse among the victims. An explanation for the increased risk is the individuals’ lack of identification and implementation of effective coping strategies (Moustafa et al., 2018). Lack of effective coping strategies results in maladaptive measures such as illicit drug use and alcohol consumption. Extensive use of the maladaptive measures results in progressive addiction and drug abuse among individuals with an increased predisposition to other health effects. Alcohol consumption and other illicit drug use over time increase the risk of developing cardiac, respiratory, and liver conditions.

Stress is the emotional strain or tension experienced by an individual due to a reaction toward various demanding and influential situations. Individual response to stressors influences their health. Maladaptive response to stress results in various physical, psychological, and behavioral negative effects. Negative effects of stress on physical health include increased heart rates, sweating, high blood pressure, and long-term development of the cardiac condition. Psychological effects include the development of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders. The behavioral effects of stress on an individual include the development of eating disorders, altered sleeping patterns, impaired concentration, and abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Based on the research findings, it is essential for healthcare providers to identify strategic measures and health initiatives to educate and sensitize the community members on effective stress management approaches in all settings to aid in combating the health effects.

Keech, J. J., Cole, K. L., Hagger, M. S., & Hamilton, K. (2020). The association between stress mindset and physical and psychological well being: Testing a stress beliefs model in police officers . Psychology & Health , 35 (11), 1306-1325. Web.

Kivimäki, M., & Steptoe, A. (2017). Effects of stress on the development and progression of cardiovascular disease . Nature Reviews Cardiology , 15 (4), 215–229. Web.

Moustafa, A. A., Parkes, D., Fitzgerald, L., Underhill, D., Garami, J., Levy-Gigi, E., Stramecki, F., Valikhani, A., Frydecka, D., & Misiak, B. (2018). The relationship between childhood trauma, early-life stress, and alcohol and drug use, abuse, and addiction: An integrative review . Current Psychology , 40 (2), 579–584. Web.

Zhang, X., Zhao, K., Zhang, G., Feng, R., Chen, J., Xu, D., Liu, X., Ngoubene-Italy, A. J., Huang, H., Liu, Y., Chen, L., & Wang, W. (2020). Occupational Stress and Mental Health: A comparison between frontline medical staff and non-frontline medical staff during the 2019 novel Coronavirus Disease outbreak . Frontiers in Psychiatry , 11 . Web.

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Guest essay

Teenagers Are Struggling, and It’s Not Just Lockdown

essay on stress and its effects on the youth

By Emily Esfahani Smith

Ms. Esfahani Smith is a doctoral student in clinical psychology and the author of “The Power of Meaning.” At the beginning of the pandemic, she wrote about how a key to surviving the mental-health trials of isolation is to look for meaning rather than happiness.

When schools shut down last spring, Carson Roubison, a charter school student in Phoenix, was initially relieved. There were some difficulties in those early days at home — when classes went online, Carson and his parents , both public-school teachers, had to share the sole family computer. But Carson’s stress levels fell as school became less demanding during the transition to distance learning.

“I wasn’t aware of the giant impact the pandemic would have,” he said, “so I was excited, to be honest, to have some time off school.”

But things changed in the fall. The academic load went back to prepandemic levels, even though learning was still remote. Carson, a senior, struggled to stay motivated. His mental health suffered. He hoped to attend community college the following fall, but grew increasingly “terrified” that the education he’d received in high school over the past year would leave him unprepared.

“I’m afraid I’m going to get to community college,” he said, “and be held to the same standards as past students, and fail. That’s the biggest source of my anxiety.”

Carson’s story is not unique. The pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of millions. But adolescents have been hit especially hard. According to a national poll conducted in January by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, 46 percent of parents say their teenagers ’ mental health has worsened during the pandemic. More alarmingly, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the proportion of 12- to 17-year-olds visiting emergency rooms for mental health reasons rose 31 percent for most of 2020 compared with 2019. And this is all on top of an already existing mental health crisis among young people.

While many experts believe that the reason adolescents are struggling today is that they’re away from friends and school, a closer look at the research reveals a more complicated picture. According to psychologists who study adolescent resilience, one of the biggest threats to the well-being of today’s teenagers is not social isolation but something else — the pressure to achieve, which has intensified over the past year.

Psychologists define resilience as the ability to adapt well to stress. For decades, they have studied why some kids are more resilient in adversity than others. Suniya Luthar , emerita professor of psychology at Columbia’s Teachers College and a leading resilience researcher, believes the pandemic is a “natural experiment” that can help answer that question: When you expose adolescents to an event that changes their lives significantly, how do they cope?

Dr. Luthar began her career studying resilience among urban youth living in poverty in Connecticut in the 1990s. At the urging of one of her students at Yale, where she was teaching, she also started studying teenagers living in middle- and upper-middle-class suburbs like Westport, Conn., where many of the parents are high-achieving professionals who emphasize the value of status and achievement to their children.

Comparing these students with the poor, urban adolescents, she was shocked to discover that the suburban children were doing worse on drug and alcohol abuse. They also had higher rates of anxiety and depression as compared with national norms. Researchers knew that social conditions were important determinants of resilience, but they hadn’t known that living in success-oriented cultures was a risk factor.

In the years since, Dr. Luthar and her colleagues at Authentic Connections , a research group that works to foster resilience in school communities, have studied tens of thousands of teenagers attending “high-achieving schools,” which she defines as public and private institutions where students on average score in the top third on standardized tests. The students in these samples come from a variety of racial, regional and socioeconomic backgrounds. In one group of students Dr. Luthar studied, for example, one-third were members of ethnic and racial minorities and one-quarter came from homes where at least one parent did not attend college.

But regardless of these differences, many of them were struggling in the same way. In a paper published in 2020 in the academic journal American Psychologist, Dr. Luthar and her colleagues — the psychological researchers Nina Kumar and Nicole Zillmer — reviewed three decades’ worth of research findings showing that adolescents at high-achieving schools suffer from symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety at rates three to seven times higher than national norms for children their age.

What’s driving their misery, the research shows, is the pressure to excel in multiple academic and extracurricular pursuits. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggest children living in an achievement-oriented culture are at risk for adjustment problems, like those facing more predictable forms of adversity, such as poverty and trauma.

