Nearly 50 percent of Americans say they are increasingly stressed about their ability to provide for their family's basic needs, according to APA's latest Stress in America research.

The data, which APA released on Oct. 7, found that money and the economy now top the list of stressors for eight out of 10 Americans (81 and 80 percent respectively). In addition, 67 percent of Americans feel stress about work and about health problems affecting their families, and 62 percent are worried about housing costs. Job stability is a particular concern among 56 percent of Americans.

The survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of APA as part of the Practice Directorate's ongoing Mind/Body Health public education campaign.

Data for the survey were collected in April, June and September, the latest data Sept. 19–23 just as the stock market was plunging and a few weeks before the government passed the $700 billion bailout package.

Women are most likely to report feeling stress about finances, the survey found. More women than men say they are stressed about money (83 percent vs. 78 percent), the economy (84 percent vs. 75 percent), health problems affecting their families (70 percent vs. 63 percent), housing cost (66 percent vs. 58 percent) and job stability (57 percent vs. 55 percent).

The research also found that 47 percent of adults say their stress has increased since last year. And more adults report stress-related physical and emotional symptoms:

  • 53 percent of Americans report feeling more fatigued, up from 51 percent in 2007.

  • 60 percent report feeling irritable or angry, up from 50 percent a year ago.

  • 52 percent say they are lying awake at night, up from 48 percent.

Women are more likely than men to report physical symptoms of stress.

"With the deteriorating economy dominating the headlines, it's easy to worry more about your finances than your health, but stress over money and the economy is taking an emotional and physical toll on America, especially among women," says psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, APA's executive director for professional practice.

Americans don't appear to be coping well with their increased stress, either, the report finds. Almost half of Americans (48 percent) reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods to manage stress and 39 percent skipped a meal in the last month because of stress. Women were more likely than men to report unhealthy behaviors to manage stress, such as eating poorly (56 vs. 40 percent) or shopping (25 vs. 11 percent). Meanwhile, 18 percent of Americans report drinking alcohol to manage their stress and 16 percent report smoking.

"Many say they are handling their stress well," says Nordal. "Yet people report more physical and emotional symptoms. If Americans continue to experience these high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time, they are at risk for developing serious illnesses."

Some Americans are engaging in healthy behaviors to manage their stress, the survey found, but less so than a year ago. This year, 47 percent of respondents said they exercised or walked to manage stress, down from 50 percent in 2007.

They are talking to others about their stress: 64 percent talk to spouses, 47 percent to friends, 19 percent to co-workers and 14 percent to children. But 58 percent said they would be uncomfortable seeking professional advice to help manage stress or stress-related problems.

APA has posted several resources to help people manage their stress on its Help Center. To see a full report of the survey, visit: http://apahelpcenter.mediaroom.com.