Stress is bad for your health, and health problems cause more stress, according to a national poll NPR released in coordination with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.
Health-related events were the most common major stressful events in Americans' lives this past year, the poll found. It's a vicious cycle, some might say.
Some major findings:
- •When asked if they had had a major stressful event or experience in the past year, almost half of all respondents (49%) reported that they had. More than four in 10 (43%) of these respondents reported stressful events and experiences related to health.
- •People who identified as being in poor health were more than twice as likely (60%) to report experiencing a 'great deal' of stress within the past month. Eight in 10 (80%) of those in poor health reported that their own health problems contributed to their stress, and more than half (58%) attributed the health problems of a family member.
- •Only one-third (34%) of those polled who reported having a 'great deal' of stress within the past month said that they had a great deal of control over the stress in their life. Four in 10 (40%) said they had some control.
Two experts joined The Daily Circuit to discuss the latest research on the topic.
The causes of stress and ways to cope:
• There are three kinds of stress: good, bad and ugly. Amit Sood of Mayo Clinic described it with soccer: good stress is watching your team play, bad is when they lose and ugly is when they score against their own team. Larger amounts of bad and ugly stress will have a long-term impact on your health and well-being, he said.
• The stress response isn't necessarily bad. Bruce McEwan, professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University, said your body produces chemicals that are working to keep you alive in bad situations.
It's "when [the stress response doesn't] get turned off and stays on day after day, hour after hour, that these same chemicals can begin to promote damage and contribute to disease," he said.
• When you are experiencing a lot of stress, it's important to step back and think about what went right and what went wrong.
A caller from Champlin said he tries to keep his good and bad stress in prospective:
• Stressed caregivers need social support. McEwan said caregivers can often be more burdened than the sick person and they need the love and validation of those around them. He recommends finding support groups or organizations in your area where you can meet others experiencing similar situations.
• Regular physical activity can be a major stress relief. McEwan said it isn't about going to the gym for two hours and then sitting around the rest of the day.
"Almost every medical diagnosis can be improved with exercise," Sood said.
Your body needs consistent physical activity throughout the day, which improves blood flow to the brain.
"Four close deaths in the last year, 60 hour work weeks, what else can a person be expected to cope with," Karen commented online. "The two things that keep my head above water are talk therapy and consistent exercise but even finding the time for those is a struggle."
• Limit mind wandering. Half to two thirds of a normal person's day is spent with a wandering mind, Sood said, and that can make you more likely to have anxiety and depression.
Your mind naturally wanders to try and resolve "open files," he said. Try to refocus your attention on your current task.
• People with healthcare careers suffer from stress related to burnout.
"A lot of that has to do with lack of control, fragmentation of relationships with the patients and all the extra stuff we have to deal with," Sood said.
Sood said he helps medical professionals take control of their schedule, reduce mind wandering and reflect back on the meaning of their work and why they originally entered the field.
Healthy States and Mayo Clinic will host Dr. Sood July 31 at MPR to explore his work on stress management, resiliency and related topics in mind-body medicine. MPR Members get a discount. Get tickets and more details here.
Are Americans too stressed out? Does stress play a major role in your life? What do you do to manage your stress levels? Leave your comments below.