Stress is an unavoidable, and sometimes necessary, part of American life. But too much stress can be toxic—even disabling. And there’s a lot of toxic stress out there.
In fact, more than half of Americans have had a major stressful event or experience in the past year, with the most stressful experiences related to their health, according to a poll released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and conducted in conjunction with NPR and the Harvard School of Public Health.
What’s contributing to our stress? Too many overall responsibilities, financial problems, and health problems, whether our own or those of family members.
“Stress touches everyone. If we are going to build a culture of health in America, one big step we can take is recognizing the causes and effects not just of our own stress and the stress of those closest to us, but of others we encounter in our day-to-day lives. That recognition can go a long way in helping us create healthier environments,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the Wood Foundation’s president and CEO.
Everyone is affected by stress, but some groups are affected more than others. Over a quarter of respondents reported having a “great deal of stress” over the past month. Groups more likely to report a great deal of stress are disabled people, people who suffer from chronic illness, those who have low incomes, single parents, parents of teenagers, those who face dangerous situations in their jobs, and people in poor health.
When stress starts interfering with your ability to live a normal life for an extended period, it becomes even more dangerous. The longer the stress lasts, the worse it is for both one’s mind and body. Those affected might feel fatigued, unable to concentrate or irritable for no good reason. It can also make existing problems worse.
Adverse effects on emotional well-being commonly reported by those with a great deal of stress in the last month, followed by problems with sleep and difficulty in thinking, concentrating, and decision making. Half of those suffering with a great deal of stress as well as a chronic illness or disability say stress exacerbated their symptoms or made it harder for them to manage their disability or illness.
Stress also has a major impact in other spheres of people’s lives. More than 40 percent of those under a great deal of stress in the last month report that stress made it harder to get along with family members and prevented them from spending time with their loved ones. Nearly half of those who are employed and have experienced a great deal of stress in the last month say stress made it harder to take on extra responsibilities that could help advance their career.
Those who have recently experienced a great deal of stress tried to reduce their stress in many ways. More than nine in 10 say that regularly spending time outdoors or spending time on a hobby was effective. About seven in 10 said they regularly spent time with family and friends to reduce stress, while just under six in 10 say they regularly prayed or meditated, spent time outdoors or ate healthfully. However, less than half of respondents took steps to reduce their stress that are often recommended by experts, such as regularly exercising or regularly getting a full night’s sleep.