Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association released the Stress in America 2023 report, detailing the issues Americans were most stressed about this year ― and many of them may sound familiar.
Researchers polled 3,185 adults of all different backgrounds; 805 Black people, 811 Latino people and 800 Asian people were included in the data. They found that common stressors are “often things that recur over and over and over again ― things like money, the economy and health-related stressors,” Lynn Bufka, the associate chief for practice transformation at the American Psychological Association, told HuffPost.
Unlike worry about a work presentation or the coordination of a family wedding, these stressors aren’t things that you can just squash with a simple action.
“It’s not an area that you have a lot of control over … and then on top of that, you still have to figure out, how do I pay for my groceries? Will I make the rent this month?” Bufka said.
Below, experts break down the most common issues highlighted in the report and share how you can manage them if you’re struggling, too:
Money and the economy
Approximately 63% of polled adults reported they’re stressed about money while 64% reported they’re stressed about the economy. Compared with data from 2019, the percentage of Americans who are stressed about the economy is up from 45%, according to Bufka.
It’s not a surprise: Basic necessities like groceries have been getting more costly in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices in September 2023 were 3.7% higher than they were in September 2022 (and they weren’t exactly cheap in 2022, either). Housing costs are also becoming more unbearable, going out to eat is more expensive and car costs are higher, too.
According to the data, 65% of adults reported that health issues are stressing them out. While shops, restaurants and businesses have reopened, the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much wearing on folks. A press release about the report noted that this has to do with the notion that life is back to “normal” when, in reality, our mental and physical health is forever changed. Respondents also said that health care costs are worrisome along with fears about the health of loved ones.
Additionally, stress itself can be a trigger. “It doesn’t surprise me that health-related stressors are so high because experiencing stress over a period of time has a health consequence,” Bufka said.
When chronic stress accumulates, it can lead to several health conditions, according to Bufka. “We see it linked to things like inflammation, we see it linked to wear and tear on the immune system.”
Chronic stress puts folks at risk for depression and anxiety, as well as problems like digestive issues, heart disease and stroke, Bufka added.
The future of our country and social divisiveness
All it takes is a few minutes of scrolling or watching the news to figure out that there are political, social and economic problems that are present throughout the country ― along with some strong (and largely differing) opinions about these subjects.
In the poll, the future of our nation was counted as a stressor by 68% of people and social divisiveness was included as a stressor by 55%.
Mass shootings and violence
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 602 mass shootings in the United States this year. This is, understandably, increasingly stressful for Americans. About 56% of adults in the research said it’s something that causes them stress. On a related note, 61% are worried about overall violence and crime.
Half of polled adults said global conflicts are another chronic stressor in their lives. Bufka mentioned that the ongoing war in Ukraine is part of the stressor. (It’s worth noting that this poll took place in August, which was before the Israeli-Hamas war.)
Discrimination and personal safety
According to the research, 39% of respondents said personal safety is an ongoing source of stress and 27% said discrimination is a stressor.
Certain groups of people cited discrimination as more of a stressor than others; 45% of LGBTQIA+, 43% of Black people, 40% of Latino people said it causes them strife.
“The data in the study underscores the overwhelming evidence supporting the need for tailored wellness interventions for targeted demographics (looking at the race/gender differences),” Taisha Caldwell-Harvey, a licensed psychologist and the founder and CEO of The Black Girl Doctor, told HuffPost via email.
“A one-size-fits-all approach to mental health care and wellness is ineffective because our experiences of stress and its triggers vary significantly based on our individual identities,” Caldwell-Harvey continued.
Dealing with chronic, underlying stressors is hard, but there are things you can do to feel a little better.
Jennifer Anders, a psychologist in Colorado and mental health content creator on Instagram, said that stress management is not a one-and-done situation. For example, you can’t practice mindfulness one time and expect it to have lasting effects on you.
“They call it a practice for a reason because it’s something that you have to continually remember to do in the moment,” Anders said.
Here are a few tips for making stress management a more regular part of your life:
Identify your main stressors and limit them where you can
“The first thing is try to recognize what are the sources of stress in your life and are there ways that you can limit those sources of stress?” Bufka suggested.
For example, if you are stressed about the small amount of free time in your week, don’t be afraid to say no to commitments. Or if watching videos on the news contributes to your stress, consume your news differently by only reading a few headlines in a designated part of your day.
Unfollow social media accounts that make you worry
Anders recommended turning off your phone or unfollowing accounts that make you feel stressed (or any negative emotion, for that matter). Try to follow more accounts that give your brain a break from whatever triggers your stress. If turning off your phone is unmanageable, try limiting your push notifications.
Focus on what you can control
“The reason why this is important is because it leads to that feeling of empowerment,” Anders said.
For example, you can’t control COVID on the whole, but you can control your prevention measures. You can’t control the headlines, but you can control how much you consume. You can also control other aspects of your life, Anders said.
“When you do focus on the things you can control, like health, diet, exercise, contributing to your family and your community in a positive way, those things will kind of flip the script and … they will tell your brain that you do have control over things, and that you can contribute in a meaningful way to the betterment of society and the world,” Anders said.
Take time to rest
Underlying worries take a major toll on your mental health and emotions. It’s important to take time to unwind.
“Embrace rest as a profoundly productive use of your time, and recognize it as something worthy of a prominent place on your to-do list,” Caldwell-Harvey said.
Spend time in nature
“Being in nature, being amongst the trees, being outside just produces a state of calm in the body because nature reduces cortisol,” Anders said.
Get outside as much as you can, whether it’s a park, a garden, your yard or a national park. As a bonus, you’ll also be exposed to more daylight, which can reduce stress and improve your mental health.
Seek professional support if you need it
There are therapists out there who are trained to help their clients manage stress and anxiety. If you think you need additional and personalized support, don’t be afraid to find a therapist near you.
The Psychology Today database has listings throughout the country and even includes folks’ specialties, so you can immediately see if stress and anxiety treatment is something they’re well-versed in.
Finally, know that it’s normal to feel stressed by these triggers
“I just want to reiterate that none of us are immune to this, even if you have the best stress-reducing practices… even myself, I know how to do these things, I’m doing them all day, every day. I’m not immune to the stress that comes with all of these things,” Anders said.
Just know that it’s normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed by the things that are plaguing the country right now.
“When we think about these things that are completely out of our control, it’s normal to feel that sense of overwhelm, it’s a natural bodily response,” Anders said. “But just as it’s a natural response, your body wants to return back to homeostasis, essentially.”
It’s easy to underestimate the power that small habits can have on your mental health during stressful times, but Anders underscored that these stress-reduction tips can help you deal with the oft-overwhelming emotions that accompany chronic stress.