The unfortunate truth is that all generations of Americans are experiencing high rates of stress and often feel they should be doing more to manage it. However, research shows we have made progress in increasing healthier stress management behaviors. Over the last five years, stress management behaviors like eating food and drinking alcohol have decreased while exercising is on the increase. Workplace health promotion programs have no doubt played a part in this movement for healthier stress management behaviors.
According to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA), one in five Americans rate themselves as highly stressed and 80 percent believe their stress is increasing. A wide variety of stressors exist in our every day life and only 37 percent of Americans believe they are successful at managing them. Employers have made stress management the second most important focus in health promotion, aiming to increase employees productivity, wellbeing and self-esteem. Employers also aim to minimize the negative health outcomes associated with stress, including an increased risk of developing illnesses ranging from the common cold, depression and obesity.
Despite the direct impact stress has on health, Americans believe they are not receiving adequate stress management advice from their health care providers. Two thirds of Americans believe mental health needs are not addressed in the health care they receive and more than 30 percent of high stressed individuals say their health care provider does not support or discuss topics of stress management. This failure of the health care system is astounding and magnifies the importance of workplace wellness programs that fill the gap in educating and empowering employees to take charge of their stress and consequently, their health.
However, this reliance on employers to teach stress management fails to provide support to our most at-risk population, the youth. Society has consistently considered our youth to be less exposed to stress; however, a recent study shows a dangerous similarity in stress trends between adults and teens. With this knowledge, our new concern should be whether our youth are similarly ineffective at managing stress—especially since they do not have access to work based health promotion programs—and what kind of impact this stress has on a teen’s future.
According to the report, teens experience “extreme levels” of stress and report feelings of being overwhelmed. In comparison to adults, teens seemed less aware of the impact of stress on their health and almost half of all teens recognized they may not be doing enough to manage the stress they have.
Several studies indicate moderate levels of stress in students correlate with increased alcohol consumption and, even though the students recognize drinking alcohol is not an effective practice of managing stress, the vast majority plan to continue to use alcohol to manage theirs.  This is an important realization and may offer insight on the pervasive nature of binge drinking on college campuses. Colleges across the nation are turning to state governments to institute stricter laws in order to offset the increasing trend of students binge drinking. 14 states have already banned the sale of grain alcohol (190 proof) and several others are currently considering similar legislation. These laws have been promulgated by university officials concerned with decreasing rates of binge drinking and related violence. This is a noble cause; however, using this law to alter the drinking behavior of students seems to be falling short on expectations. In states such as North Carolina where the law has existed for several years, colleges show no significant changes in reported campus safety. North Carolina’s largest colleges include North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and East Carolina University. All three universities produce yearly safety reviews and crime statistics, none of which illustrated significant changes in the prevalence of reported crime or alcohol related incidences since the 2010 law enactment. This suggests restricting the sale of grains alcohol does not override the youth’s motivation to binge drink as a tool for stress management and that a different approach is needed to curb alcoholism in our youth.
I suggest a change in health promotion programs. We need to make schools, not the workplace, the new face of wellness programs. We can no longer assume children are not experiencing stress or that they are learning stress management from physicians. Workplace wellness initiatives have long incorporated stress management and are changing the way working Americans manage stress. In an effort to better support our youth with the stress they face and to prevent the establishment of poor stress management behaviors such as alcohol abuse, I suggest expanding stress management health promotion programs from the workplace to schools and college universities.
 González, Anaisa M, et al. “Alcohol Consumption And Smoking And Their Associations With Socio-Demographic Characteristics, Dietary Patterns, And Perceived Academic Stress In Puerto Rican College Students.” Puerto Rico Health Sciences Journal 32.2 (2013): 82-88. MEDLINE Complete. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.