The pandemic offered a rare reprieve for students — at first. Since 2019, Dr. Luthar and her colleagues have surveyed thousands of adolescents each year at public and private schools across the nation. Replicating findings of earlier research, these students reported suffering from anxiety and depression at higher rates than national norms before the pandemic. But when schools closed last spring, something unexpected happened — the well-being of these students actually improved . As classes and exams were canceled, grading moved to pass/fail and extracurricular activity ceased, they reported lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression compared with 2019.

But these improvements were short-lived. Dr. Luthar and her colleagues found that beginning in the fall of 2020, as schoolwork ramped back up, the mental health of adolescents returned to prepandemic levels or worse. According to research that will be published in Social Policy Report, a quarterly publication of the Society for Research in Child Development, the strongest predictor of depression among these students was perceived parental criticism and unreachable standards.

“Even though I’m trying my best, it never really goes the way I wished,” a student Dr. Luthar studied wrote, “and my mother adds stress because she is always saying that I NEED to have a 90 or higher averages in all my classes.”

Other research supports these findings. In a nationally representative study conducted by NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with Stanford’s education school, researchers studied over 10,000 high school students in the fall of 2020. Comparing the experience of these students with about 65,000 adolescents surveyed between 2018 and February 2020, these researchers, too, found that many students reported feeling more stressed about school during the fall of 2020 than before the pandemic. A chief cause of their stress: the pressure to achieve.

Nearly half of all students reported that the pressure to do well in school had increased since 2019, and over half said their school-related stress over all had risen. Grades, workload, time management, lack of sleep and college fears were the most commonly cited sources of stress. These findings held across socioeconomically diverse schools. At underresourced schools, students were more likely to report being stressed about family finances, according to Denise Pope, a founder of Challenge Success, but the top stressors were still grades, assessments and college.

“My school is giving too much work,” a 10th grader in this study wrote, “even though times are tough for everyone. At first, this was just a break from school, but now all I feel is stress, anxiety and pain.”

Parents appear to play a big role in this phenomenon. Fifty-seven percent of students said that their parents’ expectations for their performance stayed the same during the pandemic, while 34 percent said their expectations increased. The stereotype of the adolescent aloof from parental influence doesn’t seem to apply to these students, who report feeling more stressed about family pressure than peer pressure.

When Dr. Pope asks parents to define success, they inevitably say that they want their children to be happy and healthy, have loving relationships and give back to society. But when she asks children how they define success, many describe a narrow path: getting good grades, going to college and securing a high-paying job.

Dr. Pope believes the gap is due in part to how parents praise their kids. Many parents reward their children when they perform well, which sends a signal to the kids that the approval and love of their parents depends on how much they’re achieving. So inevitably, if they believe they are falling short of their parents’ expectations, their sense of worth and well-being suffers.

Larger cultural forces are also pushing students to define success narrowly. As inequality rises and two major recessions in the past decade have left millions out of work, many students may feel compelled to climb the ladder to ensure their economic security as adults. College admissions at top-tiered schools has become more selective over the same period of time, leaving students competing harder for fewer spots — only to receive an education that will likely leave them or their parents in debt for many years to come.

If we want more-resilient kids coming out of the pandemic, then we need to heed a lesson of this past year — that the pressure to achieve is crushing the spirits of many young people and should be dialed back. Parents can play a vital role here. They can help ease their children’s anxiety by reminding them that where they attend college will not make or break them — and that getting Bs does not equal failure.

They can encourage them to prioritize their health and well-being by getting enough sleep and making time for play and leisure. And above all, they can teach their children that loss is an inevitable part of life by speaking to them about the grief of the past year. This doesn’t mean parents should necessarily lower their standards. But they might emphasize different benchmarks for achievement, like those they themselves claim to most value for their children — happiness, health and love.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources .

Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of “ The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness .”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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Understanding Adolescent Stress during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Geneva m. jost.

1 University of California-Davis, Psychology Department

Ulfat Shaikh

2 University of California-Davis, Department of Pediatrics

Camelia E. Hostinar

Associated data.

No data was used for the research described in the article.

Longitudinal studies across the globe documented significant increases in psychological stress and mental health problems among adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health concerns, school disruptions, and social disconnection were major sources of stress. High levels of perceived stress predicted worse mental health outcomes, with girls, older adolescents, and socio-economically marginalized youth experiencing more pronounced mental health deteriorations. However, social support from family and peers was a protective factor against increased stress and accompanying mental health problems. We urge policymakers and other key decision-makers to improve the availability and financing of mental health services and support programs for adolescents to address the wave of mental health challenges following the pandemic.

1. Introduction

Adolescence is a time of increased biological stress reactivity compared to childhood [ 1 , 2 , 3 ]. This vulnerability likely contributes to a steep rise in the prevalence of mood, anxiety, and behavioral disorders, which often have their first onset during this period [ 4 , 5 ]. As a result, exposure to a multitude of stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic posed unique challenges for adolescents and may have long-lasting consequences for those who reached adolescence during this period. Yet, some adolescents also showed resilience if they had protective factors such as emotion regulation skills [ 42 ] and social support [ 39 ].

The dramatic disruptions to social routines, particularly during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, posed significant challenges for adolescents' well-being [ 6 , 7 ]. A review of literature dating from pre-pandemic to May 2021 found that 23 of 33 international studies reported increases in adolescent perceived stress during the pandemic relative to pre-pandemic [ 8 ]. Among these studies, some longitudinal research pointed to decreases in perceived stress from early to later stages of the pandemic (e.g., a study in Switzerland showing decreases in perceived stress from 2020 to 2021 [ 9 ]), whereas others reported moderate levels of stress throughout the continuation of the pandemic (e.g., a study in the Netherlands [ 10 ]). These divergent patterns may be explained by variations in local infection rates, as indicated by a study in New York State, which reported that symptoms of adolescent anxiety and depression rose early in the pandemic and subsided by summer 2020, paralleling local infection rates [ 11 ]. Given that most studies reported increases in adolescent stress during the pandemic, this paper summarizes the literature on the major sources of stress for adolescents worldwide, the consequences of stress for their mental health and biological processes, and the protective factors that facilitated successful coping with pandemic-related stress.

