Mind Matters — The APA and the State of Our Nation

“No matter their age, more than half [59%] of Americans believe this is the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember.” This is the notable finding of the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) August, 2017, survey, “Stress in America: The State of Our Nation.”

The APA has been examining stress in America for over a decade in conjunction with the Harris Poll. This is the first time, however, where money and work were not the top stressors and where the “future of our nation” was. It is also noteworthy that while self-reports of overall stress symptoms have stayed relatively constant over the years of polling, reports of stress symptoms have risen. That is, more sleeplessness, fatigue, anxiety, and anger are being reported.

Healthcare and the economy are common concerns, but other issues include trust in government, crime and hate crimes, and terrorist attacks. Approximately one-quarter of adults voiced concern about high taxes, while about twenty per cent considered unemployment and low wages to be stressors. Climate change and environment were also causes of stress for about 20% of those surveyed.

Women differ from men in reporting stress, and appear to be more affected by hate crimes, global conflicts, and terrorist attacks than are men. However, there is a difference of stress levels among men, dependent on their race. Black and Hispanic men report significantly higher stress than do white males.

In fact, there was a marked rise in stress in both Black and Hispanic men and women in 2017 as compared to 2016. Sources of stress bear a racial divide. Almost 70% of Hispanics consider “the future of our nation a significant source of stress.” This is around 10% higher than white adults. Over 70% of Black adults note, “this is the lowest point in our country’s history …” and are the least optimistic about the trajectory of the nation. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans concur that the nation does not appear to be on a “stronger than ever” path.

While only 27% of white adults perceive hate crimes causing stress, the percentage rises to 40% for Hispanic adults and Native American adults; and it rises to over 40% for Black adults. Over one-third of Asian Americans registered hate crimes as stressful for them.

Stress is often considered to have a geographical component. In the 2017 survey, however, such regional differences in stress were “non-existent.”

Feelings of uncertainty appear typical for much of the stress reported. Two-thirds of those surveyed say they are stressed by not only terrorism but also gun violence and hate crimes when asked about issues of safety.

In terms of health-related stressors, at least 60% surveyed list healthcare policy changes and uncertainty about health insurance to be of great concern.

Issues regarding money have always been addressed in surveys of stress. This year it was found that 30% of the people in the study found saving for retirement as stressful, one-third worried about being unprepared for expenses, while 25% worried that they would not have enough money for basic needs.

Are there some hopeful notes in this symphony of stress? Yes! Over half of those surveyed said the state of the nation has “compelled them to volunteer or otherwise support causes they value, and 59% have taken some form of action in the past year to address issues of concern …”

It is also remarkable that 87% of Americans surveyed agree, despite all their differences, that we as a nation need to “take a deep breath and calm down.”

Although some reported unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking, over 50% use exercise, walking, or other physical activity to reduce stress. Yoga and meditation is on the rise from the last survey; prayer and listening to music continue to be part of healthy coping mechanisms.

Likewise important for coping is our perceived system of support. Up from 66% in 2014, 74% of Americans believe they have someone in their lives who provides emotional support. Americans are also trending to see psychologists as a source of support and to help with stress management.

(This column summarized the findings reported in “Stress in America: The State of Our Nation.” at stressinamerica.org – http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index.aspx.)