College students among nation’s most stressed

By Christine Scalora, NewsNetNebraska

Stressed out? You’re not alone.

Millennials, people aged 18 to 33, report a higher average stress level than the national average, and also have the least success managing their stress, according to an annual study by the American Psychological Association.

In Stress in America, millennials reported an average stress level of 5.4 on a 10-point scale, where 10 is “a great deal of stress.” The national average is 4.9. The online study was conducted by Harris Interactive among 2,020 adults in August 2012.

Of the all the generations in the report, more millennials, or 39 percent, said their stress has increased in the last year.

“Not only do the millennials have the highest degree of stress, although it’s roughly the same as the Gen Xers, unlike the Gen Xers, the millennials are saying their stress has had a significant increase in the past year,” said Robert Portnoy, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at UNL.

The report noted that more than 50 percent of millennials said they had trouble sleeping in the past month due to stress.

Debra Hope, a psychology professor who researches anxiety, said common reactions to stress include difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, headaches, teeth-grinding and short-temperedness.

Only 29 percent of millennials reported they were doing an excellent or very good job managing their stress, which was the lowest of the generations.

“I was actually kind of surprised by that,” Hope said. The inability to unplug from technology could be one factor that contributes to stress, she said.

The world has changed, Portnoy said. The world is more competitive and people who struggle, at any age, often feel they will fall behind and won’t be able to catch up. The unstable economy is major factor, he said.

The survey looks at a broad group, but Portnoy noted some stressors unique to college students. The fact that having a degree no longer guarantees a job after graduation is stressful, he said. Family dynamics can also change when students go away to college, if parents wait to get a divorce until their children have left the house.

“So that stable notion of home no longer exists,” he said.

Millennials are more likely to use unhealthy or sedentary behaviors to manage stress, such as playing video games or surfing the Internet, according to the report. There’s a clear connection between stress and physical illness, Portnoy said, and he would expect people over time to have substantially more medical problems.

Only 17 percent of millennials said their health care provider supports them a lot or a great deal with stress management, according to the report.

Millennials might not develop a strong relationship with their health care provider in the first place, Hope said, because they don’t tend to have chronic health problems.

“I think another part of it might be health care providers assume millennials are healthy and aren’t really talking to them about these sorts of things,” Hope said.

The counseling center saw 1,473 clients during the 2011-2012 academic year, a nearly 10 percent increase from the previous year. There is no way to know how many students come in for stress or anxiety, Portnoy said.

“There’s no diagnosis that’s specifically stress,” he said. Even looking at anxiety disorders wouldn’t provide a clear sense of the impact of stress on students. But stress may be a component of why students come in, he said.

Portnoy suggested exercise as a healthy way to cope with stress. He also suggested finding balance in work, diet and sleep. Hope agreed, and noted studies that show adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

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