2. Major Sources of Pandemic Stress for Adolescents

The pandemic both introduced novel sources of stress and exacerbated preexisting stressors in the lives of adolescents. The mandates to “lock-down” and “shelter-at-home” issued across the world created unprecedented disruptions to social ecosystems and instilled fear and worry. For instance, one study in India [ 12 ] reported that children and adolescents experiencing quarantine reported high rates of worry (68.59%), helplessness (66.11%), and fear (61.98%). Major pandemic-related stressors identified by adolescents fall into three main categories: health, school, and social life. Youth repeatedly expressed concerns about their own health and that of their family members [ 13 , 14 ], with the magnitude of the fears directly relating to the degree of perceived health risk [ 15 ]. Youth also reported stress about accessing medical care, with one longitudinal study of adolescents in Switzerland finding that adolescent girls expressed increased stress around accessing healthcare one-year post-lockdown [ 9 ]. As many schools transitioned to virtual learning, youth reported increased concerns about falling behind in school and losing motivation [ 14 ]. However, school stress was not pervasive across all demographics. A study of United States (U.S.) youth found that school stress decreased during the pandemic for white youth with highly educated parents, while it increased for white youth from low and moderately educated households [ 13 ]. Ethnic-racial minority adolescents in the same study did not report significant changes in school stress during the pandemic, but did report high levels of home and health-related stress. Shifting to online learning impacted academics and also stymied opportunities for social connection. Across many studies and cultural contexts, adolescents cited missing out on social events and disruptions to socializing with friends as major pandemic-time stressors [ 9 , 16 , 17 ].

Stress as a result of spending more time at home was of particular interest to researchers despite not being cited as a top concern for adolescents. Due to the shelter-at-home orders alongside school closures, adolescents also spent more time online, leading to increased smartphone and internet use [ 18 ]. Time spent online may have exacerbated stress for adolescents, as one Canadian study showed that adolescents who consumed more COVID-19-related news and used social media more reported higher COVID-19-related stress, and greater social media use was related to a stronger association between stress and depression [ 6 ].

3. Consequences of Stress for Adolescent Mental Health

Longitudinal studies document that the pandemic resulted in significant increases in psychological distress and mental health problems for adolescents compared to pre-pandemic [ 8 , 18 , 19 , 20 ]. Adolescents reported various psychological symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, including anxiety [ 21 ], sadness [ 22 ], depression [ 16 ], and loneliness [ 6 ]. Meta-analytic findings cite a high prevalence of psychopathologies in children and adolescents during the pandemic, including depression (29%), anxiety (26%), post-traumatic stress (48%), and sleep disorders (44%) [ 23 ]. Adolescent perceptions and experiences of stress played a major role in adolescent mental health. For instance, perceived stress has been implicated in several studies as the mediator between pandemic conditions and maladaptive outcomes, including externalizing behavior [ 24 ] and anxiety and depression [ 25 ]. Overall, these studies suggest that stress management interventions would be a viable strategy for reducing youth mental health problems related to the pandemic.

4. Consequences for Adolescent Stress Biology

Most pandemic studies examining biological aspects of the adolescent stress response focused on cortisol, a product of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or inflammation. Few studies examined changes in stress biology from pre-to post-pandemic. One study of typically developing adolescents ages 10-18 years old from the midwestern United States reported increases in adolescents’ hair cortisol from pre-pandemic to the first few months of the pandemic lockdown [ 27 , 29 ], whereas a study of 9-14-year-olds from Quebec, Canada did not find significant increases in HCC levels from pre-to early pandemic [ 28 ]. Regional infection rates and local governments’ responses to the pandemic may explain these diverging findings.

In addition, stress biomarkers showed alterations among youth who experienced more negative affect or loneliness during the pandemic, suggesting the potential value of biomarkers for identifying more vulnerable youth. For instance, one study showed that youth with a history of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and higher pre-pandemic cortisol reactivity were more likely to persist (as opposed to desist) in their NSSI behaviors during the pandemic, a finding that remained significant after controlling for pandemic-related stressors [ 26 ]. Loneliness was associated with higher levels of cortisol at wake-up and a blunted cortisol awakening response during the pandemic among 13-14-year-olds in British Columbia, Canada [ 49 ]. For youth who already had high levels of HCC pre-pandemic, the pandemic took a heavy psychological toll. Higher pre-pandemic HCC was predictive of greater increases in negative affect from pre-to post-pandemic, particularly in older youth [ 29 ]. Taken together, these findings highlight the individual differences in response to stress exposure.

Other physiological markers have also been linked to psychosocial stress during the pandemic. In one study of 11-17-year-old Italian adolescents diagnosed with depression, higher levels of inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein and Interleukin-6) were associated with more severe depressive symptomatology, controlling for body mass index [ 30 ]. These findings are important, as inflammation has been linked to risk for depression in previous studies. Thus, these pandemic findings may inform future interventions.

5. Which Adolescents Were Most Affected by Pandemic Stress?

A crucial insight from the literature on pandemic-related stress is that the effects of the pandemic were not uniform across all youth. Pandemic-related stress appeared to increase with age, as older adolescents frequently reported higher levels of stress compared to younger adolescents [ 31 ], and high school-aged youth reported higher stress than middle school and elementary-age youth [ 14 ]. Adolescent girls consistently reported higher stress levels during the pandemic across many studies from different countries [ 9 , 10 , 19 , 31 ] and especially high stress due to social isolation [ 14 ]. However, one study from Kenya found that older adolescent boys reported higher levels of depressive symptoms resulting from pandemic stress [ 32 ]. The pandemic also exacerbated stress for many marginalized youths already experiencing chronic socioeconomic strain, discrimination, and childhood trauma [ 33 , 34 , 35 ], especially given that pre-pandemic stress significantly predicted levels of pandemic stress [ 15 ]. For example, a longitudinal study conducted in the U.S. found that low to moderate education levels of parents led to higher youth-reported perceived stress and more negative impacts on their well-being during the pandemic [ 13 ]. Another study showed that early-life stress significantly predicted perceived stress and depression symptoms during the pandemic, with the severity of depression symptoms being mediated by perceived stress [ 36 ]. Overall, these results suggest the need to target stress-reduction interventions based on age, gender, and prior exposure to adversity to address the alarming increases in adolescent mental illness.

