Nearly half of the Americans report having a seriously stressful event in the past year. But how, exactly, does that stress affect the general population, and how do people deal with high levels of it?
A new study from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health attempts to tackle the issue. The groups surveyed 2,505 Americans to look at how stress affects different aspects of their lives. Here are seven of the most telling findings from the report.
1) Health-related problems topped major stressful events in the past year
The biggest causes of stress seem to be health-related: illness, disease, and the death of a loved one. Lower down the list are life changes and transitions, such as moving to a new neighborhood, city, or state, or problems with personal relationships, like separation with a significant other or divorce.
2) Americans with poor health conditions report much more stress
Nearly three-fourths of Americans report having some stress in the past month, with 26 percent citing a great deal of stress. People in poor health are more than twice as likely as the general public to report a great deal of stress in the past month. This isn't necessarily brought on by the direct health effects of a disease, since health problems can also lead to financial problems and separate issues with work, family, or friends. Those separate problems — finances, work, and family — seem to be major drivers of stress in their own right as well.
3) Americans blamed their stress on too many responsibilities, finances, and work problems
Most of the common contributors to stress are no surprise. Of course, too many responsibilities can overwhelm someone and cause stress. Problems with finances, work, and health are other stressful events that a lot of people can relate to and experience themselves. Down the list, however, is one contributor to stress that's entirely subjective: being unhappy with the way one looks.
4) The top daily causes of stress: family schedules, politics, and the news
When Americans with a great deal of stress are asked to name the most common daily causes of it, nearly half cite juggling schedules of family members. Two non-personal aspects of one's life — hearing about politicians and government and following the news — are also major contributors, which suggests a large amount of stressed Americans are involved with current events on a day-to-day basis.
5) Stressed Americans say their stress affected their family life and health
Stress can be of a self-perpetuating cycle. When Americans get stressed, they report detrimental effects on their family life, health, work life, and social life with friends. Those issues — family, health, and work in particular — are major causes of stress, so the fact stress makes those issues worse can, presumably, lead to a cyclical effect.
6) Americans tend to sleep, eat, and exercise less when they're stressed
As a result of stress, people report sleeping less (and more), eating less, exercising less, praying more, and having less sex. But adequate sleep, exercise, and even sex are proven ways to reduce stress for some people. So by doing less of these things, Americans might be making their stress even worse.
7) Family time and prayer help Americans cope with stress
In response to a great deal of stress, most people try to spend time with family and friends, meditate and pray, spend time outdoors, or eat healthfully. But as the study points out, more than half of respondents don't take certain steps recommended by experts — regularly exercising, getting a full night's sleep — to reduce stress.
It seems the major contributors to stress are largely what one would expect: health issues, finances, and family problems. There are also some less-cited causes, like the impact of current events and body image issues. It seems, however, that Americans might be coping with these factors in the wrong way — and that could be leading to a more stressed country overall.