A new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) poll released today that examines the role of stress in Americans' lives finds that about half of the public (49%) reported that they had a major stressful event or experience in the past year. Nearly half (43%) reported that the most stressful experiences related to health.
More than half of those who experienced a great deal of stress in the past month say too many overall responsibilities and financial problems were contributors (54% and 53% respectively). More than a third of those with a great deal of stress say the contributors include their own health problems (38%) and health problems of family members (37%).
"It is not widely recognized how many Americans have a major stressful event over the course of a year, or how often health problems are the cause," says Robert J. Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at HSPH.
"Stress touches everyone. Unfortunately, many of those feeling the most stress get trapped in cycles that can be very unhealthy. If we are going to build a culture of health in America, one big step we can take is recognizing the causes and effects not just of our own stress and the stress of those closest to us, but of others we encounter in our day-to-day lives. That recognition can go a long way in helping us create healthier environments in our homes, workplaces and communities," says Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and CEO.
High levels of stress in the last month
About a quarter reported having a "great deal" of stress (26%) over just the past month. People in poor health are more than twice as likely as the public as a whole to report a great deal of stress in the past month (60%).
People who are disabled are also much more likely to report a great deal of stress (45%). Other groups likely to report a great deal of stress include those with a chronic illness (36%), those with low incomes (<$20K) (36%), those who face potentially dangerous situations in their jobs (36%), single parents (35%), and parents of teens (34%).
Significant impact on lives
Bad effects on emotional well-being (63%) are the most common health effect reported by those with a great deal of stress in the last month, followed by problems with sleep (56%) and difficulty in thinking, concentrating, or making decisions (50%). About half of those with a great deal of stress as well as a chronic illness or disability say stress made the symptoms worse (53%) or made it harder for them to manage their chronic illness or disability (52%).
In addition, many report significant impacts from stress in other spheres of their lives. More than four in ten of those under a great deal of stress in the last month report that this stress made it harder to get along with family members (45%) and prevented them from spending time with family members (44%). Half of those who experienced a great deal of stress in the last month and are employed say stress made it harder to concentrate at work (51%), and 41% say it made it harder to take on extra responsibilities that could help advance their career.
Efforts to manage high levels of stress
Those who have experienced a great deal of stress over the past month tried to reduce their stress in many ways. Most who had experienced a great deal of stress in the last month and taken steps to manage it say each of the things they did to reduce stress were effective. More than nine in ten say that regularly spending time outdoors (94%) or spending time on a hobby (93%) was effective. About seven in ten (71%) said they regularly spent time with family and friends to reduce stress, while just under six in ten say they regularly prayed or meditated (57%), spent time outdoors (57%) or ate healthfully (55%). However, less than half of respondents took certain steps to reduce their stress that are often recommended by experts, such as regularly exercising (51% did not) or regularly getting a full night's sleep (54% did not).