Feeling Stressed? You’re Not Alone

It's easy to feel isolated when stress has bogged you down, but a study by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that you’re not alone. The APA’s annual “Stress in American” survey shows not only the pervasiveness of stress, but also its causes and it ways in which it affects us.

Money is the Top Stressor

Not surprisingly, money was the top stressor identified by the APA survey, with 72 percent of adults identifying it as a trigger at least some of the time and 22 percent reporting their financial stress as extreme. Finances have an overall effect on stress levels, too. People living in low income households reported high stress levels than their higher income counterparts.

Stress causes known health risks, but nine percent of the respondents said that money caused them to consider skipping a doctor visit, and 12 percent said they did skip getting health care because of their finances. Thirty-two percent reported that a lack of money impedes their ability to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Of course, finances weren’t the only common stressor faced by those in the study. Other worry-inducers include work, the overall economy, family responsibilities, and personal health issues.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Whether those are also your own top stressors or whether your peace of mind is shattered by other things, it’s important to recognize stress symptoms and get help if you need it. It’s also necessary to know the difference between “good stress” and the type that crosses over into a destructive force that batters your life and health.

According to WomensHealth.gov, stress is a good thing when it prepares you to face an immediate challenge. For example, when you’re crossing the street and a car whips around the corner and heads right for you, that sudden alertness and energy bursts helps you recognize the threat and get out of the way. The problems start when your stress is chronic, wearing you down over time.

As this WebPsychology article points out, stress is caused by both outside influences and our own minds. For example, if you hate your job or are in an abusive relationship, you’ve got outside stressors. An illness can cause internal stress, and you bring it on yourself if you worry excessively about things over which you have no control.

Symptoms Take a Heavy Toll

Long term stress causes unpleasant symptoms like eating too much or too little, feeling out of control, losing your temper easily, feeling fatigued, and not being able to concentrate or focus. Physical symptoms include headaches, back aches, sleep problems, skin disorders, an upset stomach, and general achiness. When you combine these affects, you see how badly stress affects a person’s quality of life.

If you let stress go unchecked, you raise your risk of physical problems like heart disease, stroke, gastrointestinal problems, and even cancer. Chronic stress impairs your immune system, hurting your ability to fight off infections and other illnesses.

Exploring Treatment Options

You can’t escape stress, since causes like work and family are all a part of life, but you can use your own stress management techniques or get help from a doctor or therapist. Exercise is a great way to fight stress, as is meditation. Schedule regular relaxation time to offset the stressful parts of your day. If you need outside assistance, many therapists use techniques like cognitive/behavioral therapy to help you change your thought process and keep stress in perspective. If you try these options and still have problems, talk to a psychiatrist about alternatives like anti-anxiety medication.

If you’d like to test your stress knowledge and stress management skills, WebPsychology offers this helpful quiz. Online stress management resources include MedlinePlus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Institute of Stress.