Stress in America

We Americans are very stressed right now.

I came upon a press release today and after reading it I got my hands on the report itself. After reading that, I knew I had to share it with you.

What are we stressed about?

A survey taken in 2019 was just published by the American Psychological Association (APA). It shows what we Americans are most stressed about. Here are the stressors in ranked order.

  • Mass shootings (71%)
  • Health care (69%)
  • Violence and crime (64%)
  • Acts of terrorism (60%)
  • Climate change (56%)
  • The 2020 presidential election (56%)
  • Immigration (48%)
  • Abortion (44%)
  • Discrimination (25%)

Fifty-six percent (56%) agree that this is the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember in their lives.

What is stress?

A problem with this survey is that it doesn’t define “stress.” We all think we know what it is, but there is no established clinical definition. For our purposes, we’ll say that it’s a feeling of strain and pressure that’s present much of the time. A feeling of tension that can be felt in the body.

Stress is a reaction to a situation over which you feel like you have no control. Perhaps you’d like to do something, but you don’t know what to do.

Healthy stress or healthy anxiety is motivating and fuels performance. They also enable personal growth to happen.

Acute versus chronic stress

The feeling of stress can be either acute or chronic. Acute stress usually occurs in response to a short-term stressor or a one-time event like a car accident or an argument with your spouse. Acute stress can be very disruptive, but it passes and typically responds to coping techniques like controlled breathing or physical activity.

Chronic stress occurs when stressors don’t let up. They persist over a period of time. Because people respond differently to stressful circumstances, a situation that one person might find tolerable can become a source of chronic stress for another.

Although the survey doesn’t say it, I believe people who responded to the survey are dealing with chronic stress.

How does stress affect you?

Chronic stress will wear you out and wear you down. It has many negative effects including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Less effective immune system
  • Sleep disruption and insomnia
  • Undereating or overeating
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and low mood
  • Less patience and more hostility
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems

What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

There is a definite overlap between stress and anxiety and there is a fine line between the two. Stress tends to come from more external sources, while anxiety is more internally generated.

Anxiety is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. Anxiety leads to a very similar set of symptoms as stress: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension and irritability.

How in the world do we cope with all of these problems?

None of the stressors mentioned in the survey will go away soon. However, there are coping tactics that work and will help you. Therefore, it’s very important that you take action now to reduce and minimize your stress. There are many things you can do including:

  • Regular exercise, preferably outdoors.
  • Reduce your news consumption or change news outlets.
  • Reduce your screen time with your phone, computer and TV
  • Get enough deep, non-REM sleep.
  • Eat healthier by cutting back on processed food and sugar.
  • Practice mindfulness – focus your attention on the present without judgement.
  • Take three minutes each day and tell yourself what you’re grateful for.
  • Practice controlled breathing for one minute.
  • Connect with healthy friends and family.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Practice self-compassion.
  • Write in a journal about your stressors.
  • Do what makes you feel good, such as reading or listening to music.

We also need more emotional support.

Many Americans are feeling above average levels of stress than they feel is healthy. In addition, those adults think they need more emotional support. Most adults (59%) say they could have used more emotional support than they received in the past year. This marks the highest percentage of adults who indicate this since APA first asked this question in 2014.

If stress is interfering with your life, counseling can help. Please give me a call for a free consultation.