Americans have a difficult time dealing with stress, and many adopt coping strategies that may only make them feel worse, according to new survey results.
The survey, based on responses from 1,805 US adults, found that more than three quarters of Americans say they believe managing stress is “challenging.” and more than one-quarter said they found dealing with stress to be “very challenging.”
Furthermore, many Americans adopt coping strategies that may only aggravate their stress, the survey reveals. Almost three quarters of adults responded that they will ignore stress in order to get something done.
In addition, 46% said that stress makes them less likely to care about what they eat, 57% said stress induces them to give up exercising, while 53% said they forgo sleep. Thirty-five percent of respondents also noted that they ease their schedules by postponing doctor or dental visits.
“Men and women are not coping well,” Dr. Pamela Peeke of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, who interpreted the study results, told Reuters Health.
“The majority of Americans are really doing things that are more self-destructive,” she added.
Exercising, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and building a network of supportive friends can help people to manage stress better, she noted in a prepared statement. Negative stress management techniques, Peeke added, include drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and eating too much.
The survey includes responses from a national sample of 800 adults, as well as interviews with residents of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas. The surveys were conducted between April 29 and May 8, 2002.
The most common source of stress mentioned was lack of time, which affected 62% of the respondents. Time crunches often resulted from too much work, or from working too many hours, the respondents noted.
Terrorism has become another major source of stress in the wake of the September 11 attacks, with 61% of adults saying they believed threats of terrorism were now a major source of stress in their lives. Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents also named financial and money worries as high on their list of stressors.
Almost one half of the adults who responded to the survey said they believed their stress had increased over the last year.
The amount of stress facing Americans may be responsible for common reports of stress-related ailments, such as headaches at least once per week in 33% of women and 25% of men. In addition, more than one third of survey participants experience an irregular heartbeat when they feel stressed, and almost one half report a tightness in their chest, jaw, or back.
A full 63% of survey respondents also noted that they feel depressed when they are under stress, and 81% said they can get impatient with others.
There were some gender differences in how adults respond to overwhelming stress, Peeke noted in an interview with Reuters Health. Slightly less than half of all women said they deal with stress by either exercising less or seeking comfort in food, whereas men were more likely than women to say they respond to stress by either drinking alcohol or watching more television.
The bottom line from this survey, Peeke explained, is that people should figure out if their coping strategies only make matters worse, and take steps to correct them. “We’re not coping well,” she said. “We’ve got to cope better.”
The survey was sponsored by McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Tylenol.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.