It may not be a double-blind study, but this poll of thousands of Americans conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health has some pretty damning – and alarming – evidence in store for us Americans:
We are stressed out.
Not just a little bit.
But to a frightening degree.
I feel two very strong, antithetical emotions when I look at this data. On one hand, I feel so much sorrow for all of us stuck in vicious stress cycles. I am saddened, and hurt, and I wish desperately I could make it all better. On the other hand, it’s kind of comforting to look at this data, and to know that I am not alone.
50 % of respondents reported a major stressful event in the past year.
More than 25 % reported being significantly stressed within the past month. When we combine these two statistics, we get the very real conclusion that many people are under significant chronic stress.
There are many fascinating graphs over at the NPR website. I recommend you check them out. They’re good for learning. For example, one piece of data I find particularly interesting, and quite funny, even, is this:
By age group, it’s the 20-somethings who are the most stressed out by having too much responsibility.
I guess it takes some time to adjust to, but I’d imagine having a spouse, children, aging parents to take care of, mortgages, and empoloyees… many of the responsibilities that come later on in adulthood, is a fair bit more pressing than what most people have going on in their twenties.
Like making sure to buy groceries over the weekend and showing up for work on Monday.
Not like I can do any hating, since I am a significantly stressed 20-something. I’d like to excuse myself, on the other hand, or at least get a giant tattoo on my forehead about it, because the vast majority of my stress comes from my heart/kidney issues, which give me palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia.
And I know, I know, I can’t judge anyway. Life as an adult is hard, and it hits you like a freight train when you first try to do it.
Regardless, the source of my stress – my health – brings up the most important and relevant factor for the PfW blog. Of all the respondents surveyed, those who suffer from disabilities or health conditions are the most likely to be stressed. As we would expect, those with health conditions score the highest in reporting stress from their own health conditions (80%). But they also report the highest amount of stress from nearly all other sources, too.
|Overall||Chronic illness||Disabled||In poor health|
|Too many responsibilities overall||54%||53%||53%||63%|
|Problems with finances||53%||58%||64%||69%|
|Own health problems||38%||51%||65%||80%|
|Family health problems||37%||46%||50%||58%|
|Problems with family members||32%||38%||37%||26%|
|Unhappy with the way you look||28%||38%||33%||46%|
|Problems with friends||15%||16%||19%||n/a|
|Changes in family situation||10%||11%||11%||10%|
|Problems with neighbors||7%||5%||7%||4%|
(The graphs are prettier at NPR – go look!)
The far left column is “overall.” The far right is “in poor health.” Taking a look at the above graph, then, we see that, overwhemlingly, those in poor health rank far above the average in just about every category of stress.
It’s not just our health conditions themselves that directly stress us out…
but our health conditions that make everything else stressful, too.
Now, you might ask: is there not a problem in the inference I am making between correlation and causation? Am I drawing a cause and effect relationship where there isn’t one? Perhaps it is a coincidence that people in poor health are more stressed by all stressors than other people. Perhaps people who have stressful situations also develop poor health! Perhaps people who don’t have their shit together just don’t have their shit together, in all categories.
Perhaps, I’d say. Perhaps that is possible.
One piece of data that might support the hypothesis that “just not having your shit together” is the fact that people who earn under $20,000/year also report much greater stress than those who earn more. Without much income, it’s much more likely you’ll eat an unhealthy diet, develop health conditions, and struggle to get the medical and nutritional support you need. It’s also much easier to lose your grip on everything without money. Financial stress bears on the ability to do just about everything in society today.
Nonetheless what these stats and questions all invariably demonstrate is that stress and poor health go hand in hand. If you’re stressed, you might get sick. If you’re sick, you’re almost definitely going to get stressed out by it.
And, if you’re sick, there’s a good chance other aspects of your life will become more challenging, too. Sometimes it’s harder to work. Sometimes it’s harder to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. Sometimes it’s plain old harder to deal, such that even small stressors end up feeling like monumental weights. Poor health very quickly leads to “not having your shit together” syndrome.
And boy, oh boy, do I ever know what that feels like.
The evidence is in for health and happiness, and damning.
Is there a takeaway message? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have done significant work to help people with health conditions feel better, which can help reduce stress.
My book PCOS Unlocked can help you take charge of a very stressful chronic hormonal condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Weight Loss Unlocked can help you to healthfully decrease fat if it is necessary for you.
And my bestseller Sexy By Nature can help you put it all together, understand your body and how it functions, how to love it and treat it well.
The best I know that I can personally do with it is have forgiveness for the anxiety I feel, and to move forward working on my health issues with patience, knowing that easier times in many regards are likely ahead.
(Statistically, they’ve just got to be.)
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This is all very revealing and thanks for writing. We should all be aware of the forces at work both within and around us. The truth is, though, that we are much less stressed than our ancestors of old were. I mean just imagine…
Prior to Agriculture, every day revolved around food; foraging, hunting, cooking, preserving, protecting. Every moment on edge prior to modern technology.
Then comes farming…well take some of that away. But still stressed about our own security more than anything (however, there may be something to be said for actually our unintentional method of dealing with said stress: working outside).
So one could argue for the present that we actually are not only LESS stressed than we’ve ever been, but that we deal with that stress less effectively. Personally, I expect stress to be a part of my life – not a huge part – as it plays a role in keeping me alert, aware and alive. I deal with that stress with mostly physical exertion, discipline and a good amount of working out or yoga.
** side note: a great book to deal with modern demands and actually control them vs worry is “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. A true gem. **
As for those of us (you?) stressed by everyday matters, the ONUS is on YOU to deal with that effectively. Stress is natural and helped us get this far…embrace it! Go forth and conquer. Make not your ancestors laugh, but proud. Good luck!