Q. I am in my early 30’s. Everyone, including me, seems to be experiencing extreme stress. What is causing the epidemic?
A. The American Psychological Association recently issued its annual report on stress in America. Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that levels for most Americans were down from the last year with the exception of the Millennial generation, those ages 18-33.
Researchers speculate that heightened stress levels in young adults are due to the economic collapse and the high expectations that many parents place on their children to be successful. Young adulthood is a time when people are graduating, establishing careers, finding partners, getting married, and often starting families. They may have student loans to be repaid, and that glorious first job with the $80,000 salary did not materialize. In fact, no job may have materialized. The January 2013 statistics revealed unemployment of the Millennial generation was 13 percent. Approximately, 1.7 million young people were not counted because they have given up looking for work.
In lower-income areas of the country, reasons for increased stress for the Millennial generation may be entirely different. Many girls have children in their teen years, so it is not unusual for someone 30 to be the mother of a 15 or 16 year old. The stress on a young parent just to earn a living, to deal with her teenage children, and to attempt to find direction in her own life can be overwhelming. If her daughter has children at 15 or 16, the stress is multiplied.
Although Millennials have effective ways of dealing with stress such as spending time with family and friends, they often prefer sedentary and solitary methods. Thirty-six percent of those questioned reported that they dealt with stress by eating or playing video games; 41 percent relieved stress by surfing the Internet; and 59 percent coped by listening to music.
To alleviate some of the stress in your life, get out into your world and network; it may offer future benefits in terms of both careers and relationships. It is also important to choose less sedentary methods of stress reduction: exercise, do volunteer work, or participate in activities at your church or school. As your life stabilizes, your stress level will likely begin to decrease.
Q. I visited my cousins on the East Coast recently. Their lives seemed full of stress. When I came home to the South, my friends seemed much calmer. Is there any truth to my observation?
A. You are correct. People in the South report less stress than those living in the East. That is the good news. The bad news is statistically Southerners manage stress less effectively than those living elsewhere. While those on the East Coast say their three most effective methods of managing stress are walking, listening to music and reading, Southerners mention eating as their number one stress management technique.
According to the latest research, eating to manage stress rose from 20 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2012 in the Southern region. If this continues, within less than 5 years over 40 percent of Southerners will use eating as the major method of managing daily stress. This trend is especially alarming since a majority of Southerners (69 percent) have been diagnosed with a health condition that is often related to obesity.
Southerners are also less likely to seek help for stress. Although over 40 percent of people in the South believe that a mental health professional could assist them in stress management, only 4 percent have actually seen a psychologist or counselor.
There may indeed be less stress in the South, but we must find more effective ways of dealing with it. For more information about stress management for all ages and in all areas of the US, go to www.apa.org/news/press/release/stress/2012.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice for several years. If you have questions, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.