APA stress survey: Chronically stressed, lacking willpower and time to change

Parents are underestimating the impact their stress has on the whole family

by Public Relations Staff

November 18, 2010 — Findings from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) newly released 2010 Stress in America survey raise red flags about the long-term impact that chronic stress could have on our physical and emotional health and the health of our families.

The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive in August 2010, showed that Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they manage stress in unhealthy ways, while lack of willpower and time constraints impede their ability to make lifestyle or behavioral changes. This is particularly true for those who believe themselves to be in fair or poor health. There also seems to be a troublesome trend emerging among families in which parents are underestimating how much stress their children experience and the impact their own stress has on their children. At the same time, children as young as eight years old are reporting that they experience physical and emotional health consequences often associated with stress.

“America is at a critical crossroads when it comes to stress and our health,” said psychologist Norman B. Anderson, PhD, APA’s chief executive officer and executive vice president. “Year after year nearly three-quarters of Americans say they experience stress at levels that exceed what they define as healthy, putting themselves at risk for developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and depression. Stress is hurting our physical and emotional health and contributing to some of the leading causes of death in this country. People are also saying they have difficulty implementing the changes they know will decrease their stress and improve their health. Yet, our health care system is not adequately addressing this issue or providing the behavioral health treatments that can help Americans. All of us, including the medical community, need to take stress seriously since stress could easily become our next public health crisis.”

Stress in America survey results also show that children and adults alike who are obese or overweight are more likely to report that they feel stress, and overweight or obese children report that their parents were often or always stressed over the past month. Additionally, parents underestimate the impact their stress has on the family as a whole, which could have far deeper health implications then they realize. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of parents of teens and tweens say that their stress has slight or no impact on their children, yet only 14 percent of children report that their parent’s stress does not bother them. In addition, one-third of children (34 percent) say they know their parent is worried or stressed out when they yell.

Dr. Anderson presented the survey findings at a press luncheon at the Vanderbilt YMCA in New York City along with Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA executive director for professional practice, Dr. Kathryn Henderson, director of school and community initiatives and an associate research scientist at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, and Dr. Wheaton Griffon, executive director of New York YMCA Camp.

The survey report garnered significant news coverage from major media outlets including NBC, CBS, and Time magazine, USA Today, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal Health blog, AOL Health, Fox News, and U.S. News & World Report.

Stress in America is part of APA’s Mind/Body Health campaign. The survey provides an in-depth look at how stress affects families living in the United States and examines attitudes toward and perceptions about stress across the country. As part of the Mind/Body Health campaign, APA collaborated with YMCA of the USA on this year’s Stress in America media event.

To read the full report, visit the Stress in America webpage.