6. Protective Factors Against Pandemic Stress

In spite of the aforementioned trends in adolescent pandemic stress, many youths exhibited resilience. Given the well-studied buffering effects of social support [ 37 ], it is unsurprising that adolescents reporting higher levels of social support from their family and peers experienced lower levels of pandemic-time stress [ 10 , 18 , 38 , 39 ]. Some research suggests that positive parental relationships predicted better pandemic-time adjustment for adolescents [ 40 ], but parental stress and anxiety levels may have attenuated these effects [ 41 ]. Conversely, parental support effectively buffered adolescents’ stress irrespective of the severity of the youth’s stress [ 39 ]. Friendship quality and online communication with friends also buffered negative perceptions of pandemic-related changes [ 38 ]. Youth’s appraisal of pandemic-induced changes also served as a protective factor such that youth who perceived COVID-related changes to be less negative reported less stress, loneliness, and depression [ 38 ]. In the early part of the pandemic, implementing emotion regulation techniques–such as reflection–was found to be predictive of lower cortisol levels at awakening [ 42 ]. Another protective factor that decreased psychological distress and increased life satisfaction was benefit finding (i.e., perceiving benefits from home quarantine) [ 40 ]. Additionally, perceived familial closeness and increased family discussions due to the home quarantine orders appeared to have beneficial effects [ 18 ]. Finally, trait mindfulness was associated with lower levels of pandemic stress in Chinese adolescents [ 25 ]. In sum, social support, perceiving benefits, and trait mindfulness were highlighted as protective factors against stress for adolescents.

7. Conclusions and Recommendations for Practitioners and Caregivers

Although many studies point to transient increases in perceived stress during the pandemic, the effects of this stressful period may extend beyond the initial phase and continue to impact this generation of adolescents into the future. As illustrated in Figure 1 , pandemic-related stressors in the health, school, and social domains were of primary concern to adolescents. High levels of perceived stress predicted worse mental health, but there were pervasive individual differences in youth outcomes. Various moderators explained some of the variability in youth-reported stress throughout the pandemic, including gender, family SES, context, the availability of social support, and the rigidity of pandemic restrictions. Thus, future research on stress in adolescence should carefully consider these factors and tailor interventions based on the identified risk factors.

Figure 1

Primary sources of stress, consequences for mental health, mediators and key moderators of stress-mental health links among adolescents during COVID-19.

To address the rising levels of perceived stress among adolescents, it is important for practitioners, teachers, and caregivers to recognize the signs of excess stress that adolescents may exhibit. These may include changes such as moodiness, irritability or hostility, not engaging in previously pleasurable activities, complaining or worrying about school or other activities more than usual, making frequent disparaging remarks about themselves, crying, changes in sleep or eating patterns, avoiding their parents or friends, or acting out [ 43 , 44 ]. Stress may also have physical manifestations, such as abdominal pain or headaches [ 44 ]. Stress from the pressures and losses of the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to observed increases in youth anxiety and depression during the pandemic, although the prevalence of these conditions already showed rising trends across pre-pandemic years [ 45 ]. When left unmanaged, chronic stress can reduce immunity, increase blood pressure, and increase risk of future chronic conditions. However, safe, stable, and nurturing relationships can reduce stress for adolescents [ 46 ]. Furthermore, clinicians who provide care to children frequently develop long-standing trusting relationships with adolescents and their families and are well-positioned to provide trauma-informed care, screen for and identify stress, support families, and provide referrals to evidence-based interventions [ 47 ].

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement, “Unique Needs of the Adolescent,” highlights the need for clinicians to recognize adolescence as a key period that influences health during adulthood [ 48 ]. Preventive care and counseling in the primary care setting can help clinicians screen for stress, risky behavior, and mental health concerns. Creating a safe space in clinical settings where adolescents feel comfortable discussing stressors, ramping up current screening and counseling approaches, and advocating for improved access to mental health services are essential health system interventions to improve the quality of care delivered to adolescents. Finally, we urge policymakers and other key decision-makers to increase the availability and financing of mental health services and support programs for adolescents to reduce their risk for mental health problems. These steps are especially critical to proactively prepare for future large-scale emergencies that place adolescents at risk for stressors that can stem from school disruptions and social disconnection, similar to what was experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, because the pandemic and disasters in general disproportionately impact socially and economically marginalized groups, policies that promote economic security and equity will likely also reduce mental health disparities [ 50 ].

Declaration of interest

Authors have no conflict of interest to declare.


C. E. Hostinar was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01HD104185. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Institutes of Health.

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What is stress?

Stress is a normal and healthy part of our nervous system. However, too much stress can be difficult to manage and become problematic.

Everyone experiences stress for different reasons. This can vary for different generations.

Research has shown that stress in teenagers and young adults is higher than in older Australians. The good news is that most of us can usually manage the stress caused by issues with relationships, finances, and health.

Stress is a natural human response to the pressure you feel from challenging or dangerous situations. In healthy amounts, it motivates us to respond to the challenging thing. In unhelpful amounts, stress can lead to less useful coping strategies like avoidance.

Common symptoms and signs of too much stress include:

  • feeling anxious or overwhelmed
  • feeling wound-up or worried
  • feeling irritable
  • disturbed sleep
  • appetite loss
  • muscle tension
  • an upset stomach
  • difficulty concentrating

Stress can last for a long time or overwhelm your coping abilities. Stress can have a negative impact on every aspect of your life including your:

  • relationships
  • physical and mental health

Unmanaged stress can contribute to mental illness .

Stress and young people

Research shows that young Australian adults are more stressed than older generations. They are also more likely to report mental health concerns than older Australians.

