Psychologists’ clients strive for balance and support in times of high stress

New APA Stress in America™ survey shows half of Americans believe this is the lowest point in U.S. history.

By Sophie Bethune and Jewel Edwards-Ashman

Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association’s report, "Stress in America™: The State of Our Nation."

The report states that more Americans are stressed about the future of the nation than other perennial stressors like money (62 percent) and work (61 percent). More than half of Americans (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember — a figure spanning every generation, including those who lived through World War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The uncertainty and unpredictability tied to the future of our nation is affecting the health and well-being of many Americans in a way that feels unique to this period in recent history,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APA’s chief executive officer.

Americans are more likely to report feeling the effects of stress in this year’s survey than they did in the prior year. For nearly half of Americans (45 percent), lying awake at night in the past month was one stress outcome, as opposed to four in 10 (40 percent) who had reported sleeplessness in 2016. The survey also revealed a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who had experienced at least one symptom of stress in the past month, from 71 percent in 2016 to 75 percent in 2017. Of the symptoms reported, around one-third of adults reported experiencing feeling nervous or anxious (36 percent), irritabile or angry (35 percent) and fatigued (34 percent) due to their stress.

West Coast psychologist observes more stress

The four U.S. regions differ in their sentiments about the future of the nation. Adults in the West (70 percent) were more likely than those in the South (63 percent), East (60 percent) and Midwest (56 percent) to consider the future of the nation as a somewhat or very significant source of stress.

Seattle-based psychologist Nancy Goldov, PsyD, BC-DMT, said Washingtonians may be more stressed about this political climate. Goldov, who also serves as the APA Public Education Campaign co-chair in Washington, said her patient roster, and wait-list, has grown this year.

“I’m seeing a lot of people who come in with stress and problems, but who simultaneously want to do good in the world and be of benefit to others. Everyone wants to improve their relationships and have a positive outlook; and find sane ways to relate with difficult situations, emotions and feelings. People want support and strategies for maintaining good connections with family members and friends. People want to feel empowered and stable amidst conflict and stress. The high level of societal stress has actually made it easier, in some ways, for clients to talk more openly about their stress.”

There also seems to be a “sense of acceleration” about the rate of change among some of her clients. “They believe they can’t really waste any time creating more conflicts or adding more stress,” Goldov said. So, she’s been asking her clients to consider what things they are doing to add to their stress as a way of deepening their understanding about how they might be unnecessarily keeping their stress levels elevated.

“By understanding what you’re doing to keep the stress going, you can experiment with pausing, slowing down and learning to stop adding more stress to what is already happening. People are relieved to discover they can find their sanity and calm down instead of getting more worked up or escalating their stressful situation,” Goldov said.

Goldov has also felt the need to practice risk management, stress management and self-care with more determination this year.

“Risk management strategies help me maintain my self-care activities and wellbeing,” Goldov said. Her risk management strategy includes being a member of a psychology consult group, and reading journals and research articles. Goldov also strives to end sessions on time and keep her caseload balanced.

One practice that Goldov recommends to practitioners: Discuss the effects of politics with other psychologists. “I meet with a group of psychologists once a month and we talk about how politics is impacting our work. I have a place to go where I know that I can talk about this with other practitioners and know that I’m not alone,” Goldov says.

To read the full Stress in America report or to download graphics, visit Stress in America™ Press Room.

For additional information on stress, lifestyle and behaviors, visit the Psychology Help Center webpage. Join the conversation about stress on Twitter by following @APAHelpCenter and #stressAPA.