Americans are still stressed out, mainly over money, psychology report says

Posted at 6:18 PM, Feb 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-09 15:01:48-05

Stress is plentiful in the United States, and stress over money, which is anything but plentiful for many American families, is in overflowing supply, says a new survey. More than 1 in 4 Americans report they feel stressed over money most or all of the time, and most say their stress over money has either remained about the same as last year (59 percent) or gotten worse (29 percent).

As the nation emerges from a long economic downturn, the American Psychological Association’s annual survey of stress in America, issued this week, paints a picture of stress that largely parallels the nation’s uneven recovery. Among those on the economy’s lower rungs, 36 percent report they feel stress over money all or most of the time. Among those living in households with income above $50,000, half as many—18 percent—acknowledged they felt such chronic financial stress.

In 2007, the nation had no such “stress inequality gap”: While average stress levels were higher than they were in 2014, the haves and have-nots professed to experience roughly equal levels of overall stress. By 2014, stress levels began to diverge along income lines. Lower-income households averaged stress levels of 5.2 on a 1-to-10 scale on which 10 was the highest. Those with higher household incomes averaged stress levels of 4.7.

The psychological pulse-taking makes clear that this increasingly skewed pattern of stress will probably exacerbate the dramatic inequities in the health of poorer and richer Americans. Those living in lower-income households were almost twice as likely as wealthier respondents to tell survey-takers that financial insecurity stands in the way of their living a more healthful lifestyle.

Compared with higher-income respondents who experienced less stress, those with high stress and low income were more likely to say they had skipped, or considered skipping, a needed trip to the doctor out of financial concern. They were more likely to say they dealt with their stress in unhealthful ways, such as drinking alcohol, surfing the Internet, watching TV or eating. And they were more likely to say they felt lonely or isolated in their stress.

Money, work, family responsibilities and health concerns—in that order—topped the sources of stress cited by Americans in the survey. So it was no surprise that parents with children at home—whose stress levels averaged 5.8 — were more stressed than those without children at home (whose average stress level was 4.4), and that 58 percent said that paying for essentials was a significant source of stress.

Women, too, bore a heavy burden of stress. While 38 percent of men said that paying for essentials was a somewhat or very significant course of stress, 49 percent of women did so. And financially stressed women were more likely than their less-stressed sisters to eat, drink or vegetate in front a computer or TV to calm themselves.

In a statement released with this year’s report, the American Psychological Association’s executive vice president, Norman B. Anderson, called it good news that overall stress levels had declined from an average of 6.2 in 2007 to 4.9 in 2014. But he said the latest survey “continues to reinforce the idea that we are living with a level of stress that we consider too high,” and that we tend to deal with that stress in unhealthful ways.

Americans’ health depends on their managing their stress in more healthful ways, he said.