There are differences in the high levels of distress reported in 2020-2021 in younger and older Australians. These figures are:

  • 9% of Australians aged 65 to 85 years report high levels of distress
  • 28% of Australians aged 16 to 34 years report high levels of distress

There are many reasons why young people will experience stress. These include:

  • academic pressure
  • emotional and physical abuse
  • family dynamics and violence
  • personal finances
  • substance abuse
  • trying to keep a healthy lifestyle

How do I manage stress?

There are ways that you can reduce feelings of stress.

If you are feeling stressed, it is important to try and find the cause of your stress. First of all, find out what is stressing you. Consider what you can change and what you can’t control.

What can I do?

Do things you enjoy regularly, even if you don’t feel like doing them.

This may include:

  • being with people who care about you
  • listening to music
  • walking in nature

You may also be able to help keep stress levels down by:

  • recognising unhelpful sources of stress — including pressures you place on yourself — before they become a bigger problem
  • thinking about changes you can make to improve your situation and change the way you behave

To manage feelings of stress, you can:

  • practice deep breathing, meditation and other relaxation techniques
  • practice positive self-talk
  • write in a 'stress diary' to record when you feel stressed and why
  • exercise regularly
  • eat a healthy diet
  • avoid smoking
  • reduce alcohol and caffeine intake
  • avoid overworking

It can be difficult to talk about stress with your school, college, university, or employer. However, if you are feeling stressed about work or study, they may be able to provide support.

Talk to others if you can — you may well have family and friends who are willing to help.

Keep things in perspective. Don’t underestimate yourself. However, if you cannot control something, try to direct your energy elsewhere.

Seeking help

Many people need professional help to make lasting changes to reduce their stress levels. This may include talking to your doctor .

Your doctor may recommend stress management classes. They can also help diagnose any mental health issues or refer you to a psychologist . By addressing the cause of your stress, they can help provide you with the best advice and treatment.

There are also programs and resources available to young people experiencing stress and mental health issues.

More information

  • Find out more about stress management , burnout and chronic stress .
  • Visit Beyond Blue for tips on how to reduce stress.
  • Visit the Australian Psychological Society for further resources and tips for managing everyday stress.

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Last reviewed: July 2022

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  • Ensuring accessibility and availability of minimum health care for all in the future.
  • Boosting Human resources in mental health subspecialties.
  • Encouraging the application of mental health knowledge in general healthcare and social development.
  • Promoting community-level participation in mental health service development.

The Government wanted to take this program to the district level, so they came up with District Mental Health Program.

  • Treat and rehabilitate people with a mental health conditions within the community.
  • Early detection and treatment of patients within the community itself
  • To provide sustainable basic mental health services to the community and to integrate these services with other health services.
  • To reduce the stigma of mental illness through public awareness.

Frequently Asked Questions on Stress and its effects on the Youth

Ques: How can people get rid away from Stress?

Ans: Stress is like homework. If you do not address a single day, it will continuously pile up and create a huge problem. If you let the problem pile up, you will feel exhausted and stressed. The best solution is to address the issue one at a time. Do not let the Stress to get overwhelm you.

Ques: What are the other healthier ways should adopt to reduce Stress?

Ans: Coping with a problem one at a time greatly helps, but there are some situations where it becomes difficult to cope with a problem, for example, the death of a loved one. In this circumstance, a person needs time to accept reality and truth. It would help if you tried to understand your feeling and manage them accordingly. You can take help and assistance from your close family and friend.

Ques: Does exercising play a crucial role in the reduction of Stress?

Ans: Many experts have pointed out that exercises do wonders in times of Stress. Even a ten minutes dance can soothe your mind and body. This is true and scientific for people who are coping with Stress.

Ques: Is Stress common?

Ans: There is not a single person who does not experience, Stress in his life. It is omnipresent in human life. People try to hide the Stress, but that does not mean they do not experience it. Data suggests that Stress has become in the very young child. However, the amount of Stress and coping strategies varies from person to person.

Ques: How do introverts cope with Stress?

Ans: Extroverts have a better chance, or rather an advantage, in dealing with Stress as they can open up easily about the problem to the public. Introverts feel harder to communicate their problem to the world, but the tools introverts use to cope with Stress are similar, like reading, stress therapy, and exercise. They communicate their problems with fellow introverts and try to assist each other in addressing them.

Ques: Does Stress give rise to medical issues?

Ans: Persistent Stress gives rise to several health issues. That includes persistent headaches that would increase the severity. Other health issues involve rapid heartbeats, insomnia, and chest pain. It is being noticed that those who are under continuous Stress give birth to several heart issues.

Ques: Is medication useful in relieving Stress?

Ans: In usual cases, it is not advised to take medication during Stress. This is because the medication will lead to avoiding the issues at hand. There is another possibility that you might develop tolerance power for the medication and demand a higher dosage. Higher dosages will lead to side effects of the medicine.

Ques: Does therapy useful?

Ans: It does. You can try self-therapy, which consists coping mechanism for Stress. However, therapy is only affordable for some, but in serious cases, therapy is the best treatment.

Ques: Elucidate some of the symptoms generated due to Stress.

Ans: Symptoms generated due to Stress are back pain, continuous headaches, lower energy, and sleep. It will create turbulence in your work-life balance and will lower your productivity.

Ques: Is it true that Stress leads to weight gain?

Ans: There is little evidence to link between weight gain and Stress, but a significant correlation exists. Some people resort to overeating and smoking also. A significant amount of change is noticed in their lifestyle behavior.

Ques: Does it ever get better?

Ans: All problems discussed related to Stress are reversible. To get out of the Stress, follow the correct techniques and strategies. Remember, seeking help in a bad time is not a bad idea. Family and friends are always there to help you in troubled times. It would help if you did not doubt their intention and yourself.

Ques: Which are some of the best yoga poses to relieve Stress?

Ans: Some of the yoga asanas that help in reducing Stress are:

  • Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
  • Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
  • Uttanasana (Standing Forwand Bend)
  • Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
  • Balaasana (Child pose)
  • Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

The recent covid-19 pandemic has fuelled the debate on mental health. It has increased Stress among Youth and all ages of people. There is an immense need to promote mental health at the grassroots level and end the stigmatization of the problem.


