Starting when the children are born, many parents work to teach their children how to make wise and healthy decisions. But as children age, parental influence declines, and the opinions of their peers become more important. But peer pressure doesn’t just affect children. It also impacts adults. Social pressure can affect our thoughts, actions, and behaviors, ranging from academic performance to substance abuse to mental health, the latter of which we’re going to talk about today: peer pressure’s effects on mental health.
The Different Types of Peer Pressure
Peer pressure refers to the pressure to behave a certain way by others, whether it’s good or bad. Peer pressure can begin in elementary school and continue to present itself in adulthood. Just as we experience fluctuations in friend groups and socialize with different people throughout adolescence, we also fluctuate socially as adults.
To better understand what peer pressure is and how to identify it, below are the six main types of peer pressure:
- Spoken: When a peer influences you by vocal persuasion or suggestion.
- Unspoken: When you identify with certain traits of a particular group.
- Positive: Unspoken or spoken pressure to do something positive, such as spend time with friends or eat healthier.
- Negative: Refers to unspoken or spoken pressure to do something you know is not right or to fit into a certain crowd, even if it’s wrong or hurtful.
- Direct: Can be either spoken or unspoken but is usually recognizable.
- Indirect: Refers to peer pressure that has a strong influence.
While good peer pressure can actually be beneficial, it’s bad peer pressure we have to worry about the most. This refers to pressure to do something you didn’t want to do or something you knew for a fact was not the correct thing to do. This could include spending more money than you budgeted for while shopping with friends or drinking too much alcohol.
In extreme cases, succumbing to peer pressure can lead you to adopt a lifestyle that’s beyond your financial means or that puts you and the people you care about in jeopardy. It may also change the way you look and speak in order to fit into an unhealthy crowd or lifestyle. In turn, your relationships, physical health, and mental well-being can all be affected negatively.
How Does Peer Pressure Affect Mental Health?
There’s a significant link between peer pressure and mental health, the former of which many of us don’t recognize in our own lives. Peer pressure is often subtle and can occur even in loving relationships. And while all peer pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can negatively impact your mental health when it does hit a low point. With this in mind, below are some common peer pressure effects on mental health to look out for in yourself.
Your Confidence is Shot
How peer pressure affects mental health starts with your confidence. Is your confidence high or low? Peer pressure can make an otherwise normally self-confident person the most severe overthinker in their group. If you frequently spend time around people who are constantly directly or indirectly pressuring you to behave, think, or act a certain way, your confidence might eventually flounder.
Over time, you’ll become quicker to second guess yourself, even when your gut is yelling “no!” This can eventually have a huge impact on your self-esteem, leading to self-doubt, overthinking, and anxiety, and it can possibly trigger depression.
You’re Less Productive
Yes, peer pressure can also impact your productivity. When you’re under a lot of pressure to act or think a certain way, it’s normal to start obsessing about it. Your new friend group is really into rock? You may find yourself obsessing over your playlist, your fashion, and even the way you talk and the phrases you say. Because this desire to change stems from pressure and is inorganic, eventually, your concentration will waver, and your productivity at school, work, and/or home will take a hit.
Your relationships may also suffer from this sudden shift, which can lead to further stress. Over time, your mental health may decline as you lose yourself more to the pressure to look, act, or think a certain way.
You’re Practicing Bad Habits
Peer pressure is most often associated with substance abuse, gambling, and other self-destructive behaviors. Not only can these habits severely impact your physical health, but they can affect your mental health, as well. In addition to changing your character and the way you treat and interact with loved ones, drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin all affect your brain’s ability to naturally produce and regulate chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
All of these play roles in your physical and mental well-being. Over time, not only will negative habits like this overshadow other priorities, but your physical and psychological health will take a huge hit.
Your Relationships With Loved Ones Change
Just like teenagers begin to take their friends’ advice over their parents’, peer pressure in adults can also impact the way you interact with and think of your family. People often end up feeling bad or ashamed about their family and where they came from when they see a disparity in how they live their lives compared to how their peers live.
This type of comparison is not limited to financial disparities but also spills into relationships with parents, siblings, values, traditions, and so on. Additionally, as one becomes more ashamed of their family, they may begin to mistreat them or ignore their advice. Abruptly cutting off your loved ones contributes to isolation and anxiety, which can eventually digress into depression.
You’re Emotionally Unhealthy
Nearly everyone wants friends and acceptance, but when peer pressure increases, you may begin doing things you don’t want to do simply to be a part of their circle. In doing so, you might pretend to be happy, which, of course, isn’t the case. Over time, you’ll begin to succumb further and further to peer pressure to the point where you’re more worried about the group’s or person’s acceptance than your own happiness or well-being.
How to Deal With Peer Pressure
Unfortunately, consequences like bullying, isolation, embarrassment, and rejection can make it difficult for a person to say no when they’re peer pressured. Fortunately, there are ways to guard yourself:
- Practice your response beforehand (this leaves less room for persuasion.)
- Bring a friend to keep you accountable.
- Plan a safety strategy with a loved one. For instance, if you’re feeling trapped at a party where you’re being pressured to drink, have a friend or family member ready to come and get you.
- Listen to your instincts. If your gut is saying “no,” then run the other way.
- Talk to someone. It’s easiest to pressure someone into doing something they don’t want to do if they’re isolated from a support group. This is why it’s important to talk to a spouse, parent, or therapist about any struggles you’re having with peer pressure.
Mental Health Care in MA
Peer pressure can place a severe burden on one’s mental health and contribute to harmful behaviors like substance abuse. For those who have been impacted by either of these struggles, our Massachusetts treatment center is here to help. We offer residential mental health care as well as various psychotherapy programs to aid clients in achieving a sober and fulfilling life.