Extreme Stress Taking a Toll on Health, Relationships, and Work, Survey Shows
By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Medical News
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
Oct. 25, 2007 -- Nearly a third of U.S. adults report "extreme stress" in a new survey from the American Psychological Association.
The results include:
- 32% report extreme stress
- Nearly one in five (17%) reach their highest stress level 15 or more days per month.
- Almost half (48%) say their stress level has risen over the last five years.
Stress didn't come as a surprise. Most participants indicated that stress is a natural part of life.
But the survey shows that participants are suffering physically, emotionally, professionally, and personally as a result of stress.
Stress and Health
Most participants -- 82% -- say they manage their stress well. But they also admit that stress causes problems with their physical and mental health, relationships, and work.
More than three out of four participants -- 77% -- said that within the previous month, they had had physical problems due to stress.
Those problems included fatigue, headache, upset stomach, muscle tension, change in appetite, teeth grinding, change in sex drive, and feeling dizzy.
Almost as many participants -- 73% -- reported stress-related psychological symptoms in the previous month, including irritability, anger, nervousness, lack of energy, and feeling on the verge of tears.
Losing Sleep, Eating Badly
Stress kept nearly half of participants -- 48% -- awake at night during the previous month. They reported losing 21 hours of sleep during that month.
Almost half of participants -- 43% -- said they had overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods because of stress in the previous month. Candy and chocolate were their most popular comfort foods.
Two-thirds of smokers said they smoked more when they were stressed, and 17% of drinkers said they drank too much within the previous week because of stress.
Sources of Stress
Work stress and money stress were common. Almost three-quarters of participants noted those stressors, up from 59% last year.
Housing costs (rent or mortgage) stressed about half of the participants (51%).
Here's how the stressors ranked. Participants could pick more than one source of stress.
- Work: 74%
- Money: 73%
- Workload: 66%
- Children: 64%
- Family responsibilities: 60%
- Health concerns: 55%
- Health problems affecting spouse, partner, or children: 55%
- Health problems affecting parents or other family members: 53%
- Housing costs (e.g. rent or mortgage): 51%
- Intimate relationships: 47%
Women, middle-aged adults, single adults, teachers, health care workers, people on the East and West Coasts, and people with low incomes were more likely than others to report extreme stress.
The online poll, conducted by Harris Interactive in late August and early September, included 1,848 adults. It has a 2% margin of error.
Stress Management Tips
Nearly seven out of 10 participants indicated that a mental health professional could help with stress management, but only 7% said they've sought such help to manage their stress.
The American Psychological Association provides these stress management tips:
- Understand how you experience stress. Everyone is different. How does stress affect you?
- Identify your sources of stress. What events or situations stress you out?
- Learn your own stress signals. For instance, you might get irritable, lose energy, have trouble concentrating, get headaches, or feel muscle tension when you're stressed.
- Recognize how you deal with stress. Are you making unhealthy choices because of stress?
- Find healthy ways to manage stress. Examples include exercise, meditation, or talking things out with friends or family.
- Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and engage in regular physical activity.
- Reach out for support. Accept help from supportive friends and family. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist for pointers on managing stress and changing unhealthy behaviors.