Why More Americans Are Feeling More Stressed

By Chris Metinko

This piece originally appeared on TheStreet

Feeling stressed?

Americans apparently are feeling it more and more.

A new study shows 42% of Americans reported being more stressed in 2016 than in 2015—an increase from 2015 when only 36% said they were being more stressed, according to a new Allianz Life study. This is despite being more optimistic about their financial futures.

All that outside uncertainty has seeped into this new year, as it “has been a year of change—politically, economically and socially,” said Jan Bruce, co-founder and CEO of meQuilibrium, a developer of a digital platform for dealing with stress.

Dr. Drew Pate, a board-certified psychiatrist from Sheppard Pratt Health System, agreed we have seen much change and upheaval, and whether or not someone experienced the changes as positive or negative, change is stressful.

“Changes in our day-to-day lives, such as a new relationship, a new job, or changes on the national scene such as a new president can make us feel out of balance or overwhelmed,” Pate said.

He added people can be optimistic while still being stressed.

“Even when we are excited or optimistic about the change, the change disrupts our daily routines and challenges our automatic assumptions, and we must learn new routines and new ways of thinking,” he said.

“Changing patterns and routines is always difficult,” Pate said. “The good news is that most of us are resilient and can accept and adjust to the change in our world, and with time the change will become the ‘new normal’—at least until the next change comes along.”

Bruce said it’s important to not just give into the stress we feel with the changing times.

“The answer is to build our resilience capacity, so that we learn to cope with the pressures, bounce back from setback, and even find ways to thrive under new circumstances,” she said.

And while most attribute the changes of 2016 to politics and the election, there are a variety of issues— many financial—lots of people are dealing with that can increase stress, points out Prof. Erik Peper at the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at San Francisco State University.

“Housing costs have gone up significantly so that many people would be more stress,” said Peper, also adding many more people are bringing work home with them or are on call 24 hours a day.

Peper also said technology may be playing a role.

“Our research data with college students shows that the students who use their smart phones most during social interactions report feeling the most lonely and isolated,” he said.

There also has been an increase of “sitting disease,” he added.

“People are more and more captured by digital displays and do less and less movement,” Peper said. “Movement tends to reduce stress.”

Dr. Andrew Shatte, chief science officer and also a co-founder at meQuilibrium, added uncertainty is a breeding ground for stress, and to overcome it people need to change their response to it.

“We know that the greatest sources of stress come from concerns about our financial health, our physical health and the overall well-being of our family—especially our kids,” Shatte said. “When the conditions of these issues are put into question, it’s natural that stress will ensue.”

Shatte said if people are not making environmental changes that will eliminate stress—such as taking more vacation days—then people must change their response to it.

“Falling victim to the stress epidemic—which is recognized by the World Health Organization as the health epidemic of the 21st century—cripples our ability to focus and perform,” he said. “By shifting perspective to view change as an opportunity—rather than a stressor—individuals will be able to not only manage stress, but thrive off it.”