One Nation Under Stress?>
Health News

One Nation Under Stress

by Jamie Kopf  

What is most stressing you out these days? If mass shootings, health care, and politics top your list, you have a lot of company. These were the primary sources of stress cited by U.S. adults in the American Psychological Association’s most recent Stress in America survey, released in November 2019. And while overall stress levels have stayed relatively stable over the past few years, the proportion of adults who reported stress about certain issues has risen substantially since 2018.

The online survey—done every year since 2007—was conducted over a month in the summer of 2019 by the Harris Poll and included 3,617 adults ages 18 and older. Seventy-one percent identified mass shootings as a significant cause of stress, an increase from 62 percent in 2018. Next up, 69 percent and 62 percent identified health care and the country’s political climate, respectively, as major stress sources. Stress related to health care issues varied by age and racial or ethnic group, with younger people (ages 18 to 40) more likely to report significant stress over whether they would be able to pay for or access health care in the future compared to older people.

The percentage of respondents who re­­ported stress over climate change rose from 51 percent in 2018 to 56 percent in 2019. But there was also much variance among racial and ethnic groups, with 70 percent of Hispanic adults, 62 percent of Asian adults, and 61 percent of black adults identifying it as a significant source of stress, compared to just over half of white adults.

In contrast, the percentage of people citing the economy as a significant source of stress continued to decline in 2019 (46 percent, compared to nearly 70 percent back in 2008). One thing that hasn’t changed since last year’s survey: Respondents reported a higher overall stress level (about a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10) than what they consider healthy (about a 4).

Of note, another survey, published in PLOS ONE in September 2019, found that the stress of politics alone is making many Americans physically and emotionally sick and affecting relationships.

What to do

We live in turbulent times with much that’s out of our immediate control. But given that stress plays a role in so many illnesses, these recent survey findings underscore the importance of taking steps to bolster your physical and psychological health as much as you can, and perhaps now more than ever—notably by eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining social interactions (that don’t stress you out further), and getting adequate sleep. It’s also essential to seek emotional support when you need it, either from friends or family members or, if warranted, from a mental health professional.

This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.

Also see Are You Stressed Out?