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Science News

Social media harms teens’ mental health, mounting evidence shows. what now.

Understanding what is going on in teens’ minds is necessary for targeted policy suggestions

A teen scrolls through social media alone on her phone.

Most teens use social media, often for hours on end. Some social scientists are confident that such use is harming their mental health. Now they want to pinpoint what explains the link.

Carol Yepes/Getty Images

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By Sujata Gupta

February 20, 2024 at 7:30 am

In January, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook’s parent company Meta, appeared at a congressional hearing to answer questions about how social media potentially harms children. Zuckerberg opened by saying: “The existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health.”

But many social scientists would disagree with that statement. In recent years, studies have started to show a causal link between teen social media use and reduced well-being or mood disorders, chiefly depression and anxiety.

Ironically, one of the most cited studies into this link focused on Facebook.

Researchers delved into whether the platform’s introduction across college campuses in the mid 2000s increased symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. The answer was a clear yes , says MIT economist Alexey Makarin, a coauthor of the study, which appeared in the November 2022 American Economic Review . “There is still a lot to be explored,” Makarin says, but “[to say] there is no causal evidence that social media causes mental health issues, to that I definitely object.”

The concern, and the studies, come from statistics showing that social media use in teens ages 13 to 17 is now almost ubiquitous. Two-thirds of teens report using TikTok, and some 60 percent of teens report using Instagram or Snapchat, a 2022 survey found. (Only 30 percent said they used Facebook.) Another survey showed that girls, on average, allot roughly 3.4 hours per day to TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, compared with roughly 2.1 hours among boys. At the same time, more teens are showing signs of depression than ever, especially girls ( SN: 6/30/23 ).

As more studies show a strong link between these phenomena, some researchers are starting to shift their attention to possible mechanisms. Why does social media use seem to trigger mental health problems? Why are those effects unevenly distributed among different groups, such as girls or young adults? And can the positives of social media be teased out from the negatives to provide more targeted guidance to teens, their caregivers and policymakers?

“You can’t design good public policy if you don’t know why things are happening,” says Scott Cunningham, an economist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Increasing rigor

Concerns over the effects of social media use in children have been circulating for years, resulting in a massive body of scientific literature. But those mostly correlational studies could not show if teen social media use was harming mental health or if teens with mental health problems were using more social media.

Moreover, the findings from such studies were often inconclusive, or the effects on mental health so small as to be inconsequential. In one study that received considerable media attention, psychologists Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski combined data from three surveys to see if they could find a link between technology use, including social media, and reduced well-being. The duo gauged the well-being of over 355,000 teenagers by focusing on questions around depression, suicidal thinking and self-esteem.

Digital technology use was associated with a slight decrease in adolescent well-being , Orben, now of the University of Cambridge, and Przybylski, of the University of Oxford, reported in 2019 in Nature Human Behaviour . But the duo downplayed that finding, noting that researchers have observed similar drops in adolescent well-being associated with drinking milk, going to the movies or eating potatoes.

Holes have begun to appear in that narrative thanks to newer, more rigorous studies.

In one longitudinal study, researchers — including Orben and Przybylski — used survey data on social media use and well-being from over 17,400 teens and young adults to look at how individuals’ responses to a question gauging life satisfaction changed between 2011 and 2018. And they dug into how the responses varied by gender, age and time spent on social media.

Social media use was associated with a drop in well-being among teens during certain developmental periods, chiefly puberty and young adulthood, the team reported in 2022 in Nature Communications . That translated to lower well-being scores around ages 11 to 13 for girls and ages 14 to 15 for boys. Both groups also reported a drop in well-being around age 19. Moreover, among the older teens, the team found evidence for the Goldilocks Hypothesis: the idea that both too much and too little time spent on social media can harm mental health.

“There’s hardly any effect if you look over everybody. But if you look at specific age groups, at particularly what [Orben] calls ‘windows of sensitivity’ … you see these clear effects,” says L.J. Shrum, a consumer psychologist at HEC Paris who was not involved with this research. His review of studies related to teen social media use and mental health is forthcoming in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

Cause and effect

That longitudinal study hints at causation, researchers say. But one of the clearest ways to pin down cause and effect is through natural or quasi-experiments. For these in-the-wild experiments, researchers must identify situations where the rollout of a societal “treatment” is staggered across space and time. They can then compare outcomes among members of the group who received the treatment to those still in the queue — the control group.

That was the approach Makarin and his team used in their study of Facebook. The researchers homed in on the staggered rollout of Facebook across 775 college campuses from 2004 to 2006. They combined that rollout data with student responses to the National College Health Assessment, a widely used survey of college students’ mental and physical health.

The team then sought to understand if those survey questions captured diagnosable mental health problems. Specifically, they had roughly 500 undergraduate students respond to questions both in the National College Health Assessment and in validated screening tools for depression and anxiety. They found that mental health scores on the assessment predicted scores on the screenings. That suggested that a drop in well-being on the college survey was a good proxy for a corresponding increase in diagnosable mental health disorders. 

Compared with campuses that had not yet gained access to Facebook, college campuses with Facebook experienced a 2 percentage point increase in the number of students who met the diagnostic criteria for anxiety or depression, the team found.

When it comes to showing a causal link between social media use in teens and worse mental health, “that study really is the crown jewel right now,” says Cunningham, who was not involved in that research.

A need for nuance

The social media landscape today is vastly different than the landscape of 20 years ago. Facebook is now optimized for maximum addiction, Shrum says, and other newer platforms, such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, have since copied and built on those features. Paired with the ubiquity of social media in general, the negative effects on mental health may well be larger now.

Moreover, social media research tends to focus on young adults — an easier cohort to study than minors. That needs to change, Cunningham says. “Most of us are worried about our high school kids and younger.” 

And so, researchers must pivot accordingly. Crucially, simple comparisons of social media users and nonusers no longer make sense. As Orben and Przybylski’s 2022 work suggested, a teen not on social media might well feel worse than one who briefly logs on. 

