Monday, February 11, 2013

Stress in America: Where do you fit?

Recently the American Psychological Association (APA) released the findings of their annual nationwide Stress in America survey. The Stress in America survey has been released since 2007 as part of the APA’s  Mind/Body Health campaign.  The Stress in America survey measures attitudes and perceptions of stress among the general public and identifies leading sources of stress, common behaviors used to manage stress and the impact of stress on our lives. 

According to the survey, almost three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents say that their stress level has increased or stayed the same over the past five years and 80 percent say their stress level has increased or stayed the same in the past year. Only 20 percent said their stress level has decreased in the past year. 

Some of the most common sources of stress included money (69 percent), work (65 percent), the economy (61 percent), family responsibilities (57 percent), relationships (56 percent), family health problems (52 percent) and personal health concerns (51 percent). Given the level of stress experienced by American’s we need to continue to work towards strengthening our understanding of the connection between mental and physical health.

How does stress affect your overall health?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) identifies three different types of stress, all of which carry physical and mental health risks:
  • Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities.
  • Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.
  • Traumatic stress, experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where one may be seriously hurt or in danger of being killed.
The body responds to each type of stress in similar ways. Different people may feel it in different ways. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, and vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them. 
Ways to cope with stress
Previously, I published a blog on ways to cope with stress. Although not an exhaustive list it provided some simple strategies to cope with stress. The NIMH also provides the following tips:
  • Seek help from a qualified mental health care provider if you are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, have suicidal thoughts, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope.
  • Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
  • Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work burdens or family issues, such as caring for a loved one.
  • Recognize signs of your body's response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Set priorities-decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
  • Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems. If you can't do this on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you.
  • Exercise regularly-just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress.
  • Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities.
  • Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises.
In addition to uses these strategies, it may also be helpful to seek professional help if you feel that you are extremely overwhelmed by life circumstances. The APA provides a free tool to locate psychologist in your area. You can also contact your local state psychological association for resources to help locate a therapist.

Copyright 2013 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.

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