American Stress Statistics: Understanding Acute And Chronic Stress

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated July 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Stress is a natural reaction in the nervous system that can keep humans and animals safe by providing the flight or fight response. However, when stress becomes long-term (chronic), it can be overwhelming and cause physical and mental health concerns. Looking at American stress statistics can help you feel less alone with your stress and notice which areas may help you relieve it. It may also encourage you to get help building coping skills to deal with the effects of immense stress in your own life.

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What is stress?

Stress can be difficult to measure and quantify, and everyone experiences it differently.

While stress is a natural human experience, there are various definitions to describe it. Some individuals might describe stress as mental, emotional, or physical strain or tension. Others are reporting symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed or experiencing mental burnout. In some cases, stress can be positive and motivate someone to make necessary changes or work harder to reach a goal.

There are a few types of stress often studied, including the following.  

Acute stress

Acute stress is often referred to as the fight or flight response and might happen in a life-threatening or scary situation. It can feel overwhelming and taxing on your mind and body. However, acute stress is temporary and may not last long after the event as long as an individual is safe. In cases of acute stress disorder, when an individual reacts to a traumatic experience, the emotional toll can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Chronic stress

Chronic stress, or experiencing elevated stress over longer periods, is one of the common types and is the type of stress discussed in the below stress statistics. Some might see chronic stress as the cost of daily living, though some of these life events can be a significant source of persistent stress that can lead to stress disorders in certain situations. Chronic stress might be caused by the following: 

  • Work-related stress

  • Parenting

  • School 

  • Family conflict

  • Financial distress 

  • Relationships 

  • Societal stressors

  • Mental health conditions 

For young adults and high school students, there is now an additional source of chronic stress in the form of mass shootings. More than half (75%) of Gen Z reported experiencing stress about mass shootings. This is unsurprising as these kinds of shootings are at an all-time high in our nation’s history.

Eustress

Eustress refers to standard stress levels and is often interpreted as beneficial. Some might explain it as nervous excitement caused by positive events like:  

  • Expecting a baby

  • Getting married 

  • Anticipating a promotion at work

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US stress statistics 

Statistics for stress in America shed light on how people perceive the causes of stress in their lives. For example, in 2017, the American Psychological Association researched the most common causes of stress for Americans and found the following: 

Personal and national issues:

  • 63% of participants reported concern about the country's future, possibly because a presidential election had just concluded.

  • 62% reported stress caused by money issues. 

  • 61% said work was a stressful issue for them. 

  • 57% reported that the political climate was causing them stress, potentially due to the concluded presidential election. 

  • 51% said that crime and violence were sources of stress.

In 2014, more than three-quarters (77%) said they regularly experienced physical symptoms because of stress, while 73% said they periodically experienced psychological symptoms. 

In addition, the 2014 study released by the American Psychological Association reported that the top sources of stress included

  • Job pressure

  • Money

  • Health

  • Relationships

  • Poor nutrition

The most recent iteration of the American Psychiatric Association stress survey was conducted online in 2020 and prompted warnings of a national mental health crisis. The survey showed that in addition to these other factors, the Covid 19 pandemic is a contributing factor to a significant uptick in stress percentage points, especially for Gen Z.

Interpreting these mental health statistics

In addition to stress caused by the political climate, which may vary from term to term, work, and money were in the top five causes for both 2014 and 2017. 

Many individuals find it difficult to avoid work-related stress. They may feel they must take whatever work is available to support themselves and their families; they might want a different job, which could cause increased stress. Others might not like their coworkers, daily commute, or workload, regardless of whether they enjoy a job. As money is also connected to work, household income not equaling a living wage can significantly stress many Americans. 

Are these statistics cause for concern?

In 2017, according to the statistics above, over half of the respondents commonly worried about work, money, and politics. In 2020 nearly half of adults reported that their behavior has been negatively affected by stress, and individuals have reported increased tension in relationships due to stress.

How stress impacts physical health

Unresolved elevated stress can affect one’s long-term well-being. It can contribute to health concerns like chronic illness, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, which is the number one health concern in the US. Increased numbers of chronic diseases can also put undue stress on the healthcare system. Understanding the side effects of stress, affecting both mental and physical health, can help you understand the long-term impact. It can make a difference to discuss any medical concerns you have with your healthcare provider to have a better perspective on your well-being. Symptoms overwhelming Americans and effects of long-term stress include the following: 

  • Aches and pains

  • Insomnia sleepiness, or trouble sleeping

  • Changes in social behavior 

  • Lack of energy

  • Upset stomach

  • Unfocused thinking

  • Changes in appetite

  • Increased substance use*

  • Differences in emotional responses to others

  • Unexpected mood changes

  • Emotional withdrawal

  • Diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, metabolic syndrome, and type II diabetes

  • Addiction to food, gambling, or internet use

  • Mood and anxiety disorders

  • Workplace accidents

*If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

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How to manage chronic stress 

If you're experiencing chronic stress or associated symptoms, using stress-management strategies might help you reduce its impact on your life. Below are some common tactics that help manage stress:  

  • Regular exercise

  • A healthy diet

  • Time management

  • Realistic goal setting

  • Practicing sleep hygiene 

  • Enjoying leisure activities (cooking, dancing, playing games, or hiking)

  • Stress-reduction methods (deep breathing, gardening, socializing, or reading)

  • Practicing mindfulness (meditation or mindful breathing)

  • Reduce or stop your social media usage

Counseling options 

If you're unsure where to start addressing your stress-related problems, a therapist can help you devise a plan to reduce and manage your stress levels. If you can't afford or don't have time for in-person therapy, you can also try online therapy, which has been shown to be as effective as in-person therapy for many people. In addition, it gives you a more diverse selection of therapists and allows you to meet with your professional on your schedule. 

Online stress management programs can help you improve your capacity to cope with stress while decreasing stress levels. In addition, online therapies are shown to help with depression, anxiety, and loneliness in addition to stress

Takeaway

You're not alone if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed by stress in the past year. However, you can learn to manage and reduce it, lessening the physical and emotional toll and any stress-related side effects that you may experience. There are many potential sources of stress in modern life, and identifying what's causing yours so you can distance yourself from it might be beneficial. Therapists can also help you build a toolbox of effective coping skills to deal with increased tension in your life, no matter what the source of stress is.

With a platform like BetterHelp, you can match with a licensed online therapist based on your specific needs and preferences. Through the platform, you can reach out to your therapist at any time using in-app messaging, and they'll get back to you as soon as they can. You can also schedule phone, video, or messaging appointments during times that are convenient for you.

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