Stress in America: We’re Worried About Our Nation’s Future


Healthy Living - November 28, 2017
David Prescott, PhD - Acadia Hospital

dr-prescott.jpgWHAT KEEPS US UP AT NIGHT? Every year for the last decade, the American Psychological Association has conducted a Harris Poll to survey stress in America.  The poll examines what percentage of Americans feel moderate or high levels of stress, the sources of that stress, and how we deal with stress.  This year’s poll, conducted in August, 2017, reveals that the sources of stress in America appear to be shifting.
A LOW POINT IN OUR NATION’S HISTORY:  Almost 6 out of 10 Americans (59%) feel that the current time marks a low point in our nation’s history.  This is true across age groups, spanning senior citizens who remember Pearl Harbor, Baby Boomers who can recall the Cuban Missile Crisis and Viet Nam War, Generation X members who lived during the Gulf War, and Millennials who can recall the September 11th bombings. 
THE FUTURE OF OUR NATION IS THE MOST COMMONLY CITED SOURCE OF STRESS:  The most common source of people’s stress, according to this year’s survey, is concern about the future of our nation (63%).  This represents a change from previous years, when money or work were cited as the most common source of stress.  Those two factors continue to contribute to stress for many Americans (money 62%, work 61%), but worries about where America is headed rose to the top of the survey for the first time. 
A variety of issues contribute to people’s concerns about the nation’s future.  Some of the most common include:
  • Health Care (43%)
  • The Economy (35%)
  • Trust in Government (32%)
  • Crime (31%)
WOMEN REPORT FEELING MORE STRESS THAN MEN: Consistent with stress survey results in recent years, women continue to report overall higher levels of stress than men (women = 5.1 on a 10 point scale; men = 4.4 on a 10 point scale).  However, race and ethnicity appear to impact men’s overall stress levels, with Black and Hispanic men reporting an average stress level of 4.8, compared to white men who reported an average stress level of 4.2.
NEWS IS IMPORTANT, BUT STRESSFUL: Staying informed about news and current issues is cited as important to 95% of Americans in the survey.  But, at the same time, over half of respondents (56%) say keeping current with news reports causes them significant stress.  In spite of the stress, more than 8 in 10 people report checking the news every day.
OUR STRESS IS LEADING US TO ACTION:  Psychologists have learned that active management of stress, even stress that you cannot make go away, is better than doing nothing, and obviously better than managing stress in ways that are ultimately harmful (e.g., cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol use).  It appears that many Americans have stepped up to take some action in response to their concern for their country.  About half of the people (51%) surveyed said they had taken some action (e.g., sign a petition, boycott a company) in response to a concern about an important issue. 
Other common methods for dealing with stress included:
  • Listening to Music
  • Exercise or Walk
  • Pray
  • Meditation or Yoga
ONE POINT OF AGREEMENT: TAKE A DEEP BREATH:  In spite of a high degree of perceived divisiveness in America, there was a high level of agreement on one thing:  87% of those surveyed endorsed a desire for people to take a deep breath and calm down.