There is a lot of unrest and tension enveloping the United States right now. From the COVID-19 pandemic to protests calling for racial equality, it seems as if the tumult within the nation is never ending. Lurking within the country’s climate, however, there is another epidemic that is moving through the masses silently, yet overwhelmingly: stress.
According to polls taken in 2018, Americans indicated sensations of stress, anger, and worry at the levels higher than that seen in over a decade. Concern over money, work, and the economy topped the list of what caused high levels of stress in Americans, followed by political stress, job stability, family responsibilities, and faith in their country.
While these issues have always been a burden on individuals throughout history, why is it in the 21st century that numbers have risen so dramatically?
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Americans have been burdened by 9/11, the Great Recession, multiple natural disasters, mass shootings, and progressively acrimonious elections.
Stress, like other emotional states, is cumulative, and 55% of Americans admitted to experiencing stress “during a lot of the day.” This is contrasted to the rest of the world, who averaged 35%. Nevertheless, this feeling of daily stress could be a culmination of multiple micro-issues that build either during work, school, or in relationships, as 45% of Americans reported having “a lot” of anxiety about the following day. These worries could be carried over into subsequent issues, which in turn cause an increase in stress.
What is causing all of this increased stress in Americans compared to other countries? Researchers at San Diego State University claim to have discovered a link between social media use and mental health issues in adolescents. Since humans are social beings, we need in-person interactions and connections to fuel our brains, resulting in positive feelings in both our mental and physical health. UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman dictates that social interaction is as important to us as basic necessities such as food and water. He argues that the desire to interact with others has “been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”
However, as America has become more reliant on technology for work, education, even shopping, these social interactions have gradually shifted from in-person to online. Television shows and movies have become more accessible through online streaming services, social media allows for cyber-interactions with people all over the world, and video games are being more glamorized through sports networks like ESPN airing tournaments. There has also been an increase in social media dating, allowing individuals to message and video chat rather than having in-person introductions.
Nevertheless, the predisposition for human connection has retained. It is no surprise to researchers, then, to find what they label the “erosion in attachment” with Americans; as the rates of personal interactions fall, levels in stress rise.
Another reason proposed by researchers as to why stress levels are on the incline is the increased political tension between Americans, and the corrosion of faith in their country.
Human development psychologists that study the habits and patterns of infants observed that from a young age, babies search for strong connections with their primary caregivers just as much as they pine for food and drink. This behavior, according to psychologists, is a result of the infant’s need to feel “soothing and comfort…in the form of emotional security and safety,” and are our ways as humans for handling stress. These habits of dealing with anxiety persist into adulthood, and for those who have declining faith in their country, those reassurances are not met, thus resulting in stress.
It’s not only adults who are feeling the effects of this rise in anxiety within America, but children are as well. Researchers have observed that children have been reporting multiple somatic complaints from headaches and stomachaches to insomnia. Most parents don’t realize that children are very in-tune to picking up feelings of distress or instability. Just like infants, they too look to their caregivers for cues of safety and stability. When parents are stressed out, it can have direct impact on the physical and mental health of the children. Overeating is a habit children feeling anxiety commonly develop, and it has been found that children who are overweight tend to worry more.
While stress is on the rise in America, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just as the anxiety is buildable, so are the actions that help cope with it. Although there are high reports of worry circulating the nation, the average amount of stress is 4.9 on a 10-point scale, and 64% of Americans reported they had studied something new or participated in an interesting activity the day before, compared to 49% worldwide. This sheds a positive light on the durability of Americans, and their talent for rising above obstacles.
To handle the stressors that are present within the United States, the best practiced method is placing restrictions (i.e. time, location, content accessibility) on technology use, and partaking in outdoor activities.
Surrounding ourselves with nature grants us accessibility to its serenity, which can help our mind and body decompress from the hassles that surround everyday life. In addition, planning social gatherings that foster the need for human connection can have huge positive impacts on mental health.
Mindful meditation is also an excellent habit to adopt, which releases the tension within your body and gives clarity to the mind.
Stressors will always be present within our daily lives in America, but the ways in which individuals handle them can provide lifelong benefits.
Need some support dealing with the stress in your life? Resources are available. Don’t wait. The sooner you seek help, the better.
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