Stress Levels on the Rise
Have you been feeling a little extra stressed lately? Maybe more short tempered than usual, or worrying about all sorts of things more frequently? Stress can manifest itself in many ways, and it seems at the moment to be overwhelming more and more of us. And a new report offers evidence that, yes indeed, in the United States, stress levels among adults have definitely increased in recent months.
The survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association, found that Americans are reporting more stress in their lives as of January compared to how they felt as recently as August of 2016.1 Based on a 10-point scale to describe their level of stress, the average rate among participants jumped from 4.8 to 5.1. That may not seem enormous but to put it in perspective, the APA has been performing these polls for 10 years, and this is the first time there has been a marked increase of this kind.
What’s causing this upswing that’s pervasive enough to affect people across the country? As you may have already guessed, much of it has to do with politics. But it’s not just the voters whose candidate was unsuccessful in a bid for the White House this past November who are feeling it; people of all political stripes are saying their stress levels are up. Among participants identifying as Democrats, 76 percent reported feeling stress about the future of the country, and Republicans were not far behind at 59 percent.
Worries also appear to be on the rise regarding a range of specific issues including terrorism and the potential for minorities to be subjected to police violence. Another topic that has people concerned is personal safety, and stress over this rose from 29 percent in August to 34 percent in January, which is the highest it has ever been in the history of this survey.
Where you live may influence your level of stress too. Rural residents don’t seem to be feeling nearly as stressed as their counterparts in more urban areas. Only 33 percent of those living in the country reported feeling very or somewhat stressed about the political climate in the U.S. In contrast, that rose to 45 percent among suburbanites and a whopping 62 percent among people living in cities.
Of course our 24/7 news feeds have resulted in a media that always needs to generate new stories, which contributes greatly to the stressnot to mention, negativity and anxiety--that have become so prevalent lately. In fact, a 2013 student at the University of California, Irvine found that people who watched extensive coverage of a traumatic event on TV experienced more stress than those who were in the vicinity of the event.2 Once upon a time, we read the paper in the morning and saw some headlines of concern. Now, however, we’re bombarded with this information almost every time we turn on the television, go on the Internet, or even just check our social media updates. It’s important to be informed, but no one needs to hear every detail of every situation literally all day long.
If you are starting to experience stress over things like politics and events in the world that are really out of your control, it’s important to take a breather at some point every day. Go for a walk, run, or bike ride, but leave your phone at home. Not only will you be avoiding the latest headlines, but you will clear your mind with exercise. And working out has the added benefit of lowering your stress levels and improving your mood.
Other de-stressing techniques can work wonders too. Join a yoga class, take up meditation, or go for massages to work those knots out of your muscles. Even curling up with a good book can take your mind off your worries as you get lost in the storyline. Watching a stressful zombie movie on TV, however, won’t. The point is to find one or more outlets that will effectively lower your stress and help you avoid the chronic problems that so often develop from that stress when it becomes a long-term issue.
- 1. "Stress in America." American Psychological Association. 15 February 2017. Accessed 21 February 2017. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index.aspx.
- 2. Holman, E. Alison; et al. "Media's role in broadcasting acute stress following the Boston Marathon bombings." PNAS. 7 January 2014. Accessed 22 February 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890785/.