A US study on global teen stress revealed that around 10 per cent of teens the world over suffer from an anxiety disorder. The five stressors causing the most worry included schoolwork (68 per cent), parents (56 per cent) friends’ problems (52 per cent), romantic relationships (48 per cent), and drugs (48 per cent).
In India, the situation is similar. With the HSC and SSC exams on, stress is at an all-time high among students. But it’s not just board exams. With intense pressure to excel in academics, any exam causes teenagers to break into a sweat.
Exams get to Mihir Shah, 19, a pharmacy student. Come exams, and he is a wreck. His hands get clammy and he starts sweating profusely. He can’t sleep and doesn’t talk to anyone. The fact that he is a consistent topper puts additional pressure on him to excel.
“My parents always expect me to top,” he says. “If I get a few marks less than in my last exam, it’s considered a disaster. Friends too seem more interested in my marks than their own. And don’t even get me started on the huge insecurity I have on maintaining my own rank.”
When it comes to exam stress, Vijaya Parekh, a psychologist, feels that there is no escaping that monster. “In India, there is huge pressure on children to do well in academics. Surprisingly, most can handle it. All one needs to understand is that failure isn’t everything.”
The other major stress point are love and relationships. “ We were just kids out of school. I was not mature enough to handle the expectations that came with a relationship”, says Tia Desai, 21, student.
Exams and academics were more of a priority for the former National College student and singleton but she recalls the intense pressure on her to get into a relationship in her college days. “It was just assumed that you had to have someone and it put me under unnecessary stress.”
Parents too are aware of the trauma their children go through. “These days, love is too commercialised,” says Shalini Desai, Tia’s mother. The mother of two adds, in spite of being so much talk about the right to choose among youngsters, there is no sense of individuality. “All one sees is a herd mentality to do the same thing, whether you like it or not.”
Parekh feels that one needs to examine the reasons for being single or in a relationship. She says, “Peer pressure or the need to spend the day with someone should not be the reason to get into a relationship. Similarly, self-loathing or the fear of rejection may be the cause for some youngsters to remain single. Neither is healthy.”
Away from home
With relocation being a major part of a teenager’s life thanks to the various educational and professional opportunities, the ability to live by oneself is a much needed quality. “Staying away from home is hard for me,” says Neha Mahajan, 18, from Himachal Pradesh. In Mumbai to study pharmacy, she says, “I have no support system to back me when I feel low. I miss my parents and am losing weight because of it.”
Parekh feels that in such cases temperament matters. If you are behaviourally not suited to staying away from home, you can come under a lot of stress. “Then you need to ask yourself: am I doing this just for the aura of staying away? Or is there a goal to strive for? Ultimately it comes down to your core beliefs. Change your perspective and you are good to go.”