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Recognizing Effects of Stress on Girls

Pressures Skyrocket During High School
When the stakes rise in high school, so does the level of stress--for girls as well as their families. That is because the road to success is increasingly lined with specific checkpoints against which achievement is measured--for example, whether or not teens are in honors or advanced placement (AP) classes; whether their SAT scores are high enough; whether they are chosen for selective teams, music ensembles, or honors; whether (and by whom) they are invited to proms; and so on. Any one of these criteria can seem like the definitive word on whether or not girls are successful--or will be in the future. Jan expressed the pressures of many girls in high school when she told me:

The worst thing about eleventh grade is the pressure to get into a good school. My parents are pushing me to study harder. Plus, you get pressured by all your friends to spend time with them, to go to their party or hang out. Have this boyfriend; you need one. Or you get stressed about homecoming. It's a big deal. Are you going? Who with? Do you have a dress? And with all this, I hope I get into a really good school and don't die from the stress of applying.

The Toll is Real
Such issues may be common, even classic, during adolescence, but they are worse today, and suffering from stress should not be accepted as a given. In fact, these are the harmful effects on girls' physical health and mental well-being and, therefore, on their ultimate success:

Sleep Deprivation
Perhaps the most blatant consequence is the widespread lack of sleep among teens today. Though they require eight to ten hours of sleep per night, adolescents generally get far less. Not surprisingly, when girls in middle school and high school are asked about their worst school experiences, they typically speak of exhaustion:

  • "The stress, sleep deprivation, and depression that almost defined junior year"
  • "When the pressure comes on all in one week and I get very little sleep"
  • "Every time I have to work until two a.m. or three in the morning and then sit through class the next day with a headache as time stops"
  • "Getting no sleep because of work; draining myself emotionally, physically, and mentally; and doing worse in school because of constant lack of sleep"
Girls are losing sleep for two main reasons. One, many are intentionally cheating themselves of sleep in order to do everything they need to do. As Tina describes, "I'm staying up later and later to finish homework, or maybe I just want to read something for fun, go online, or relax, but I still have to wake up just as early in the morning and start the whole cycle again."

Two, girls are deprived of much-needed sleep because of insomnia; according to a 2004 BusinessWeek cover story on sleep disorders, 40 percent of teens have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. As girls often tell me, "My mind's going a mile a minute," "I'm too tired to fall asleep," and "I have too much going on." Regardless of whether they deliberately pull all-nighters to study or they toss and turn for hours in their beds, the fallout of sleep deprivation is the same.

More on: Teen Stress


From Stressed-Out Girls: Helping Them Thrive in the Age of Pressure by Roni Cohen-Sandler, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.

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