A Stress Snapshot
Since 2007, the Stress in America™ survey has examined how stress affects Americans’ health and well-being. Survey findings reveal that people continue to experience stress higher than what they believe to be healthy, struggle to achieve their health and lifestyle goals, and manage stress in ineffective ways.
This year, the survey also explored the relationship between stress and health behaviors like sleep, exercise and eating — behaviors that people report are important to them but that appear to be negatively affected by stress.
Survey results show that adults are living with stress that is higher than what they believe to be healthy and that they are not having much success at managing or reducing their stress.
On a scale of one to 10 (where one is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress”), adults’ average reported stress level is a 5.1, higher than the level of stress they believe is healthy (3.6).
Forty-two percent of adults report that their stress level has increased and 36 percent say their stress level has stayed the same over the past five years.
Thirty-six percent of adults say their stress has increased and nearly half (48 percent) say it has stayed the same in the past year.
Sixty-one percent of adults say that managing stress is extremely or very important, but only 35 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job at it.
Sixty-two percent of adults say they have tried to reduce stress in the past five years, but only 37 percent say they were successful at doing so.
Money (71 percent), work (69 percent) and the economy (59 percent) are the most commonly reported sources of stress.
The majority of people report experiencing some symptoms of stress — 67 percent report experiencing emotional symptoms of stress and 72 percent report experiencing physical symptoms of stress. Specific symptoms reported in the past month include feeling irritable or angry (41 percent); feeling a lack of interest, motivation or energy (39 percent); feeling nervous or anxious (37 percent); feeling overwhelmed (37 percent); fatigue or feeling tired (37 percent); feeling depressed or sad (36 percent); feeling as though they could cry (30 percent); neglecting responsibilities (27 percent); and experiencing upset stomach or indigestion (24 percent).
Despite the physical and emotional symptoms of stress that adults report, many do not perceive an impact of stress on their health. Regardless of reported symptoms, 39 percent of adults say their stress levels have slight or no impact on their physical health, with 43 percent saying the same about their mental health.
Adults’ stress levels appear to have an impact on their personal relationships as well. Adults report losing patience with others due to stress and many adults say others often tell them they seem stressed.
Nearly half (46 percent) of adults say they lost patience or yelled at their spouse, partner or children when stressed in the last month. Additionally, 46 percent report that someone tells them they seem stressed at least once a month.
More than half (54 percent) of adults say their personal relationships (for example, spouse, kids, partner) are a very or somewhat significant source of stress in their lives.
Although people consistently report stress at levels in the past month that are higher than what they believe to be healthy, many say they are not sure whether they are doing enough to manage their stress; still others admit outright that they are not doing enough to manage their stress. When people report engaging in specific stress management techniques, many say that such techniques are only somewhat or not at all effective.
- Nearly half of adults (44 percent) say they are not doing enough or are not sure whether they are doing enough to manage their stress, but as many as one in five Americans (19 percent) say they never engage in stress management activities.
- The most commonly reported stress management activities include listening to music (48 percent), exercising or walking (43 percent), going online (42 percent), watching TV or movies for more than two hours a day (40 percent) and reading (39 percent).
- A majority of adults (62 percent) who exercise or walk to manage stress say it is extremely or very effective, with 56 percent saying the same about listening to music and 49 percent saying the same about reading. Fewer say that going online (29 percent) and watching TV or movies for more than two hours a day (33 percent) are extremely or very effective stress management techniques.
- Adults also see stress benefits in mental health care. Of the 5 percent of adults reporting that they visited a mental health professional for help managing stress, 68 percent report that it was extremely or very effective.
Stress also appears to be a barrier that prevents people from making lifestyle changes and leads them to engage in unhealthy behaviors.
- In the past five years, the majority of adults have tried to make a behavior change and many are still trying. Of those who tried, more than one in 10 (13 percent) say they have not been able to make a lifestyle change because they are too stressed. Seventy-eight percent say they have tried to eat a healthier diet in the past five years, but 52 percent of those are still trying to meet this goal. Sixty-nine percent have tried to exercise more, but 50 percent of those are still trying; 61 percent have tried to get more sleep, with 53 percent of those still trying.
- Many adults report lying awake at night (43 percent), overeating or eating unhealthy foods (38 percent), and skipping meals (30 percent) due to stress in the past month.
- Sixty-three percent of adults report that getting enough sleep is extremely or very important to them, but only 30 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job at achieving this goal.
- Fifty-five percent say that eating healthy is extremely or very important to them, but only 30 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job at this.
- Half (50 percent) of adults say that being physically active or fit is extremely or very important to them, but only 27 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job at this.
Teens report experiencing stress in ways that are similar to adults. They say their stress levels are higher than they believe is healthy, do not appear to understand the impact of stress on their physical or mental health, and report that stress affects their personal relationships.
- Teens report that during the school year they have an average stress level of 5.8 on a 10-point scale, compared with a level of 4.6 during the summer. Furthermore, 31 percent of teens say their stress levels have increased over the past year.
- For teens, the most commonly reported sources of stress are school (83 percent), getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school (69 percent), and financial concerns for their family (65 percent).
- Half (51 percent) of teens say that managing stress is extremely or very important, with 41 percent saying they are doing an excellent or very good job at this.
- The most commonly reported stress management techniques among teens are listening to music (67 percent), playing video games (46 percent), going online (43 percent), spending time with family or friends (43 percent), and exercising or walking (37 percent).
- Many teens report lying awake at night (35 percent), overeating or eating unhealthy foods (26 percent), and skipping meals (23 percent) due to stress in the past month.
