WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 While fewer Washington, D.C. area residents this year report that money and the economy cause significant stress in their lives, many continue to cite their work as a significant stressor. More than 70 percent of Washingtonians remain stressed by work and a greater number this year report personal health concerns as a stressor, a cause of concern for psychologists who worry about the effects of long-term stress and how it can contribute to chronic health disorders.
In a survey released today by the American Psychological Association (APA), the number of D.C. area residents who cited personal health concerns increased to 44 percent from 40 percent in 2008. And the number of D.C. residents who said their average stress level is in the extreme range increased to 30 percent from 26 percent in 2008. Nearly one-third rated their average stress levels as an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale. More Washingtonians reported feeling the symptoms of stress at work this year. Nearly half of employed D.C. residents (40 percent) said they typically feel tense or stressed out during the work day, compared to 33 percent in 2008.
These high and long-lasting levels of stress can contribute to serious physical health problems. Diabetes, heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure are just a few of the diseases linked to chronic stress. In the APA survey, nearly two-thirds of D.C. area residents said they have been told by a health provider that they have a chronic condition. Diseases reported by D.C. residents include high blood pressure (25 percent), high cholesterol (28 percent), and overweight or obesity (29 percent).
On a positive note, fewer residents this year reported having physical reactions to stress. For example, the number of D.C. area residents who said they felt irritable or angry dropped 16 points (44 percent in 2009 from 60 percent in 2008) and fewer residents reported headaches (37 percent in 2009 vs. 46 percent in 2008). And this year, slightly more D.C. residents report exercising or walking to manage stress (55 percent in 2009 vs. 51 percent in 2008).
"The good news for the region is that fewer people this year are reporting money, the economy, job stability and housing costs, among other things, as significant stressors. But with so many of us still so stressed--that's alarming," said DC-area psychologist Dr. Mary Alvord, the public education coordinator for the Maryland Psychological Association. "When stress is ignored or managed in unhealthy ways, it will most likely lead to further health problems. This is why it's crucial for people to pay attention to their stress levels and do something about it."
APA's annual survey reveals that nationally nearly a quarter (24 percent) of adults reported experiencing high levels of stress, and half (51 percent) reported moderate stress levels in 2009. Many Americans continued to report that they rely on sedentary activities and unhealthy behaviors to manage their stress (49 percent listen to music, 41 percent read and 36 percent watch television or movies).
Among Americans who received lifestyle change recommendations from a health care provider, few reported that their health care provider offered support to help them make lasting changes -- only 46 percent were given an explanation for lifestyle recommendations; only 35 percent were offered advice or shown techniques to help make changes; and only 5-10 percent were referred to another health care provider to support the adoption of lifestyle changes. In general, people cited a number of barriers in their efforts to make lasting lifestyle and behavior changes -- lack of willpower (33 percent); not enough time (20 percent); and lack of confidence (14 percent). More than one in ten people cited stress as the barrier preventing them from making lifestyle and behavior changes (14 percent of adults reported they are too stressed to make these changes).
More D.C. residents than the rest of the nation cited several barriers to making recommended lifestyle changes and behavior changes: not enough will power (37 percent in D.C. vs. 33 nationally), lack of time (32 percent in D.C. vs. 20 percent nationally) and too much stress (21 percent in D.C. vs. 14 percent nationally.)
The American Psychological Association offers these tips to help manage chronic stress:
The 2009 Stress in America research was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association between July 21, 2009, and August 4, 2009, among 1,568 adults aged 18+ who reside in the U.S. and an oversample of 203 adults aged 18+ who reside in Washington, D.C. In the 2008 research, 250 Washington D.C., residents were included in the oversample. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available.
The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.
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-- Set limits. List all of the projects and commitments that are making you feel overwhelmed. Identify those things that you absolutely must do in order to survive. Cut back on anything non-essential. -- Tap into your support system. Reach out to a close friend and/or relative. Let them know you are having a tough time and accept their support and guidance. There is no need to face challenging life circumstances alone. -- Make one health-related commitment. One small step like cutting back on your caffeine consumption can have a positive effect. Studies show that without caffeine, people report feeling more relaxed, sleeping better and having more energy. Regular aerobic exercise, such taking a brisk walk, can all lessen your anxiety and reduce your stress. -- Strive for a positive outlook. Looking at situations more positively, seeing problems as opportunities, having realistic expectations, and refuting negative thoughts are all important aspects of staying positive and trying to minimize your stress. -- Seek additional help. If feelings of chronic stress persist, or you are experiencing hopelessness or trouble getting through your daily routine, seek consultation with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to help you develop strategies to manage stress effectively and make behavioral changes to help improve your overall health. For additional information on managing stress, visit www.apahelpcenter.org.
SOURCE American Psychological Association