Researchers must also dig into why, and under what circumstances, social media use can harm mental health, Cunningham says. Explanations for this link abound. For instance, social media is thought to crowd out other activities or increase people’s likelihood of comparing themselves unfavorably with others. But big data studies, with their reliance on existing surveys and statistical analyses, cannot address those deeper questions. “These kinds of papers, there’s nothing you can really ask … to find these plausible mechanisms,” Cunningham says.

One ongoing effort to understand social media use from this more nuanced vantage point is the SMART Schools project out of the University of Birmingham in England. Pedagogical expert Victoria Goodyear and her team are comparing mental and physical health outcomes among children who attend schools that have restricted cell phone use to those attending schools without such a policy. The researchers described the protocol of that study of 30 schools and over 1,000 students in the July BMJ Open.

Goodyear and colleagues are also combining that natural experiment with qualitative research. They met with 36 five-person focus groups each consisting of all students, all parents or all educators at six of those schools. The team hopes to learn how students use their phones during the day, how usage practices make students feel, and what the various parties think of restrictions on cell phone use during the school day.

Talking to teens and those in their orbit is the best way to get at the mechanisms by which social media influences well-being — for better or worse, Goodyear says. Moving beyond big data to this more personal approach, however, takes considerable time and effort. “Social media has increased in pace and momentum very, very quickly,” she says. “And research takes a long time to catch up with that process.”

Until that catch-up occurs, though, researchers cannot dole out much advice. “What guidance could we provide to young people, parents and schools to help maintain the positives of social media use?” Goodyear asks. “There’s not concrete evidence yet.”

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Reasons Your Teen Might Be Stressed Out (And What You Can Do About It)

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  • Why Teens Are Stressed

What You Can Do

Complaining that life is too hard. Losing sleep worrying about tests or schoolwork. Declining to hang out with friends. These are all signs that your teen could be stressed out.

In the short term, stress can be a good thing for your teen. It can motivate them to practice their sport in preparation for tryouts or inspire them to join a study group to prepare for a challenging class. But stress can also have a negative impact, especially if it is ongoing or not dealt with in a healthy way.

Aside from the fact that their body is constantly "on," stress that is left unaddressed can cause a number of physical and mental health issues. For instance, ongoing stress can have an impact on heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other disorders, including depression and anxiety.

"For kids who are experiencing stress, all day, every day, that changes their nervous system and brain—they respond to everything with a fight or flight response," explains Parker Huston, PhD, a pediatric psychologist and clinical director of the On Our Sleeves program, a national movement for children's mental health. "This can create health problems because teens are not supposed to have adrenaline pumping through their veins all the time."

How Common Is Stress Among Teens?

Stress on a daily basis is actually pretty common, explains Dr. Huston. It helps teens achieve things and stay motivated. "For teens, stress is really a response to their environment," he says. "It is usually related to what they are going through in the moment and how they process what they are going through."

Normally, teens might be stressed about their schoolwork, a disagreement with a friend, or an upcoming athletic event. They also might be stressed about filling out college applications or getting to their after-school job on time. These are all normal stressors and usually do not cause a lot of issues.

That said, stress among teens has grown exponentially in recent years. In fact, the American Psychological Association's (APA) 2020 Stress in America Survey found that Gen Z teens—those ages 13 to 17—are experiencing elevated levels of stress and facing unprecedented uncertainty.

A lot of this growing stress is directly related to the pandemic. But, it is not the only thing causing teens stress. Social media, hyper-awareness of feelings, and overscheduling also are contributing factors.

"As a parent of two Gen Z kids, [these rising stress levels] do not surprise me," says Lorie Kaufman Rees, MFCS, PCCS, a professional clinical counselor and transformational coach with RE/formation Coaching in central Ohio. "The word 'stress' is uttered in nearly every other sentence by almost all of the teens and young adults I know and have interacted with. It seems to be all they can talk about."

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

Many parents know the obvious signs of stress like fluctuations in mood, sleep, energy, and appetite. When you see a sudden and marked change in any of these areas, that's always a sign to start paying more attention, says Kaufman Rees.

"One of my children withdraws—pulling away and trying to solve every little problem themselves, coming back to me in tears when they fail even in the slightest ways, convinced that their entire world is ending," she says. "When [a teen's] coping mechanisms start going to extremes like this, that's a pretty clear sign [that they are stressed]."

It's these drastic changes or reactions that are your cue that your teen's stress levels may be reaching unhealthy limits. "For instance, if your teen is overly responsive to what, on the outside, might be a minor stressor, this is usually an indication that their cup is already full and they cannot tolerate anymore," says Dr. Huston.

Signs of Stress in Teens

Dr. Huston indicates that parents should take notice if their teen displays the following changes in behavior.

  • Acting unusual for them
  • Experiencing changes in grades
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities
  • Refusing to participate in activities they used to enjoy
  • Complaining of physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual

Why Teens Today Are Stressed

It's normal for teens to experience some amount of stress. After all, stress can be a good thing if it leads a teen to take action or make changes. But stress also can be unhealthy, especially if it reaches high levels or is ongoing. Here are some possible triggers for stress among today's teens.

Social Media

Social media is an integral part of teen lives. It is how they interact with their friends and stay connected.

And while there are a number of benefits to social media , it also can lead to increasing stress levels, especially if teens are cyberbullied or struggle with fear of missing out (FOMO). Plus, scrolling through social media can cause stress levels to rise if they come across upsetting news stories or disagreements online.


Parents have done a great job teaching their kids to be emotionally intelligent , compassionate, and empathetic. But being in touch with their feelings—and the feelings of others—can create stress in a teen's life as well.

"Unfortunately, teens don't [always know] what is normal," says Kaufman Rees. "They now have meta-cognition—or the ability to think about what they're thinking—and they start doing this thing where they freak out about freaking out."

Not being able to put feelings into perspective can lead to a great deal of stress and uncertainty.

Packed Schedules

Activities like sports, music, dance, and the arts should relieve stress, not add to it. These days, the focus on music or sports specialization has kids putting in more and more hours to become the best at their activities. This drive can make activities that are meant to be outlets sources of stress, intsead.

In addition to lessons, training, and competitions, many teens have every spare moment of their time spoken for or committed in some way. When this happens, stress levels can begin to skyrocket.

