I’m very pleased to introduce Nadine from Home of Understanding as a guest blogger who this week is exploring how various types of pressure influences the mental health of teenagers. As a 19-year-old university student in economics, Nadine is keenly aware of the stresses teenagers must navigate through adolescence and young adulthood. I have often admired Nadine’s transparency and vulnerability in discussing her own struggles; as well as her ability to discuss mental health with perceptiveness and clarity. Making her work even more remarkable is that one would never guess that English is not her primary language.
Many of us experience stress in our daily lives and often wish we could take more breaks or let everything go. The underlying causes of this stress can be manifold, but most often it is connected to some kind of pressure we feel. We are exposed to many different kinds of pressure, but today I will be focusing on three, all of which especially influence young people: Academic pressure, athletic pressure, and social pressure. Experiencing all of these together in their varying degrees can cause a lot of distress and immensely influence our mental health.
This is something nearly everyone experiences. Since we are seen as “successful” in case we manage to show off an impressive career, everyone always tries to be the best. As striving for the top and being accomplished regarding your job is generally accepted by society and education is so highly valued, there is a lot of pressure and expectations to fulfill the requirements of having a great career and end up in a highly paid position. Even though everyone is exposed to this, I would say that the impact of this kind of pressure is highest in younger years.
Every day at school children and teenagers are told that they can only succeed in life if they go to university and earn a lot of money later on in their life. Many end up torturing themselves by studying something they have no interest in, just to get a high paid job and establish a good reputation. It is needless to say that this is poison to a teenager’s mental health, especially considering that they are in a difficult phase already. Some may be even urged by their parents to pursue a certain career. However, even if they aren’t, they subconsciously know that everyone expects them to do at least better than their own parents since they sacrifice so much to give you the “best” life possible.
Conflicts within families
Depending on what kind of family you grow up in, the academic pressure can be higher or lower. If a teenager grows up in a house where both parents have a university degree and work a lot, it is more likely that they are expected to study as well, since not studying would automatically be connected with a stamp saying: “not successful”. They might be perceived as a failure if they decide to take a different career path. Nevertheless, the opposite can also be the case. Someone who grows up in a family in which nobody has a University degree might be expected to start working immediately, even if they would much prefer going to University. In both these cases, the pressure is especially strong because of the clashing interests that create an inner conflict. The affected person would like to do one thing but is expected or pressured to do the opposite. This can lead to immense emotional and mental strain.
Studying is glorified
We live in a world that glorifies studying and automatically judges jobs those that don’t require a Uni degree as “second best” or “less than optimal”, even if they aren’t. Success in life is not only measured by grades at highschool or Uni, neither is it determined by the salary, but by the impact, we have on others. There are so many other variables that have an influence on our lives that it would be cruel to cut it down to our academic career. We are not our jobs.
Having said this, I think it is about time that we accept that there is no race in which we need to outrun everyone to be the one with the most impressive academical career. At some point, it becomes impossible to end up in a better place than your parents and maybe you don’t want to. Not everyone needs to study to find happiness. Everyone should just do what they most enjoy instead of surrendering to the huge expectations everyone has for them.
Apart from high pressure regarding their grades and/or achievements, especially younger people are also facing pressure related to their bodies and activity. We have this body ideal in our society that everyone needs to look perfect and be extremely thin to look beautiful. Even if by far not everyone agrees with this, it is what teenagers are implicitly told, by looking at only thin models and by being expected to do sports to stay in shape instead of doing it because it is fun. Sometimes teenagers turn out to have a special talent for a particular sport and at that moment, the pressure increases even further. From then onwards, they often are expected to exceed in their discipline and aren’t allowed to make any experiences that lie outside of the approached goal. Those are only extreme cases, but they occur.
Especially for teenagers and young adults who do sports at a competition level, life can become extremely challenging, as they often still have school/university where they feel the pressure of being successful just as much as for the sport they are doing. They then have to balance this life and there is often not much time left to do the things they enjoy.
Beauty Standards and Eating Disorders
Nevertheless, it is not only those especially talented people that suffer from this kind of pressure. Nearly every teenager has worried at least once in their life whether their body is enough “in shape”, but many struggle with this on a daily basis. So many teenagers develop eating disorders because they try to get the perfect body. Sometimes the pressure is high enough that they starve themselves to death.
The beauty standards and expectations in our society are simply unrealistic and warped. The focus is entirely on the wrong aspects. People do not need to be thin; they need to be healthy. Since there are so many different body types and shapes there cannot be one universal “perfect body”. The pressure to succumb to these expectations has an enormous physical and mental influence.
This kind of pressure is something everyone has felt in their life before. Social pressure tends to accompany us our entire lives and never really goes away. Most people try to be “normal” (not really sure if this exists) and at least conform to society’s expectations to a certain degree. Why? Because it can be extremely difficult and exhausting to swim against the tide and not do something everyone else does.
We all would like to be ourselves and express who we are, but sometimes we don’t, because we fear what then might happen to us. We feel the pressure of conforming to the norm and behave like we are expected to. This puts a special emotional strain on us, which influences our mental health just as much as the other two types of pressure I already mentioned.
For younger people, this often has a bigger impact, because they are still trying to figure out who they are and what they want in life. They have their peer groups, which are supposed to support them and help them go through the difficult time of growing up, but sometimes these groups can be poisonous and have a negative influence on a person’s happiness.
It has been shown that teenagers are more likely to do something they do not support when every one of their friends is also doing it. This is a general problem in society, but as we get older and gain more confidence, it usually gets easier to say “no” to something.
All these kinds of pressure have an impact on our mental health. If we would like to do one thing, but subconsciously know that other people expect us to do the opposite, we face an inner conflict that needs to be solved. The more conflicts we have, the more difficult it becomes for us to pick the “right” decision for us, and whatever we go with, we might turn out to be dissatisfied or constantly doubt the decision we made. Teenagers and young adults are especially affected by this, as they are in a state of change. If our society was less focused on making people feel bad about themselves, because they don’t exactly do what they are expected to, there could be a lot more happiness in this world. If people were more concerned about their own life instead of obsessing over the mistakes and imperfections of others, there might be less pressure on everyone. Maybe we would suffer from less stress and instead enjoy better mental health.
About the Author
Nadine is studying Economics abroad and takes a high interest in emotional and mental well-being. Her blog Home of Understanding features posts related to mental health and illnesses, self-care and societal issues. The blog was created at the beginning of this year out of a sudden notion that many topics are not discussed enough in our society but deserve a lot more attention. It is the blog’s goal to raise awareness of these topics and motivate people to do more research on aspects and ideas they have not encountered before.