Stress In America – How to Deal with it Effectively
The American Psychological Association just released the results of its annual stress survey for 2014. This comprehensive study of stress in America has some serious implications for our health and happiness. Although self-reported stress levels in many categories are lower than in 2013, the overall picture is still less than positive.
Here I will simply review some of the more important points.
The rank order of sources of stress existing for Americans looks like this: money, work, significant relationships, family health, family responsibilities, housing costs, job stability, personal health, and personal safety. Note the important role of money, work and jobs! The top four sources of stress for most people were money concerns (64%), work concerns (60%), family concerns (47%), and health concerns (46%). Up to 72% noted that they worried about money some of the time. Women, especially with child rearing responsibility, experienced slightly more stress than men did. Parents reported that when they were stressed they ate too much or ate junk food (43%), while some skipped a meal (37%). Given these lists, it is no surprise that only 38% of Americans noted that their health was good to excellent.
When annual family income was below $50,000, self-reported stress levels increased. In this group self-medicative solutions were more common. These people reported that when stressed they surfed the internet (58%), watched TV (53%), went to sleep (42%), ate more (38%), smoked (25%), and drank alcohol (20%). Millennials (ages 18-35) experienced more stress than other groups, and lacked adequate emotional support. The self-medicative reactions to stress have serious implications for both psychological and physical health. Stress may lead to unhelpful levels of anxiety, depression, substance use, eating problems , and obesity. Chronic stress often leads to deterioration in physical health and complications in existing medical conditions. The human brain, body, and immune system have problems when bombarded with continued stressors. Americans in the non-self-medicating categories responded to stress by listening to music, exercising, reading, socializing, praying and working on hobbies. Much better choices!
So what should people do to deal more effectively with their personal stress level?
Here is a helpful list.
Remember your level of stress is usually based NOT on the actual stressor but how you respond or react to it. Take better control over your emotional reactions, and use more helpful thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to respond with more calmness.
Respond to stress how people did in the non-self-medicating group noted above (music, exercise, read, socialize, pray, and enjoy hobbies.).
Increase social and emotional support to/from co-workers and to/from family and friends. Learn how to PRACTICE mindfulness and self-compassion skills when facing acute and chronic stressors.
More helpful responses to stress will occur when you practice these skills on a daily basis whether or not you feel stressed. Know that ample research supports the effectiveness of mindfulness and compassion skills in reducing your reactivity to stressors. Your emotional health will also improve. The more you practice, the more your brain goes on autopilot in the behaviors you choose. If you react in negative ways OR if you respond in more “wise mind” ways (enlightened), your brain will change over time. The habits you develop will occur more and more easily. So, be certain to select mindfulness, self-calming, and compassion over negative emotional reactivity. Your choices will determine how well you do in stressful situations. If you are already experiencing anxiety and/or depression, be certain to learn and use mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy skills. These two approached, above all others, have been shown to improve personal responses to stressors and associated moods. If you do not know these skills, see a competent therapist who knows how to do these skills. Learn from her/him. BIG Hint – If your therapist spends more time talking and less time doing helpful skills with you in sessions, you may need to find another therapist (too much talk – not enough skill-building). And, if your therapist is overly concerned about how you emotionally interact with them, you may need to find another therapist (too much psychodynamics, not enough skill-building). Learn about and practice daily loving kindness meditation and daily gratitude awareness. Loving kindness gentles your mind toward yourself and others, and gratitude gently reminds you of what you DO HAVE to be thankful for. Be kind and appreciative to yourself and others. Lastly, and I mean this, LOVE yourself just a bit more. STOP being stuck on your” less-than” parts of self! You are human; you have weaknesses. And, you are human: you have strengths. Use the strengths!
May you be safe and healthy. May you be happy and unstressed. May you change for the better by practicing daily mindfulness and compassion skills.
Refer to Stress in America: Paying With Our Health. (2015). Washington, DC: The American Psychological Association. See also The American Psychological Association. (March, 2015). Monitor on Psychology. 46(3), 50-55.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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