Good News About Stress In America

Good News You Can Use

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 The APA released their annual report on stress in America (titled, unsurprisingly, Stress In America), which polled 3068 adults online between August 4th and 28th, 2014, and there was some bad news, including the fact that there is a widening stress gap linked to those with less money and those with more, between women and men, and between parents and non-parents, among others.

Luckily, there was good news, too!

 And the good news about stress can help us all with better stress management in the future. Here were some of the more interesting findings:

We're Feeling Less Stressed Overall

One of the most positive findings of the report was that people rated their stress levels lower this year than they did last year. On average, Americans rate their stress level as 4.9 on a 10-point scale, where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” down from 6.2 in 2007. (Interestingly, when asked if their stress levels have decreased, only 18 percent of respondents say their stress has decreased in the past year. In fact, 53 percent report that their stress levels have stayed the same, and a full 29 percent report an increase in stress this year. So perhaps even if people don't realize it, they are feeling less stressed than they have in the past. That's good news! And people often see what they look for, so if you consciously look for signs of less stress, ways in which you're better off this year than last, and things for which you are grateful in your life, you'll likely feel even more of a relief.

(Read about the benefits of optimism, gratitude, and positive psychology to learn more about why this works.)

Many People Report Relief From Stress Using Emotional Support

Here is one of my favorite findings: "Americans who say they have emotional support — specifically, that they have someone they can ask for emotional support if they need it, such as family and friends — report lower stress levels and better related outcomes than those without emotional support." This shows what research has already found--that emotional support works, and it works well!

There are many things we can do to increase the emotional support that we give and receive, and roughly 75% of parents and millennials--people who feel more stressed and isolated than many other groups--still report having adequate social support in their lives. Just talking to a supportive friend about problems can be greatly beneficial in terms of stress relief, and therapy can be very effective as well, particularly for those who do not have the social support they need. The fact that this works, and that people know it works, is very good news.

There Is Room For Improvement

There are a few signs that we have some unexplored options for stress relief that can work really well. For one thing, the study found that one in five (20%) of Americans never engage in activities to relieve or manage their stress. Forty-two percent report that they don't do so enough. (Men are more likely than women to forgo stress management techniques.) And the most popular stress management techniques include listening to music (44 percent), exercising/walking (43 percent), watching television for more than two hours per day (40 percent) and surfing the Internet/going online (38 percent).

This is actually an unused opportunity for those watching t.v. or going online--there are more effective and less effective ways to manage stress with these activities, and adding just a little music, exercise, or emotional support can make a big difference as well.

What This Means For You

Getting a clear look at how people are experiencing stress can help us all. It lets us know what's working and where change can be most effectively made. Here are my top takeaways from this report:

  • Many of us are experiencing less stress this year. Noticing and capitalizing on our resources, as always, can bring us more resilience toward stress, which can lower stress levels even more.
  • Emotional support works! Don't forget the important people in your life and maintain the people skills you need to use to keep your relationships healthy, and you'll feel less stressed overall. If you have a lack of support, focusing on finding more good friends and enlarging your circle can help as well.
  • There are many effective stress management techniques that work well, and research supports this! If you have a plan, a little tweaking can bring even more benefits. And if you don't have a stress management plan, or at least one habit you maintain to specifically develop resilience toward stress, now is the time to look at what might work for you, and make it part of your life.

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