Stress in America: Results of a New Survey
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Are you stressed out?
According to the just released 2015 Stress in AmericaTM survey—an annual online survey of 3,360 men and women aged 18 and older—more than one-third of adults (34 percent) report that their stress increased slightly over the last two years (5.1 in 2015 and 4.9 in 2014 on a 10-point scale, where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is a “great deal of stress”). The survey also finds that adults are more likely than in past years to report experiencing extreme stress (a rating of 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale). Compared to 18 percent of people reporting extreme stress in 2014, even more adults—24 percent of them—currently report extreme stress.
So, what exactly is stressing us out? Since 2007, the survey has found that money and work are consistently the top two sources of significant stress (67 percent and 65 percent in 2015, respectively). But for the first time, another source of stress—family responsibilities—rank third as the most common stressor (54 percent). Other stressors include personal health concerns (51 percent), health problems affecting the family (50 percent), and the economy (50 percent).
Although most of the 2015 report focuses on the impact of unfair treatment or discrimination—being unfairly questioned or threatened by police, being fired or passed over for a promotion or treated unfairly when receiving health care—I thought I’d tease out the impact stress has on our food, fitness and lifestyle habits no matter what the cause(s).
Here’s what I found:
*39 percent (2/5) of adults report overeating or eating unhealthy foods in the past month due to stress vs. 33 percent in 2014.
*31 percent of adults admit to skipping a meal in the past month due to stress vs 24 percent in 2014.
*Many adult lack exercise and remain sedentary for much of the day; although half of adults report engaging in exercise or physical activity that makes them sweat or breathe hard at least a few times a week, 22 percent report never exercising or doing such physical activity.
*Adults spend an average of 6.4 hours daily in sedentary activities—sitting or lying without much movement—including time spent at a desk, watching tv or on a computer; 45 percent of adults report doing so for 6 to 12+ hours daily.
*Adults are more likely to report changes in sleeping habits (33 percent vs. 27 percent in 2014).
*While adults report sleeping an average of 6.7. hours a night, just 33 percent report their sleep quality as good vs. 37 percent in 2014.
*Nearly half of adults (46 percent) report fair or poor sleep quality, an increase from 41 percent in 2014.
*Nearly half of adults (46 percent) report lying awake at night due to stress in the past month, up from 42 percent in 2014.
*More than 10 percent of adults also report having a mental health-related diagnosis e.g. depression (16 percent vs. 12% in 2014) and anxiety disorder (13 percent vs. 9 percent in 2014).
*Compared with last year, the survey finds that significantly higher percentages of adults report that stress impacts their physical and mental health-related symptoms e.g. headaches or feeling anxious or depressed.
* Adults are more likely to report changes in symptoms of stress e.g. headaches (32 percent vs. 27 percent in 2014), and an inability to concentrate (27 percent vs. 23 percent in 2014) due to stress in the past month.
As for managing stress, the survey shows that while many adults feel they are doing enough to manage stress (63 percent vs. 58 percent in 2014), about 1 in 5 consistently say they’re not doing enough to manage their stress. Nearly half of adults do, however, engage in active methods e.g. exercising or walking, meditation or yoga, and playing sports to manage stress. The six most common stress relief activities include:
-Listening to music (46 percent)
-Exercising or walking (43 percent)
-Surfing the internet/going online (40 percent)
-Watching tv or movies for more than 2 hours daily (39 percent)
-Reading (35 percent)
-Spending time with family (35 percent)
Despite adults’ stress relief efforts, about one in five men and one in five women surveyed feel like they are don’t do enough to manage stress.
Although stress impacts health and well-being, learning to minimize and manage it in a healthy, productive way isn’t easy—but it is vital for more reasons than one. But there’s no one-size-fits-all way to manage stress, and each of us has to find what works for us.
If you have stress that you know gets in the the way of your life—your work, your relationships, your general health or well-being—it’s prudent to consider working with a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional. To find one near you, visit the APA website. (You’ll also find great articles on tackling stress on the APA website.) Joining (and actually going to) a gym or taking a regular fitness class or setting a fitness goal can also help.
Following the near death of my mother two years ago, I’ve been on a mission to minimize stress and maximize joy in my life. I do this by staying active and usually exercise after breakfast each day. I especially love to walk, mostly outside with or without music or with a friend. Staying active helps me stay strong and fit, and I love seeing other active people on foot or bikes enjoy their time outside.
I have also found that reading books, especially fiction (mostly young adult), can easily take me out of any bad mood. Sometimes I even read while hula hooping!
I also cope with stress by removing myself from the stressful situation, whether at home or online. I think about the stressor and often decide to opt out and go to another room or another place and put on some music (usually 80s). I also find it helpful to reach out to a friend who I know is always on call to indulge me in a short pity party. Watching a funny video or recounting a funny time and laughing also helps.
Though it’s not always easy, I really try to not “sweat the small stuff” (thanks, Richard Carlson). Because really, when you think about it, much of what we stress about is small.
Because stress is so tied to our physical and mental health and well-being, when we or those we love experience big life stressors e.g. death or diagnoses or disabilities, it’s more important than ever for us to care for ourselves even more. At the end of the day, without self care, none of us will be in a good place to best care for those we love.
*The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA).
How do you cope with stress?
You can read the full Stress in America Survey here. Here are links to some writing I’ve done on stress management, a topic close to my heart:
Younger Next Week (Harlequin Nonfiction, 1/2014)—despite the title, my book is a stress management guide for midlife women.
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