Mortgage, Terror Woes Figure Big Into Stress

Americans may be significantly more stressed than they were five years ago, and concerns over home mortgage rates could be a big part of the problem.

The American Psychological Association's (APA) 2007 Stress in America poll, released Wednesday, showed that nearly half of Americans -- 48 percent -- believe that their stress levels have increased during the past five years.

By its very nature, the survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive between Aug. 30 and Sept. 11, 2007, among 1,848 adults, may not carry the same scientific weight as some other methods of research.

But what was particularly interesting about the findings, said Dr. Beverly Thorn, president of the APA health psychology division and a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, is that more than half of respondents cited housing costs as a major source of stress, even when they were not necessarily prompted to mention such worries.

The mortgage rate roller coaster, combined with the decline in home values in some areas of the United States, has created a situation in which all homeowners may be impacted in one way or another -- either through rising mortgage payments or a loss of equity.

"We know that housing costs are going up," she said. "More importantly, it was reflected in people's comments as to why they were stressed … We know now from this survey that people link it directly to increased levels of stress."

Dr. Bankole Johnson, chair of the University of Virginia Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, agrees that certain elements of the mortgage meltdown could be wearing away at Americans' ability to absorb the stress.

"The most important thing is that it's very uncertain," he said. "Therefore a lot of people are faced with a sense of an uncertain situation, and for most people that's a big stressor."

Johnson adds that the fact that nearly everyone is affected by rising costs of living could add to stress among the public in general.

"Also, the way in which the media has reported this -- as an immediate and dramatic event -- has many people, even people who are not thinking about selling their homes, feeling the financial impact," he said.

Additionally, about one-third of the respondents to the survey reported experiencing extreme levels of stress. Nearly one in five reported experiencing high levels of stress 15 or more days per month.

Other Concerns Still Loom

But many may have matters other than mortgages on their minds as well. Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author of the upcoming book "American Dreams Interrupted," said another important stressor -- the threat of terrorism -- may be part of the reason that Americans have reported increasing stress levels over the past five years.

"In my opinion, the primary source of this stress has to do with the threat of terrorism," she said. "What's unfortunate about this study is that they don't even give people the option of choosing terrorism as a source of stress."

Johnson agrees that the political climate of the last decade is likely another source of stress for many Americans.

"There is the constant stress of the war on terrorism," he said. "I would say that in the last 10 years, there is more stress in general in the world. There is more uncertainty and a feeling that the world is somehow less safe than it ever has been."

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