How does stress affect the lives of teens and young women?

Dr. Napier shares her insights with the perspective of a mother of a college-aged daughter

Stress seems to be an inevitable part of life, and the statistics are frightening:

    1. One eighth of teens will skip a meal due to stress once a week. 
    2. Women are more likely affected by stress than men. 
    3. Women are less likely to get pregnant when stressed.
    4. Women who are stressed are more likely to have irregular periods. 
    5. Chronic stress is linked to more intense PMS symptoms. 
    6. Stress can lead to depression, eating problems and high blood pressure.
    7. Stress interrupts good, healthy sleep.

We recently discussed stress in women and ways to work with a provider to combat it. 

But, what about stress in young women and teen girls, specifically? We sat down with our own Obstetrician and Gynecologist Dr. Amie Napier, who happens to have a daughter in college, to talk about stress in young women.

If you or a family member is under a great deal of stress, please make an appointment to talk to a physician about treatment options. 

Q and A with Dr. Napier

Q: Having a daughter in college, what kinds of stresses are you seeing in young women because of societal demands?

A: College stress is only partly from academia. Part of the challenge of going off to college is  time management, being self-sufficient (sometimes for the first time in their life), learning how to cook, clean, manage money and deal with roommates. Many young women in college have to work to make ends meet. Time management is crucial and a valuable life lesson. My college-aged daughter once told me, “if I go to every sorority event, I won’t have any time to study.” Studies have shown that college students who hold jobs tend to be better students and have better time management skills.

Frequently, students have not had to study much at all in high school and are now competing against classmates with better study skills. 

Roommate stress is huge. Young women in college are dealing with issues like:

  • “My roommate keeps me awake talking to her boyfriend all night long.” 
  • “No one takes out the trash but me.”
  • “My roommate’s stuff takes up the whole fridge.”
  • “My suite mate leaves hair balls stuck to the walls in the shower.”
  •  “If the trash is full, she will just throw her trash on the ground next to the trash.”
  • “My roommate’s boyfriend is living with us, and it makes me uncomfortable.”  

Then, there are other real-life issues such as:

  • “My air-conditioning isn’t working again.” 
  • “I ran out of money.”
  • “There’s a bee hive on our front porch, and we can’t go outside.”

Q: What are the most common side effects of stress in young women? 

A: We see in young women academic stress, financial stress and time-commitment stress. Unfortunately, this leads to anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, overeating (the dreaded Freshman 15) and partying with extreme alcohol consumption, which could spiral into poor decision making.

Q: Are you seeing a hesitancy in young women to reach out for help? Is there embarrassment or shame? 

A: I feel like this generation tends to ask for help and seek help. This is certainly individual dependent. Some may hide the fact that they are not coping well, and the parents might not find out until something extreme happens: The student fails a class, loses her job, gets a minor in possession or DWI, her electricity gets turned off for failing to pay her bill. 

Q: Do young women realize there are ways to combat stress? As a provider, do you specifically ask young women about their stress levels to see if they’ll open up?

A: Students might feel like, “I am the only one struggling; everyone else smarter than me; I am a failure,” not realizing most students have the same insecurities. Talking about it is key, because there’s no reason to be ashamed.

Most providers should ask about stress in college students and how the student is coping. If this doesn’t happen, the patient should bring it up or list it on the new-patient paperwork as something to be discussed. Unfortunately, many college students employ self-destructive behaviors to combat stress: partying, overeating, eating poorly, oversleeping, procrastinating and engaging in risky behavior to take their minds off the stress. We see them binge-watching Netflix or gaming for prolonged periods of time. 

Q: What kinds of options are available to young women experiencing stress and seeking relief? How should they best approach their provider about the subject?

A: Self-care should be addressed initially. Young women need good sleep, good food (fresh, non -processed, limiting fast food, etc..) and spiritual care (religion, nature, family, etc.). Physical exercise is a healthy way to relieve stress, turn off the mind and keep the body strong. Most universities and college campuses have on-site counseling, various support groups and free exercise classes or access to a gym. 

Natural supplements can help with anxiety, including hemp oil extract (which is not CBD and is legal in all states), L-theanine and complex B vitamin supplementation (not just B12). Note that stress and birth control pills can lower B vitamins, so talk to your provider about the right balances. 

The quality of supplements is very important. Supplements aren’t universally regulated, so consumers can’t always be sure about the active ingredients in their purchases.For this reason, I recommend pharmaceutical grade supplements from quality companies like Pure Encapsulations or Thorne. 

Counseling is often free on college campuses.  

Prescription medication is also an option, especially if other things have been tried and failed or the student has a history of depression and anxiety in the past. These types of medication require close monitoring. 

Q: What stress-relief options are working best for your daughter and her friends? 

A: My college daughter relieves stress by spending time with friends, exercising, going to the movies, football games and hockey games and cooking. 

Q: How can young women make good choices now about stress so they can develop healthy patterns that will help them further into adulthood?

A: Making good choices for stress relief is important. Some college students have figured this out in high school and are well on their way to good adult habits. Others may take longer to figure this out. There are many adults who still haven’t figured out how to manage stress and who continually turn to alcohol, over eating, binge watching and shopping to cope with their stress. Good, healthy habits early on prove invaluable later in life.

Final Thoughts from Dr. Napier on Young Women and College Life: Sex and Good Choices

Dr. Napier: As a gynecologist, I feel it is important that parents have a conversation with their children about birth control before college. Regardless of the parents beliefs on premarital sex, many college students engage in sexual behavior. Let’s get some birth control on board before they head off to college. There are many long-acting alternatives for women, including low-dose IUDs, implantable contraception and birth control pills. Encourage condom use. Don’t be the naive parent who thinks their child won’t have sex because they don’t want them to.

Also, consider teaching life skills before they go off to college, including money management, cooking, doing laundry, car maintenance, eating healthy and exercise! 

Want more information from the providers of AWH? Visit our blog, visit our new patient page or contact AWH

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