In a new survey by the American Psychologial Association, nearly 75 percent of Americans say they are stressed to the max. And experts say the 2010 Stress in America survey points to a looming national health crisis. Among the respondents' top concerns: money (76 percent), work (70 percent) and the economy (65 percent).
Mignon Veasley-Fields is a former school administrator. She has been out of work, and unable to find another job long enough, that her unemployment benefits have run out.
"We are losing everything," she says, her voice trembling with emotion. "I bought my home because I wanted my grandchildren to be in my home. Now, I may lose it because I have no money."
The stress is debilitating. And she is far from alone. For three years in a row, worries about jobs, mortgages, money, and how to pay the bills have been top stress factors for many American families. The stress is so pervasive the APA has concerns about the long term impact it will have on the physical and emotional health of the country.
The APA survey shows that "Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they manage stress in unhealthy ways and lack of willpower and time constraints impede their ability to make lifestyle or behavioral changes."
That downward spiral is evident in the fearful voice of another unemployed woman who says, "This is a big worry. I have bills to pay, home, gas, lights. I have a daughter at home."
The association's CEO, psychologist Norman B. Anderson says, "America is at a crossroads when it comes to stress and our health."
The survey finds that nearly 3-in-4 respondents say they continue to be stressed to the max, to levels that are unhealthy and which could put them "at risk for developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and depression." The survey also finds that fewer adults, even those who do have jobs, feel satisfied with the balance between work and life outside the office or factory. In other words, the stress they may feel at work about job security or cutbacks goes home with them.
But many stressed-out Americans apparently underestimate or are in denial about the effect it has on their families, especially their children. The APA calls that "a troublesome trend" which could have even deeper health implications.
A third of parents in the survey call the stress they feel "extreme." Yet most parents of teens and sub-teens say those pressures have slight or no impact on their children. Most kids know better, even if they are not clear why their parents act the way they do. The survey says "only 14 per cent of children report that their parent's stress does not bother them." A third said they know their parents are stressed-out "when they yell."
The APA's Dr. Anderson said, "All of us, including the medical community, need to take stress seriously since stress could easily become our next public health crisis."
The 2010 Stress in America Survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive among 1,134 adults in the US.