Young adults in the USA find it particularly hard to manage their stress and get the health care that meets their needs, says a new American Psychological Association survey “Stress in America: Missing the Health Care Connection”.

The survey found that adults aged from 18 to 33 years, also known as “Millennials”, have an average stress level of 5.4 on a 10-point scale, compared to the national average of 4.9.

In fact, the survey found that a significant proportion of Americans feel there is a gap between what they want from their health care system and what it actually delivers.

The Harris Interactive survey involved 2,020 American adults who were asked questions in August 2012. The report states that people are not getting what they require from their health care providers to address lifestyle and behavior changes to improve their overall health and to manage stress.

A previous study, 2010 Stress in America, also reported that a considerable number of people in the USA had serious problems with stress and were trapped in a vicious cycle of unhealthy attempts to manage it.

Although Americans appear to value healthy lifestyles and stress-related issues as important factors in overall physical and mental well-being, their experiences are not matching their expectations or aspirations.

Only 17% of those surveyed said that they often or always had conversations with their health care providers about stress management, even though 32% believe that being able to talk to their doctor about this is extremely important.

APA (American Psychological Association) CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD., said:

“When people receive professional help to manage stress and make healthy behavior changes they do better at achieving their health goals. Unfortunately, our country’s health system often neglects psychological and behavioral factors that are essential to managing stress and chronic diseases.

In order for our nation to get healthier, lower the rates of chronic illnesses, and lower health care costs, we need to improve how we view and treat stress and unhealthy behaviors that are contributing to the high incidence of disease in the U.S.”

The authors explained that the most vulnerable people are those with either very little or no stress or behavior management support from their health care provider. There are many – 53% of respondents said they got little or no support for stress management, while 39% said the same regarding behavior management support.

Respondents with little or no stress or behavior management support tended to report increased stress levels over the previous 12-month period compared to those who did receive support. 29% said they got a lot/great deal of support.

20% of respondents reported experiencing stress levels at 8/9 or 10 on a 10-point scare, what the authors described as “extreme stress”.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents with reportedly high stress levels said their problem had gotten worse over the last twelve months. Surprisingly, 33% of American adults have never talked with a health care professional regarding their stress and how to manage it.

The authors describe Americans’ attempts at keeping healthy stress levels as a hard “struggle”. Average stress levels across the nation, at 4.9 in August 2012, dropped in comparison to 5.2 in August 2011. However, this is higher than 3.6, what experts define as a healthy level of stress. A sizeable minority of Americans (35%) say that their stress levels have risen over the last 12 months.

Americans aged from 18 to 33 years appear to be the most badly affected by mental stress and getting support for it from their health care providers. With an average stress level of 5.4, this is higher than the 4.9 national average and considerably higher than the 3.6 “healthy” level.

Millennials give their health care providers the lowest ratings of any age group; only 25% gave their providers an “A” grade compared to 31% among all ages.

When asked whether they believe they are doing enough to manage their stress, 49% of Millennials said “No” or “Not sure”. Very few reported receiving stress or behavior management support from their primary care physician/clinic or any health care provider.

When asked “Does your health care provider support you a lot or a great deal in making behavior or healthy lifestyle changes?” only 23% said “Yes”. Just 17% were happy about the support they received from their health care provider for stress management.

The survey found that patients with chronic illness get less stress and behavior management support than those with no chronic illness.

  • 59% of Americans with chronic illness report that they are doing enough to manage their stress
  • 66% of Americans without chronic illness say they are doing enough to manage their stress
  • 41% of Americans with chronic illness report worsening stress levels over the last 12 months
  • 35% of Americans without chronic illness say their stress levels have worsened over the last 12 months

Patients with chronic illness in the USA do see their doctor more frequently than the rest of the population (average) – 51% see their doctor at least three times a year, compared to 17% of those with no chronic illness – but seeing a health care professional more often does not necessarily mean they are getting better stress management support.

Just one quarter of patients with chronic illnesses say that they receive “a great deal or a lot” of stress management support from their primary care physician or health care provider.

Patients with chronic illness who do get plenty of stress management and behavior support tend to say that they are doing enough to manage stress (68%). Only 54% of those receiving little or no support say they are doing enough to manage stress.

People suffering from stress commonly describe themselves as feeling worried, overwhelmed and run-down. We usually use the word “stress” when everything seems to have become too much – we are overwhelmed and wonder whether we are able to cope with the pressures that are placed upon us.

Stress does not discriminate – it affects people of all income levels, genders, ages and circumstances, and can eventually result in both psychological and physical illnesses and conditions.
br> The American Psychological Association defines “Stress” as:

“Any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes.”

Sometimes stress can be good for you – it provides a boost that gives us drive and energy and helps us through situations, such as deadlines or exams. However, when stress levels go too high, they can have negative health consequences.

Too much stress can:

  • Undermine the immune system
  • Affect the cardiovascular system, making the person more susceptible to cardiovascular disease and events
  • Affect the neuroendocrine system
  • Affect the CNS (central nervous system)
  • Take a severe emotional toll

Most of us can deal with everyday stressors with healthy stress management behaviors. However, untreated chronic (long-term) stress can lead to muscle pain, insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure), a weaker immune system and anxiety, which can lead to dozens of illnesses, including heart disease, depression, and obesity.

Even everyday stressors that are poorly managed or ignored can lead to chronic stress. If chronic stress contributes to depression and/or anxiety, the consequences can be serious. People with depression and anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as the rest of the population. In fact, stress may cause illness by altering genes. The risk of abusing addictive substances is also significantly greater.

Below are some of the most common causes of stress:

  • Relationships (including divorce)
  • Moving home
  • Lack of time
  • Work-related issues. Work stress can raise the risk of heart attack
  • Illness
  • Money
  • Family problems
  • Caring for someone who is not well, especially if they have a long-term illness/condition
  • Bereavement
  • Your surroundings – overcrowding, noise, pollution, crime, etc
  • Life-threatening or traumatic events – people who faced awful events, such as rape, a natural disaster, or witnessed/suffered a horrifying event during a war or terrorist attack can develop PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
  • FEMA - 7596 - Photograph by Jocelyn Augustino taken on 09-11-2002 in Virginia
    Disaster rescuers may experience extremely high levels of stress

Researchers from the University at Buffalo and Stony Brook University in New York, plus Grand Valley State University in Michigan, reported in the American Journal of Public Health that giving time to help others can shield us from stress and help us live longer.

Written by Christian Nordqvist