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Americans Trapped in High Stress Cycle, What Can Be Done?


About 75 percent of Americans say they experience stress they feel is unhealthy, and many say they have no opportunity to break out of the high stress cycle to improve their lives. These and other findings in the new American Psychological Association (APA) study, "Stress in America 2010," leave millions of Americans wondering, what can they do to break the stress cycle?

Americans need ways to break the stress cycle

The information about Americans’ stress levels come from the APA’s online survey of 1,134 adults ages 18 and older, including 100 adults who were parents of children ages 8 to 17. The APA also surveyed another 937 adult parents, and also included the results of another online survey from 1,136 young people ages 8 to 17.

The new study reveals disturbing findings, but they are likely little surprise to the tweens, adolescents, and adults who are experiencing stress and the emotions and feelings that accompany it. Among the many findings, anger or irritability was reported by 45 percent; fatigue, 41 percent, lack of interest or energy, 38 percent; nervousness or anxiety, 36 percent; headache, 36 percent; depression or sadness, 34 percent; and wanting to cry, 30 percent.

While the APA warns that chronic stress can lead to serious physical and emotional consequences for individuals and their family members, and especially the impact parents’ stress has on their children, people also feel unable to make the necessary changes to reduce their stress levels.

In a previous study from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it was reported that of the 24.3 million adults who had serious psychological distress in 2006, only 44.6 percent sought treatment. Thus while mental health problems affect nearly 10 percent of adults, less than half receive services that could improve their quality of life.

One reason people may feel helpless in improving their stress level is related to our health care system. According to Norman B. Anderson, PhD, the APA’s chief executive officer and executive vice president, individuals report that “they have difficulty implementing the changes they know will decrease their stress and improve their health. Yet, our health care system is not adequately addressing this issue or providing the behavioral health treatments that can help Americans.”

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Among the younger respondents, being overweight or obese was a big factor in their stress levels, as was their parents’ stress levels. Thirty-one percent of overweight/obese children say they worry a great deal compared with 14 percent of normal weight children. Thirty-nine percent of overweight/obese children say their parents are often or always stressed out, compared with 30 percent of normal weight kids.

A slide presentation of the APA’s report, “Stress in America 2010,” can be seen online, including statistics on the impact of stress on children and families. But given that the report also says the health care system is not addressing this problem adequately, and people feel unable to reduce their stress, what can be done?

The report does offer stress reduction tips under “Healthy Family Home”: eat healthy, play every day, get together, go outside, and sleep well. These are all suggestions that have met with success. However, individuals may need to seek additional ways to deal with stress.

For example, studies show that thinking about God or spiritual matters can help reduce stress. A University of Toronto Scarborough study found that when people think about God and religion, their brains respond in ways that allows them to react with less distress.

Participating in mind-body relaxation techniques, including mindfulness meditation, visualization, yoga, and tai chi, have been shown to be helpful and are activities people can do at home. Foods high in antioxidants, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts, rather than chips and ice cream, can help your body better deal with stress (although no food should be consumed to excess).

Given the current economic climate, it is likely that many people will continue to feel trapped in a high stress cycle unless they take action. The realization that stress is a problem many people share can be used to bring like-minded stressed individuals together to find ways to cope with this challenge.

American Psychological Association