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Sources of Stress in Youth

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Stress is a behavioural science, which is self diagnosed. Stress levels are measured using physical apparatus and professional experience in the field. Stress can affect all people, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. It is an unavoidable consequence of life. Teen stress is a big issue in Today’s society. Recent studies have shown that teens may develop more stress than adults. Not many adults remember exactly what adolescence was like; the anguish, the fear, the anxiety, the stress. People don’t remember those problems because they want to forget all the negative memories and have them believe that being a teenager was one big party, free of care and responsibilities.

Early exposure to stress not only can affect children’s mental and social development during their formative years, it also can increase the risk of alcoholism, illicit drug use, adult depression, anxiety and even heart disease much later in life, according to a leading psychologist, counsellor and founder of Willingness Malta, Matthew Bartolo.

Matthew has worked a lot with counselling adolescent & problematic youth both in homes and schools, as well as asylum seekers, addicts, couples and LGBTIQ. These patients have all taught Matthew a lot and as well as confirm what a difference counselling and a positive attitude can make. Matthew’s professional, yet casual way of approaching and discussing the patients problems makes it easy for Matthew to get the patient to open up and participate during a consultation.

Technostress, described by Matthew as a problem of adjusting to changes in digital technology, is also a very common phenomena in todays society. An example of Technostress would be the continuous need to adapt to the forever changes and upgrades in technology and technological equipment / software i.e upgrades in Windows Operating System or even a switch from Windows to Mac or Android to Apple. Another common example would be our reaction to being disconnected from the cyber world when our device is being repaired or out of battery.

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is another phenomenon which contributes to stress in youth. Knowing that there is going to be a “good” party or event from a post on social media and not being able to attend for whatever reason, can be highly stressful on any youngster.

In Matthew’s professional opinion, one of the main causes of stress found in teens is derived from the lack of personal space. He gave an example that a family of five living in a small flat will experience higher levels of stress when compared to the same family living in a large house. The same would apply to a classroom with 30 students as compared to a class of 10 students.

Another common cause of stress is derived from expectations, either self imposed or from those around i.e our loved ones, that always want the “best for us”. This in turn normally results in students focussing purely on academic activities whilst steering away from sport and social activity thereby further enhancing stress levels in the student”. “Other sources of stress include not being able to receive medical treatments, parents, over scheduling one’s day, relationships, peer pressure and lack of recreational time and space”.

When it comes to treatments, the first thing the physician would do is try to help reduce the cause of stress. For example, a student should try to adjust his schedule to study for and sit his o-level exams in a less stressful environment by postponing his grade eight music exam for a later date after exams.

Another effective method of treatment is to assist the patient with “developing his or her skills in better coping with stress. Working on one’s time management skills, having regular breaks and breaking up goals in to smaller more manageable and achievable goals are all effective ways of treating and managing stress. Sharing your problems with others is another stress relief form of therapy. By socialising with friends and sharing one’s emotions, one will soon realise that others are going through the same difficulties and that one is not alone. This feeling of not being alone is therapeutic in itself.

Drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are not recommended for stress relief. They seem to help at the time but will increase the amount of stress in the long run when the person is faced with medical issues or when he or she tries to cut down or stop. In fact it’s not only the substance intake that reduces stress, but also the “ritual” itself. How would a doctor or counsellor diagnose a patient as stressed? The patient would be experiencing some of the following symptoms; feeling more tired than usual, irritated, experiencing lack of sleep, keeping to themselves as well as the feeling of being overwhelmed. These problems are very psychosomatic and therefore the patient would need to be treated, both at a mental and physical level.

With regards to educational related stress, Matthew states that nowadays the time table at schools is being geared to help the student encounter lower levels of stress with shorter time slots being allocated to each subject before a student has a break or moves on to a different subject. Our optimal attention span is anything between 20 to 45 minutes depending on the individual, so being allowed a break from the classroom or changing classroom and teacher between subjects at short but regular intervals would prove more effective with better results.

Educational related stress can also be caused because of outer scholastic material such as home work and private lessons. Exams are very stressful on the student because of the exam’s competitive nature. Comparing themselves with their classmates is highly stressful on the student and not as productive as if a student was to be appraised on his or her own progress. For example an athlete running against his own personal best is less stressful and far more effective when compared with the same athlete racing against another athlete.

Stress can on the other hand be beneficial. Stress causes an adrenalin rush which helps the mind perform better. During the “optimal level of stress”, the stress and performance of the person are seen to be well balanced causing an efficient level of performance. For instance working to a deadline but planning ahead is productive however procrastinating and working too close to the deadline will increase an experience of anxiety, panic and anger with a severe drop in quality. Although a professional such as a school counsellor or a physician is recommended, confiding in someone close, like a teacher, youth worker, sports coach, or anyone trust worthy or comfortable to speak with can in some cases be more effective in helping alleviate stress.

Many teens live for the weekend, not caring about their week and stressing out. It is basically living for only two days of an entire seven day week. People should find ways to enjoy their week days. For example, adding a 30 minute walk to unwind or a recreational activity mid week would help reduce stress and help that person cope with their day, rather than resorting to destructive behaviour such as getting drunk or high just to try make themselves feel better. One needs to live a more balanced lifestyle.

Two interviews where conducted. It was requested that their details remain confidential and only their experience would be publicly acknowledged. The interviewees shall be referred to as Case 1 and Case 2. Continuously Trying to be someone she wasn’t, caused Case 1 to experience high levels of stress and “burn out”. This lead to her depression and attempted suicide. “I was feeling like a complete failure” she said. She also explained how she felt like she was letting down her parents whilst looking stupid in front of the rest of her class mates. Not being able to make her grades, the feeling of frustration increased. Wherever and whoever she turn to, be it parents, teachers or class mates, she always felt that she “failed them all”.

Taking on an academically demanding subject at University which she was neither really interested in or clever enough to take on, caused her to feel like this, she said. “Medicine was chosen as a subject to study by my parents before I was even born”. Being an only child, her parents spoilt her by giving her everything and anything she ever wished for. She “could hardly break their heart by not going to medical school”.

She has now attended several consultations with a psychologist to avoid a repetition of this event. Her parents attended some of these sessions which lead her parents to agree to allow her to no longer pursue medicine but take up I.T. which she truly enjoys and finds academically far less demanding intellectually. A 24 year old male “Case 2” is now undergoing therapy following episodes of abuse towards his girlfriend due stress which he experienced earlier on in life.

He mentioned that he frequently experiences episodes of insecurity, possessiveness, aggression, frustration and anger which he believes led to the physical and mental abuse on his partner. He also went on to explain the feelings of betrayal and helplessness which he had experienced at an early age whilst listening to his mother being physically and mentally abused on a daily basis by his father, and being too young and weak to defend her. Case 2 is currently undergoing treatment from a psychologist, counselling sessions as well as attending classes where other patients have similar problems. He and his partner have also joined the local gym, engaging a personal trainer as well as playing squash to relieve his anger.

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