Times are tough for the regular guy and gal — even in the most advanced, wealthiest country in the world. According to a new study, over one-quarter of the USA’s adults report feeling overwhelming levels of stress.

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Too much stress, or too many sources of stress, can create a debilitating experience. Under such conditions, many people can simply break down and stop functioning efficiently or at all. And, according to a recent poll conducted for the American Psychological Association, a concerning number of American adults believe themselves to be in this situation.

But it is important to remember that we can be very resilient creatures and that nobody has to bear all the world’s weight alone, the association notes. There are ways to reduce or manage such feelings of stress. At the same time, the findings will help inform healthcare experts of the special need for guidance and support their patients are likely to have.

Ground down

“It’s clear that the impacts of uncontrollable stressors are profound for most Americans, but psychological science shows us that there are effective ways to talk about and cope with this type of stress,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., APA’s chief executive officer.

“Focusing on accomplishing goals that are in our control can help prevent our minds from getting overwhelmed by the many uncertainties in life. From using our breathing to slow racing thoughts, to intentionally limiting our social media consumption, or exercising our right to vote, action can be extremely empowering.”

The 2022 Stress in America™ survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of the APA between August 18 and September 2, 2022. It included 3,192 U.S. adults aged 18 and over. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.

The responses obtained from these participants were weighed where necessary in order to better reflect the proportions of individual ethnicities in the country’s overall population based on the 2021 Current Population Survey (CPS) by the U.S. Census Bureau. Such weighting also extended to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online — allowing the team to better account for the groups who tend to be online more or less than others, meaning they had more or fewer opportunities to answer the survey.

Although self-reported data is widely considered to be some of the least reliable, this one did keep tabs on the accuracy of its data. The sample data used here was accurate to within + 2.9 percentage points using a 95% confidence level.

The poll offers a valuable look into the state of overall mental health throughout the United States. It shows that the country’s adults are struggling with stress from multiple sources that are out of their control. Over one-quarter of respondents (27%) over 18 years of age add that they are feeling so stressed that they cannot function.

Some of the most cited sources of stress reported are “inflation” (83%), “future of our nation” (76%), crime and violence (75%), “mass shooting” and “gun violence in general” (73% and 72%, respectively, and healthcare (70%). Global political events, the pandemic, racism, and climate change also rank high among reported stressors.

Other troubling findings include that 70% of respondents do not feel that the people running the country “care about them”, while 64% feel that their rights are under attack and almost half (45%) do not feel protected by the laws of the United States.

While those are the overall results, various subgroups had their own patterns of perceived stressors. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community, for example, perceive their rights as being under attack to a larger extent than the overall population. Young adult women (aged 18 to 34) were more likely to report feeling overwhelming stress on most days compared to older women, or to men aged 35 and older. For minorities such as Black, Latino, and Asian adults the country’s racial climate was a significant source of stress; that being said, 56% of white adults reported the same. Latino adults were the most likely to highlight violence and crime, gun violence, and mass shootings as significant sources of stress.

Overall, 76% of respondents said that stress has had an impact on their health, experiencing at least one symptom of stress in the last month — headache (38%), fatigue (35%), feeling nervous or anxious (34%) and feeling depressed or sad (33%). Around 72% experienced several symptoms in the last month, which also included changes in sleeping habits or compulsive worrying.

“With so many people suffering health effects from these unrelenting external stressors, it’s important that all healthcare providers understand the research and offer their patients evidence-based techniques to reduce the effects of extreme stress and build their resilience,” said Evans.

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