A Culture of Stress



Photo by Leopoldo Macaya, taken on February 13, 2012, All rights reserved, https://flic.kr/p/btrBBX

The media romanticizes a stressful life. Society praises students pulling all-nighters to crank out homework or adults burning the midnight oil to abide by a work deadline. Is it necessary to expose ourselves to overwhelming levels of stress in the pursuit of the elusive American dream? Over time, stress has mistakenly become synonymous with success. Our high regard and praise of overtly stressful work have appeared to influence the younger generations who strive for similar goals. Humans are not meant to endure unending stress and once the tunnel vision fades, we have to face the consequences of these prolonged periods.

Jennifer Koebele, a researcher with a focus on higher education, defines some of these common stressors for highschool students as 1) romantic relationships, 2) social acceptance, 3) earning good grades, 4) preparing for college, and 5) parental pressure. It seems that the main stressors all revolve around the expectations of others: their peers (romantic and platonic), teachers, college admissions readers, and their own parents. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) sought to further explore the interaction between stress and sleep, exercise and eating in a 2014 study. They reported that the majority of teenagers fail to get the recommended 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights and 36% of those included in the poll report feeling even more tired in moments of stress. Stress and sleep seem to be related to each other in that as sleep decreases, stress is likely to increase. 

The study also found that 20% of teenagers reported exercising “less than once a week or not at all”. Instead, their waking hours were occupied by technology with the teenagers under high stress reporting an average of 3.2 hours online while the teenagers with low stress averaged 2 hours online daily. 

Though it may seem like a less obvious link, stress and eating have also found to be related. 23% of the teenagers polled report skipping a meal in the past month and 39% of this group further admitted that they do this weekly (or even more frequently than that).

Once we’ve identified some of the common causes of stress and the subsequent interactions in our lives, we should focus on the consequences of undergoing long-term stress. The Mayo Clinic outlines the effects by body, mood, and behavior. For the body, they outline headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, and sleep problems. For mood, they discuss anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, irritability, and sadness. Lastly, for behavior, they point out overeating and undereating, angry outbursts, drug misuse, social withdrawal, and less exercising.

The implications of a high-stress life encourage us to find alternate routes. In school, we can break daunting assignments into small pieces to avoid the classic night-before doom. Outside of the classroom, we should do fun things with friends and be more physically active in everyday life. Stress will always linger around corners but we can control our reactions and our approach for the next time.