How Stress Is Impacting Young People

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In a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation, it was found that 39% of young people have experienced suicidal feelings because of stress. Furthermore, 29% of young people said they had self-harmed because of high levels of stress. Being a 22-year-old graduate myself, I have found that stress has increased quite rapidly in my life over the last few years and I’m not alone in this. 

The Mental Health Foundation Director, Mark Rowland, said: “Our survey highlights just how vulnerable young people are to mental health problems. It shows how much pressure young people are feeling to be a success. The pressure to conform to ideal body image is also intense.”

The pressure of graduating from university and not immediately landing a job in my industry of choice leads me to feel like I am failing before I even begin. Having spent so much time studying there’s a strong compulsion to succeed quickly. Social media promotes this dream life, dream body and a false sense of reality. Most of us will have, at times, been negatively impacted by these lifestyles, causing stress and anxiety that we are nowhere near where we should be – or where social media says we should be.

Stress can also cause a lot of physical side effects such as migraines, high anxiety, lack of appetite and fatigue. It is an issue that continues to grow as social media and general societal pressures increase for young people. This stress is also more prevalent now than in generations before.

Lorna Gilroy-Turner, a 21-year-old student shared the physical impacts she’s faced: “I have felt stress in many aspects of my life, and each time it has caused adverse effects such as frequent headaches and also digestive problems leading to a sluggish feeling, bloating and nausea.”

Stress and anxiety, unsurprisingly, are common during education. Lorna told me of her experiences at university and the role stress played whilst in education. She said: “I think stress has such an impact as I feel the pressure to perform well for not only my own standards but also for societal standards” 

She went on to say “I think society has become too comfortable with the idea of individuals living with a high amount of stress and I think this also adds to the impact that you can feel like unless you are stressed, you’re not working hard enough.

It was reported that in 2018, 60% of young people felt so stressed by the pressure to succeed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Throughout sixth form and university, it seems the pressure to succeed is high and the support surrounding it lacks at times. Education was one of the most stressful parts of my life, providing a constant worry about the future and questioning decisions I made. The lack of support I felt then went on to allow stress to become normal in my life after university. Even now, I struggle to manage the pressure I put on myself, it feels like stress cannot be avoided.

Alice Howe, a 25-year-old full-time Sports Coordinator, explained that stress impacts her work-life quite heavily. She said: “I have found the demands of a full-time job pretty stressful. I used to feel quite ashamed of finding a 9-5 job really tiring and draining because I thought I was just being lazy and weak. But after speaking to other people, it is more common for people to feel the same way as I do than I thought it would be.”

She added that she too feels some physical side effects; “Sometimes I won’t realise how stressed I am until my skin starts breaking out or I can’t sleep very well.”

A study carried out by HSE, found that 17.9 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. April was Stress Awareness Month, which helps push the conversation on stress. For young people, especially, this is extremely important following the high increase that has been seen over recent years.

In response to the rising stress levels, a 30-day challenge was launched by the Stress Management Society. This campaign supports anyone suffering from stress and ensuring that self-care becomes a force of habit rather than a once in a blue moon activity. It takes around 30 days for an action to become a habit. For many self-care is not something that comes naturally but this campaign pushes the importance of it.

Often it might seem that stress is just part of life and you just have to cope but this is not the case, we can’t continue to let young people’s futures be damaged by this. There needs to be much more prevention against further suicides and self-harm caused by stress.

Resources surrounding stress and coping mechanisms for this can be found on Mind, Samaritans and Anxiety UK.

Words by Catherine Donaldson


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