I listened in on a conversation between young women recently. The girls were from various high schools and colleges, and they were talking about surviving school. I was struck by how much they used the term stressed out. It was the most frequently verbalized term in their discussion. Today, students suffer from distress (being stressed out) more frequently than previous generations, and their sources of stress seem to be greater.
- They feel the need to look perfect.
- They feel the compulsion to make excellent grades.
- They feel the pressure to navigate “frenemies.”
- They feel the push to perform brilliantly after school.
- They feel the urgency to appear together and happy.
- They feel the high expectations of parents.
- They feel the necessity to garner likes and shares and views.
When I began teaching students 40 years ago, the word stress might have come up in conversation twice a year, right around final exams. The frequency of this word has increased with each decade since that time. And it’s not just the girls. Guys have begun to talk about stress as well. The problem is everywhere.
10 Visible Signs of Stress in Students
As you watch your young people live their pressurized lives, here are some common signs to look for that signal they may be dealing with disproportionate stress:
1. Withdrawal from family or friends
Often, out of the need to survive their pressure, stressed students may withdraw from normal activities, even social time with family and peers.
2. Emotional changes: short temper, low patience, or irritability
Teens frequently react to stress by becoming emotionally volatile—either displaying a short fuse, running out of patience quickly, or being irritable.
3. The inability to make decisions
It is not uncommon for a teen to react to stress by becoming internally paralyzed. They just shut down, become overwhelmed, and freeze.
4. Increased drama, emotion, and exaggeration
Another symptom of teen stress is demonstrated by an extra dose of drama or hyperbole, disproportionate to the context. Emotion outweighs the situation.
5. Quitting commitments and irresponsibility
A natural signal of adolescent stress is to stop the bleeding. Teens simply quit some of the sources of their stress. Sadly, this can lead to irresponsibility.
6. Physical signs: they get sick often, complaining about aches or stomach issues
Signs of stress can be physical. Teens get headaches or stomach aches or become sick more often. Their immune system drops.
7. Eating or sleeping habits change
Teens can lose their appetites, or they can eat too much due to stress. They can be unable to fall asleep due to stress, unable to turn their brains off at night.
8. Coping mechanisms like pot, alcohol, or vaping
When teens haven’t developed coping skills, they use coping mechanisms. These are artificial and inadequate ways of reducing stress. Unhealthy habits surface like vaping or drinking.
9. Cognitive changes—decreased focus, forgetfulness, or carelessness
Sometimes stress symptoms can manifest as the inability to concentrate or study. Other times, teens become forgetful or careless about things that used to matter to them.
10. Negative self-talk
Finally, students who are stressed may begin patterns of negative attitudes and vocabulary that’s unlike their previous norm. The glass is constantly half empty.
If you see any of these symptoms, watch for patterns. If they persist beyond a few weeks, talk to a counselor or doctor. Stress is becoming chronic for too many teens.
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