- Forty percent of teens report feeling irritable or angry, 36 percent report feeling nervous or anxious, 36 percent report feeling fatigued or tired, and 31 percent report feeling overwhelmed due to stress in the past month.
- Almost one in three teens report skipping exercise or physical activity in the last month when they were feeling stressed (28 percent).
- More than half (54 percent) of teens say that their stress has slight or no impact on their physical health, with 52 percent saying the same about their mental health.
- More than one-quarter of teens (26 percent) say they snapped at or were short with classmates or teammates when stressed in the last month. Fifty-one percent of teens say someone tells them they seem stressed at least once a month.
Younger Americans report higher average levels of stress in the past month and appear to experience more challenges managing their stress than older Americans.
For all generations, a gap exists between the percentage of adults who say stress management is important and the percentage who say they manage their stress effectively. The gap for younger Americans, however, is widest (Millennials: 35-point gap; Gen Xers: 31-point gap; Boomers: 22-point gap; Matures: 7-point gap).1
Millennials and Gen Xers report higher average stress levels than other adults (Millennials: 5.7 on a 10-point scale; Gen Xers: 5.7; Boomers: 4.9; and Matures: 3.5). These younger generations are also most likely to report that their stress levels have increased in the past year (Millennials: 45 percent; Gen Xers: 36 percent; Boomers: 33 percent; Matures: 21 percent). Millennials are more likely than the other three generations to say that they think their stress will increase in the next year (Millennials: 28 percent; Gen Xers: 17 percent; Boomers: 9 percent; Matures: 12 percent).
Millennials and Gen Xers also are more likely to report feeling irritable or angry in the past month due to stress (Millennials: 50 percent; Gen Xers: 48 percent; Boomers: 35 percent; Matures: 25 percent). They also are more likely to report feeling anxious or nervous (Millennials: 44 percent; Gen Xers: 46 percent; Boomers: 31 percent; Matures: 21 percent).
1 The four generations are defined as the following: Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds), Gen Xers (35- to 48-year-olds), Boomers (49- to 67-year-olds) and Matures (68 years and older).
While most men and women say that stress management is important to them, women seem to have more trouble than men in reaching their stress management goals and are also more likely to report symptoms of stress. However, women are more likely to recognize that their stress affects their health and are more likely to think psychologists can help with stress management.
Women report a higher level of stress in the past month than men (5.5 vs. 4.8 on a 10-point scale) and are more likely to say their stress is extreme (24 percent of women vs. 17 percent of men rating their stress level as an eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale).
In the past five years, 66 percent of women report having tried to reduce their stress levels, compared with 57 percent of men. Only 32 percent of women say they have reduced their stress, compared with 43 percent of men.
In the past month, more women than men reported signs and symptoms of stress, including:
Having a lack of interest, motivation or energy (44 percent vs. 33 percent of men).
Feeling overwhelmed (44 percent vs. 28 percent of men).
Experiencing fatigue (41 percent vs. 32 percent of men).
Being unable to control the important things in their life very or fairly often (27 percent vs. 21 percent of men).
Being unable to cope with all the things that they had to do very or fairly often (19 percent vs. 13 percent of men).
Despite the challenges they report, women appear to be more aware than men of the impact stress can have on their lives. Women are more likely to say stress has a strong or very strong impact on their physical health (34 percent vs. 25 percent of men) and their mental health (36 percent vs. 29 percent of men). They are also more likely than men to say that a psychologist can help a great deal or a lot with stress management (36 percent vs. 30 percent of men).
Across all regions of the country, few adults report doing an excellent or very good job at managing stress. The majority report they have tried to reduce stress, but only a small percentage report success in doing so. Adults in the West report higher levels of stress than people living in other regions, yet they are most likely to say their stress management is extremely or very important. They are also increasingly likely to say they are doing an excellent or very good job of managing their stress.
Fewer than four in 10 adults report doing an excellent or very good job at managing stress (East: 34 percent; Midwest: 36 percent; West: 37 percent; South: 33 percent).
The majority of adults say they have tried to reduce their stress in the past five years (East: 62 percent; Midwest: 58 percent; West: 64 percent; South: 63 percent). Nevertheless, fewer than four in 10 say they have been successful (East: 33 percent; Midwest: 40 percent; West: 38 percent; South: 36 percent).
On average, people living in the West and the South report higher levels of stress in the past month (West: 5.4; South: 5.3) than Americans living in other regions (East: 5.0; Midwest: 4.9).
People living in the West are most likely to say that managing their stress is extremely or very important to them (East: 61 percent; Midwest: 61 percent; West: 67 percent; South: 57 percent). Westerners are also increasingly likely to say they are doing an excellent or very good job at managing their stress (2013: 37 percent; 2012: 35 percent; 2011: 35 percent; 2010: 24 percent).
While Easterners report lower average levels of stress in the past month than they did in previous years (2013, 5.0; 2012, 5.2; 2011, 5.4; 2010, 5.2; 2009, 5.5; 2008, 5.8; 2007, 6.2), they are most likely to think their stress level will increase in the coming year (East: 21 percent; Midwest: 13 percent; West: 15 percent; South: 18 percent).
Westerners and Southerners are most likely to report feeling irritable or angry in the past month due to stress (West: 44 percent; South: 44 percent) than those in the East and Midwest (East: 38 percent; Midwest: 38 percent). Additionally, Westerners are most likely to report feeling nervous or anxious (East: 37 percent; Midwest: 34 percent; West: 39 percent; South: 38 percent).
Are Teens Adopting Adults' Stress Habits? (PDF, 3.36MB)