Americans Under High Stress, Study Shows
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Parents you've suspected it and now it's official, you are the most stressed- out group in America. A new survey from the country's leading mental health organization is out. Mental Health America has chronicled who is the most stressed, what they do to cope - mother's little helper anyone? - and what the consequences are for ignoring stress. Psychologist David Shern is the head of Mental Health America and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.
Dr. DAVID SHERN (Head, Mental Health America): Hey Madeleine, it's great to be here, thanks for having us on.
BRAND: Gee you know I would have thought it would have been Republicans - would be the most stressed-out group right now, but no actually it's parents.
Dr. SHERN: Well and we did the survey just right before the election, so.
BRAND: So why are they the most stressed-out group?
Dr. SHERN: People in general report that finances or things that stress them; employment, and working around the home; and parents sort of have all of those things. They have the home to take care of; you know typically in the way we've got our culture structured now, they work more than one job. So it's all of those things that add up to the sort of the complex responsibilities and their complex lives.
BRAND: And are different groups stressed-out by different things?
Dr. SHERN: Well we find out, yeah, that they are. Persons who are from African American backgrounds and Native Americans have greater levels of stress than non-Hispanic whites. And so you know, these things are probably related to income, education - sort of social opportunities as well. And difficulty, I think, in terms of full participation in our society. They become markers for that.
BRAND: Well what do you think people should do? How should they cope with stress?
Dr. SHERN: People who feel as though they live in an environment in which they have a reasonable amount of control - I mean nobody is completely in control of everything - but a reasonable amount of control are people who can actively cope with stress. It's individuals who feel as though they are out of control, in a way, things are happening to them, who are stressed. The image for me is somebody that starts grabbing you by the neck and dragging you along, that can then start to have some pretty serious consequences for your health.
BRAND: Such as?
Dr. SHERN: Depression is number one. Anxiety. We now have come to understand that when you're stressed, it actually raises the level of a hormone called Cortisol and that can start a cascade which can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, cardiac illness, hypertension - and so it's really very important. It's not just a matter of sort of feeling just a little sad or blue. But ultimately, it can have very serious consequences for your wellbeing.
BRAND: You talked about this feeling of being out of control. And for a lot of people, their lives are made up of things that they can't totally control. I mean you've got a job you have to go to. Perhaps you're stuck in traffic on a long commute every single day. You come home and there are children to feed and spouses to take care of, and all sorts of things that really a lot of people can't change. So how do you advise most of us who have lots of things in our lives that stress us yet we can't really do much to change them.
Dr. SHERN: The important thing is how you perceive the situation that you're in. Psychologically, if you work on essentially not allowing yourself to become anxious, for example, in traffic - just monitor how you're feeling, realize that there's very little you're going to do to influence how quickly the Fourteenth Street Bridge here in Washington is going to let you into the city, even though you're late for a Senate testimony. You realize -
BRAND: Are you speaking personally?
Dr. SHERN: You realize that - yeah, your inaugural opportunity to testify in the Senate, actually - and one thing that was very helpful there was having a cell phone to call and tell people so that they could start to change some things. So, it's how you—it's the resources you have to bear, the people you have to rely on which are a resource, and also your skills in terms of the way you think about and understand things that are really outside of your control.
BRAND: And let's not discount the after-five martini. Just one.
Dr. SHERN: Absolutely. Well, that you know that's some of the great health news we've had recently is that you know moderate levels of alcohol consumption actually seem to be protective, and the recent findings around red wine have given us all great encouragement.
BRAND: Psychologist David Shern is the president and CEO of Mental Health America. The group just released a study about stress. And thank you very much.
Dr. SHERN: Thank you so much.
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