I received a call from a distressed mother last week asking if her whole family could come to see me. “I’m really worried,” she explained. “Every one of us in the family is completely stressed out, and we need to find out how to cope better.”
I am used to getting calls when someone is suffering from any of a number of symptoms-illness and loss, depression and anxiety, addictions, behavioral problems in children and teens, communication breakdowns in couples–but these days more and more calls simply describe unmanageable stress as the presenting problem. What is going on?
If you answered a resounding yes to most of these questions, you are certainly not alone. Recent studies not only in America but across the world indicate that far too many people are suffering from the excessive demands of modern life. Stressed to the limit with no end in sight.
Stress has been studied since the 1950’s by medical doctors as well as psychologists and social scientists. Whenever circumstances put more physical or psychological demands on an individual than that person can handle, stress is the inevitable response. When pressures mount up, the body’s natural fight or flight mechanism goes into high gear.
Stress is most likely to occur whenever the demands put on us are intense, the amount of control we feel over the demands is low and the support we need is unavailable or limited. For many adults all over the world, this formula is part of daily life and stress becomes a constant companion.
The American Psychological Association has been looking at reported levels of stress in America since 2007. The average adult gives themselves a score of 5.1 on a scale of 10. Not too bad until you hear that 42% report stress increasing, and that most believe that closer to a score of 3 would be healthy. The sources of stress are what you might expect. Money and work top the list.
Even though most agree that stress management is important, few set aside the time they need to manage stress, and when they do, 62% of adults use screen time to manage stress. That means they surf the net or go online, watch two or more hours of TV or movies daily, play video games, and visit social media sites. That doesn’t sound very relaxing to me.
However the news of the day was that our teenagers are even more stressed out than the adults are. “We assumed that teens experience stress, but what was surprising was that it was so high compared to adults,” said Norman Anderson, chief executive of the APA. “In adulthood there are work pressures, family pressures and economic pressures, but adolescents still reported higher levels of stress.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled the global impact of all forms of stress (work-related stress, home stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder) as a “silent epidemic”. In their research, called the Global Burden of Disease Survey, it is estimated that by the year 2020, depression and anxiety disorders, including stress-related mental health conditions, will be second only to heart disease in the breadth of the disabilities they will include.
Not only does stress make family life miserable, it costs a great deal economically as well–work days lost, a heavy use of medical services, higher levels of impairment of employees, diminished productivity and job satisfaction. Disabilities from stress are as significant as those caused by workplace accidents or common medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis.
Almost every study shows that women are even more stressed out than men. This was even true in the APA study of American teenagers reported above.
It is only conjecture whether women and girls are more sensitive to the effects of stress and pressure, are better self-reporters, or indeed suffer more than boys or men in the same environment. Or perhaps when it comes to adult women, they are stressed by the multiple demands placed on them, caring for children or aging parents, at the same time as doing jobs outside the home.
It goes without saying that women in parts of the world lacking food and clean water are subjected to levels of stress unfathomable to the average American. But how does America compare to other developed countries around the globe?
The Nielsen Women of Tomorrow Study surveyed 6500 women in 21 countries in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa and North America, a sample representative of 60% of the world’s population and nearly 80% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). What they found was that women living in countries with emerging economies (like India, Mexico or Russia) are even more stressed than those of us in developed economies (like France, USA, or Italy).
Now you know that you are not alone. Stress has become an embedded feature in our modern world. Is there anything we can do about it? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for my next blog to find out how….
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Last reviewed: 17 Mar 2014