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Americans Are More Stressed Than Ever—Here’s What to Do

A new survey by the American Psychological Association found a new source of stress this year—the current climate in our nation. Here's how to regain a sense of calm.

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Understand why you’re feeling more stressed

The state of our nation has become the top source of stress in most people’s lives—with 63 percent of Americans saying they’re worried about our country’s future, according to the APA study. That tops the more typical sources of stress in people’s lives—money (62 percent) and work (61 percent). “We’re seeing significant stress transcending party lines,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APA’s chief executive officer, in a release about the research. “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.” Know the signs that you’re more stressed than you realize.

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Know that you aren’t alone

If you think that you’re the only one experiencing these levels of stress, mental health professionals will be quick to tell you that that’s definitely not the case. “The large-scale stress is creating more mental health illnesses and overall more emotional problems for people,” says John Mayer, PhD, clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand. “I have seen in my practice a great percentage of increase in patients seeking treatment as a result of the current state of the country. I did a survey of my practice, and since January 2017, the session notes from all my patients show that 65 percent have mentioned the stress in the country while they were in therapy. After the [Harvey] Weinstein tragedy broke, I had a 20 percent increase in new patients seeking therapy because of sexual abuse or guilt over past sexual behaviors.”

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Do something

When you’re feeling stressed, it can sometimes help you to help someone else. “When you feel overwhelmed, reach out and do something nice for someone else,” suggests Fran Walfish, PhD, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist. “Being generous in words and actions creates positive feelings for the doer and gets your endorphins flowing.” If the state of the nation is a significant source of stress, getting involved in volunteering for causes that are dear to your heart—or even running for political office—could help you feel more in control. Learn how to shut down stress fast.

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Read up on history

It may be time to revisit the past, to help give you some peace of mind. “My advice for people who find themselves stressed about the state of the country is to look at history—really look closely,” Dr. Mayer says. “History tells us that we have survived incredibly strenuous times—Cold War, Bay of Pigs/Cuba Crisis—that could have put us and did put us on the brink of annihilation, but we survived. When I tell patients these historical facts, sometimes in detail, it has calmed people.”

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Get some sleep

A good night’s rest can do a lot to help you control your stress. In an earlier report, the American Psychological Association found that a lack of sleep increased feelings of stress among survey respondents. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night to help you recharge and limit the impact of stress. Get the secrets of better sleep from sleep experts.

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Focus on your own life

It can be hard with the deluge of negative news, but stay focused on the joys and challenges of your own life. “I have advised them to focus on their world, the things that they control and bring them joy,” Dr. Mayer says. “This technique gets their focus to be narrowed, and they report that it helps them put in perspective the national and world events.” Try meditation to get stress under control.

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Watch your media (and social media!) consumption

If you’re prone to anxiety, step away from the 24/7 news channels and your Facebook account. “People are constantly plugged into Facebook and Twitter,” Dr. Walfish says. “News information and graphic photographs and videos are communicated and transmitted instantly. This makes for more reactivity and emotionality in people who have a tendency toward ambient anxiety. It also is an opportunity for the individual to have more control. They can log on only when they want. They can turn it off immediately when too much information is coming at them.” See the weird effects your social media consumption can have on your brain.

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Take care of yourself

It can be easy to devolve into bad habits to try to cope with stress, but ultimately, taking good care of yourself will be more effective. “Using drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, and other addictions are a way of not dealing directly with uncomfortable feelings,” Dr. Walfish says. The person temporarily soothes the pain with a distracting and calming behavior, such as eating ice cream or pudding. But taking seriously good care of yourself is crucial to your happiness. This includes what you eat drink, think, how much you move your body, and how much you rest.”

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Get some help

If you’re unable to get a handle on your stress, seeking therapy can help you take control. “If a patient truly cannot turn off the worries in their mind and it has become an obsessive-compulsive cycle, the only successful treatment I have seen work is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and the correct choice/dosage of anti-anxiety medication prescribed by a well-trained psychiatrist,” says Dr. Walfish. “All the talk therapy in the world will not help a patient who is suffering from obsessive thoughts and worries.” Learn how to find the right therapist for you.

Lisa Milbrand
Lisa Milbrand is a writer and editor from New Jersey, who specializes in health, parenting, and travel topics. She is the author of the upcoming book, Baby Names With Character.

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