Psychology has always been an interest of mine, so when my high school told me that I could take a GOA psychology course, I jumped on the opportunity to take Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology squishes together my career interest and my life motto: psychology and P.A.C.E. When I was 9 years old, I began attending an all-girls summer camp, where I learned the importance of P.A.C.E, which stands for Positive Attitude Changes Everything. I had never questioned the validity of the motto that I have lived by for more than half of my life until recently. In October of 2015, I lost a close friend to an unforeseen brain hemorrhage. She was skipping toward me after completing a drill at field hockey practice when her vision went blurry and she collapsed in front of me. It seemed impossible to live by my motto that “Positive Attitude Changes Everything” when positive attitude couldn’t bring back my friend. My motto had failed me and I didn’t know what to do. This class helped me to understand so much of what I couldn’t understand before. P.A.C.E isn’t some magical power that can go back in time and change events, but instead, it is a magical power that can change the way you perceive those events. This course has made my connection with P.A.C.E so much stronger than it ever was before because I have been able to back it up with science and psychology.
Do you know what positive psychology is?
Many people are unfamiliar with the new and developing concept of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of a person’s well-being. It is the combination of every factor that makes a person’s life meaningful and worth living. Positive Psychology is made up of well-being, gratitude, meaning, connection, grit, resilience, and so much more, and it is changing every day. So, why am I telling you this? I am not here to tell you everything about positive psychology (although I am sure you would find it incredibly interesting as I have). But instead, I am here to educate you on stress. I would confidently bet that everyone reading this has experienced stress at some point in their life. Although stress can be productive in moderation, too much stress, especially in the teenage population, can be detrimental to a person’s well-being.
What is stress?
According to The American Institute of Stress, stress is “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” In moderation, stress can be beneficial because it pushes people to be more productive. However, stress is not always beneficial. My focus has been on the effects of too much stress and what we can do to relieve some of that stress, and therefore lessen the negative impact that stress can have on a person. When you think about it, there is no one definition of stress that holds accurate for the entire human population. Stress manifests itself differently in every person, and people perceive and respond to their stressors in different ways. Although I can’t give you an accurate definition of stress, I can tell you that it negatively affects high schoolers every day and we need to do something about it now, because it is only getting worse with time.
As seen in these infographics, teen stress levels are an increasing issue.
34% of teens believe that their stress levels are going to keep increasing over the next year.
35% of teens lie awake in bed from stress, 26% overeat or eat unhealthy foods, and 23% skip meals when they are stressed out.
The most common sources of stress include, but are not limited to: school (83%), getting into a good college and deciding what to do after high school (69%), and financial concerns for their family (65%).
These statistics shown, however, do not apply to everyone going through stress. Stress can also be caused by negligence of parents, high expectations in academic or other performances, abused childhood, and so much more.
I bet you can all guess one of the major reasons stress levels in teens have gone through the roof in more recent years. Social media. An American Psychological Association survey from 2017 focuses on 4 groups: Matures, Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. They provided their subjects with a statement and asked them to answer with what degree the agree of disagree. The statement used was “I worry about the negative effects of social media on my physical and mental health.” They then compared the percentage of people who answered “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” between the four generations. The results they uncovered were incredibly surprising, yet also believable. Looking at the generations from oldest to youngest, the percentage of people who answered “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” increased significantly, starting with the Matures at only 15%, then moving on to the Boomers at 22%, then the Gen Xers at 37%, and finally the Millennials at a whopping 48%. Although I would like to believe that 48% is accurate for the data collected from Millennials, I believe that there are many people who refuse to believe that they worry about what happens on social media, including myself.
So, what is the problem?
High levels of stress can be detrimental to many aspects of a teenager’s life. Instead of encouraging the teen to be productive, the way stress in moderation works, too much stress causes the teen’s brain to become overwhelmed and break down. Stressed teens often show signs of emotional disabilities, shyness, social phobia, aggressive behavior toward others, and lack of interest in things that otherwise might be of interest to them. Stress also affects a student’s academic performance. When a student is over-stressed and feels as if they are being asked of the impossible, they lose the ability to be productive. They rush through the work that they think will cause the least stress for them and instead of doing good work, they do quick work, which ultimately affects their academic performance. The close connection between the mind and the body means that stress doesn’t only affect a person’s mind, but also their body. According to the American Psychological Association, long-term stress can cause or contribute to anxiety, depression, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.
TIPS and TRICKS:
So, what can you do to relieve some of this stress that is slowly eating at you?
- Listen to music – music takes our mind off of the things going on in our world and brings us to a safe space. It helps us explore our emotions, while also serving as a form of meditation.
- Exercise – exercise releases endorphines that serve as natural painkillers. These endorphins also improve a persons ability to sleep which consequently reduces their stress levels.
- Read – reading transports us to another world that isn’t our own, and in turn this removes us from the world of our own stress. Not only does is serve as a distraction, but also as a stimulant for your imagination which helps reduce stress.
- Watch television – watching TV has been proven to lower a person’s cortisol levels, which is known as the “stress hormone”. This indicates that watching television reduces a person’s stress levels.
- Nap – naps allow people to escape from their stressors for a short period of time. Stress can also be caused by lack of sleep, so by taking a nap you are eliminating a stressor.
- Meditation practices – Taking short periods of time to take a step back and spend time focusing on your mind, body, and breathing can reduce stress levels significantly. This practice is a big part of the Positive Psychology curriculum because it is a time where you focus solely on yourself and what you and your body needs at that specific moment in time.
- Gratitude practices- studies show that those who practice gratitude show higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus as well as activation in the regions of the brain associated with dopamine (the “reward” neurotransmitter). Among other things, the hypothalamus controls stress levels, thus, practicing gratitude leads to lower stress levels.
Stress is different for every person that experiences it, and everybody has a different way of dealing with and relieving their stress. I asked some classmates to share with me their personal ways of relieving stress, which they have found to be successful. Here is what some of them said:
Posted below is a padlet for you all to share your own experiences with stress and your methods for relieving stress. Please take a moment to share, you never know who you might help just by sharing.
Although sharing your own experiences with stress, along with your methods for stress relief, is a good start, there is still so much to be done. I hope to use this page as a resource for people who don’t understand how serious the implications of stress can be, and also for those who are trying to find a way to relieve their stress. But there is more to be done. Be active in your community. Start a mindfulness group that meets sometime during the day. Start a music club. Do your own research on the topic. Spread the news. Find a way to educate the younger generations so that they don’t have to experience it. Start an exercise group. Go on a nature run with a group of people feeling stressed. Do anything you can think of. Just don’t sit back and do nothing, because doing nothing is worse than failing at trying something.