Over-Involved Parenting

Although it seems natural that a parent would want to spare their child from experiencing pain or difficulties, too much involvement can actually create more issues.

In fact, helicopter parents and lawnmower parents actually cause more harm than good. This style of parenting robs kids of experiencing natural consequences and takes away their ability to learn from their mistakes.

"When teens never learn to self-soothe, they never learn how to regulate their own emotions, thus relying on us to do it for them," says Kaufman Rees.

They also may struggle with autonomy and do not develop the independence they need. Over-involvement can also undermine resilience and self-esteem—all of which can be underlying factors in a teen's stress response.

Inability to Manage Their Thoughts

When it comes to their thoughts, most teens do not know how to effectively manage them. So, they may engage in negative self-talk where they think negative things about themselves. Or, they may dwell on something that happened. Both situations can increase stress levels.

"Along with self-regulating their emotions, most teens have also not learned to manage their thoughts," says Kaufman Rees. "Stress largely comes from how we talk to ourselves (and what we then come to believe) about the things that are happening in our lives."

The Pandemic

There is no denying that COVID-19 has turned many teens' lives upside down. There is a great deal of uncertainty in their lives as a result. Everything from attending school to socializing with their friends has been impacted—and this is bound to create a great deal of stress.

"These are kids who already felt like life was uncertain," says Kaufman Rees. "Now they don't know what the next three months will hold, let alone the next grade. Things like graduation, going to college, starting a career—these all seem incomprehensible to kids."

Other Sources of Teen Stress

  • Academic pressures
  • Negative thoughts or feelings
  • Problems with peers such as bullying
  • Moving or changing schools
  • Family financial issues
  • Changes in their bodies
  • Separation or divorce of parents
  • Chronic illness in the family
  • Unsafe neighborhoods
  • Death of a loved one

Even though it is not uncommon for teens to be stressed, it is also not something that you want your teen to live with day after day. After all, chronic stress can be detrimental to your teen's health and wellbeing.

"Stress that is not dealt with appropriately or in a healthy manner can transform into an anxiety disorder," explains Kaufman Rees. "[Stress creates] neuropathways in the brain on which unhealthy thoughts continue to run. [It also creates] a state in which [their] fight/flight/freeze response is effectively switched 'on' indefinitely."

If your teen is struggling with stress, it is important that you guide them on how to reduce their stress levels. Here are five things you can do to not only help alleviate their stress but also to help them put things in perspective.

Remove the Pressure

Academic pressure, athletic pressure, or something else can all increase a teen's stress levels increase. For this reason, finding ways to reduce the pressure they're feeling is a good first step.

"Some kids put a great deal of pressure on themselves," says Dr. Huston. "Parents need to become the release valve and help them let go of some of that. They also need to make sure they are not adding to the pressure."

Too many times, parents push their kids to excel in school or sports to the point that it elevates their teen's stress to an unhealthy level. "It is important to encourage them to have a healthy sense of what success means," says Dr. Huston. "Help them set realistic goals and expectations. Sometimes it's helpful to step back and ask 'what was your goal' or 'what were you expecting' and then helping them to readjust."

Refuse to Over-Schedule

Teens today often have packed calendars and move from one activity to the next with very little downtime. Although keeping a full schedule seems like the norm, it's not healthy especially when it comes to stress levels. Remind your teen that they need a break from time to time.

"Even though teens want their college applications to be super impressive and show that they have done everything under the sun, it's important that they also leave time for things that refill their batteries," says Dr. Huston.

Make Time for Fun

Teens need time to do the things that bring them joy. Whether that is hanging out with friends, reading a great book, or practicing their cooking skills, help your teen find time to do the things they love.

Some kids really enjoy having a busy calendar and going from one activity to the next. Others relish those times when they can have a few hours to themselves. Remind your teen that taking time to decompress is a part of taking care of themselves and that having this unstructured time will help relieve some of their stress.

Combat Negative Thinking

It's easy for teens to fall into the trap of negative thinking or negative self-talk. They might assume that they are terrible at math or that they will never make the dance team. Instead of simply disagreeing with your teen about what they are thinking, ask them to really think about what they are saying and whether or not it is true.

Then help them reframe what they are thinking to something more positive. Doing so will help build their self-esteem while helping to reduce stress levels. It is much harder to be stressed when you are focused on positive thinking.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Some teens are unable to verbalize why they are stressed or recognize that they need help. Instead, you will need to watch for changes in their behavior in order to determine if they need assistance beyond what you can provide.

Generally, if symptoms last two weeks or longer that could be a sign that your teen needs professional assistance or has an underlying mental health issue. Talk to a healthcare provider about your concerns. They can offer a treatment plan and refer you to a mental health professional.

A Word From Verywell

Although stress and feeling overwhelmed are common experiences for many individuals, teens do not have to keep pushing through to the point of exhaustion. It is important for them to receive support, healthy models, and permission to take a break while practice saying "I need a break." When they can see the adults in their lives practicing healthy stress management, they will be more likely to do the same.

National Institute of Mental Health. 5 things you should know about stress .

American Psychological Association. Stress in America 2020: A national mental health crisis .

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Stress management and teens .

By Sherri Gordon Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert. 

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  • This website provides helpful tips, information, and resources to help you stay safe in the extreme heat this summer.

What is extreme heat?

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Extreme heat is defined as summertime temperatures that are much hotter and/or humid than average. Because some places are hotter than others, this depends on what’s considered average for a particular location at that time of year. Humid and muggy conditions can make it seem hotter than it really is.

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Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

Heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion or heat stroke, happen when the body is not able to properly cool itself. While the body normally cools itself by sweating, during extreme heat, this might not be enough. In these cases, a person's body temperature rises faster than it can cool itself down. This can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs.

Some factors that might increase your risk of developing a heat-related illness include:

  • High levels of humidity
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Summertime activity, whether on the playing field or the construction site, must be balanced with actions that help the body cool itself to prevent heat-related illness. Use this website to learn more on how to stay safe in the heat this summer, including how to prevent, recognize, and cope with heat-related illness.

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