Despite our best efforts, stress is often a part of life, something that many people have simply learned to tolerate. And while it’s incredibly prevalent in the United States, understanding stress and the causes of stress can make it much less intimidating. This guide offers a deep dive into stress statistics, its consequences on our health, prevention, and treatments.
What is stress?
Stress isn’t technically a disease, although it can have lasting effects on an individual’s mental health. Rather, it’s a response. Specifically, it’s one of the body’s natural physical, mental, and emotional reactions to an external stressor. Frequently the source of stress is rooted in change—a big move, a new project, a wedding, etc. But it can also stem from a person’s surroundings, like an aggressive boss or a tense conversation.
When the body faces a perceived threat, stress levels rise and hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine are released to increase alertness, tense muscles, and heighten blood pressure. This is the evolutionary “fight or flight” response. But in most cases, the cause of stress isn’t a physical attacker, so it can result in headaches, extended muscle tension, lack of sleep, indigestion, and other symptoms.
In short bursts, stress can actually help someone increase productivity or maintain focus. But chronic stress can contribute to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders.
How common is stress?
In short, stress is extremely common. Rarely can anyone completely escape it. But in recent years, self-reported stress has skyrocketed. Take a look:
- More than three-quarters of adults report symptoms of stress, including headache, tiredness, or sleeping problems. (American Psychological Association, 2019)
- Eighty percent of U.S. workers say they experience stress on the job. (American Institute of Stress)
- Nearly half of all U.S. adults (49%) say that stress has negatively affected their behavior (American Psychological Association, 2020)
Stress statistics worldwide
- About one-third of people around the world reported feeling stressed, worried, and/or angry in 2019 (Gallup)
- Approximately 284 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder (Our World in Data, 2017)
- The most stressed nations, based on the percent of the population who reported experiencing stress “a lot” yesterday, are:
- Greece (59%)
- Philippines (58%)
- Tanzania (57%)
- Albania (55%)
- Iran (55%)
- Sri Lanka (55%)
- United States of America (55%)
- Uganda (53%)
- Costa Rica (52%)
- Rwanda (52%)
- Turkey (52%)
- Venezuela (52%)
Stress statistics in America
- Nearly 1 in 5 American adults say that their mental health has declined since last year (American Psychological Association, 2020)
- S. adults surveyed in 2020 reported that increased stress has:
- Negatively affected their behavior (49%)
- Increased tension in their bodies (21%)
- Caused them to “snap” out of anger (20%)
- Caused unexpected mood swings (20%)
(American Psychological Association, 2020)
- Sixty-five percent of Americans surveyed said that the current uncertainty in the nation causes them stress (American Psychological Association, 2020)
Stress statistics by cause
Some of the most common stressors never change, like money, work, and family responsibilities. But 2020 has seen a slew of new contenders, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a contentious political climate, and more.
- Almost 8 out of 10 Americans reported that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused them stress (American Psychological Association, 2020)
- Seventy-seven percent of U.S. adults report feeling stressed over the future of the nation, up from 66% in 2019 (American Psychological Association, 2020)
- In 2020, 63% of U.S. adults said that the economy is a significant source of stress, compared to 46% in 2019 (American Psychological Association, 2020)
- Nearly two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work in the past year were higher than they were five years ago (Korn Ferry, 2019)
- A 2017 study showed that the top causes of stress in America were:
- Money (64%)
- Work (60%)
- The economy (49%)
- Family responsibilities (47%)
- Personal health problems (46%)
(American Psychological Association, 2017)
Stress statistics by age
Younger generations are experiencing a higher level of stress and anxiety than older ones in 2020, especially in the United States.
- When asked to rate their stress level out of ten, here’s how U.S. adults responded by age group:
- Gen Z: 6.1
- Millennials: 5.6
- Gen X: 5.2
- Baby Boomers: 4.0
- Older Adults: 3.3
(American Psychological Association, 2020)
- The frequency rates of stress-related mental health in 2018 was similar among young adults but baby boomers and older adults reported more stress:
- Millennials: 56%
- Gen X: 45%
- Baby Boomers: 70%
- Older Adults: 74%
(American Psychological Association, 2018)
Stress statistics by sex
Stress isn’t just different across age groups, but by sex as well, and women are more likely to experience higher levels.
- Women surveyed placed their stress levels at an average of 5.1 out of 10, while men reported an average of 4.4 out of 10 (American Psychological Association, 2016)
- Nearly one-third of women (32%) reported a stress increase over the past five years, compared to 25% of men (American Psychological Association, 2010)
- Thirty-three percent of married women reported experiencing a great deal of stress in the past month, compared to 22% percent of single women (American Psychological Association)
- Of women surveyed, 49% reported experiencing frequent stress, compared to 40% of men surveyed (Gallup, 2017)
Stress and overall health
In the moment, it might feel like stress is an annoyance that comes and goes with certain events. But it can leave an immediate and prolonged impression on a person’s mental and physical well-being. The short-term physical symptoms of stress include headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, elevated heart rate, upset stomach, and trouble sleeping. Mental health symptoms include irritability, restlessness, and lack of focus. In the long run, consistently high levels of stress can cause depression, anxiety disorders, gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain. Prolonged stress has even been linked to heart disease.
- In the general population, adults with work stress or private-life stress have a 1.1-fold to 1.6-fold increased risk of incident coronary heart disease and stroke (Nature Reviews Cardiology, 2018)
- Study participants who had a high level of psychological demands at their job “had a twofold risk of major depression or generalized anxiety disorder compared to those with low job demands” (Psychol Med, 2008)
- Seventy-seven percent of Americans said that they regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 73% reported experiencing psychological symptoms (American Psychological Association, 2017)
- Forty-two percent of Americans surveyed said that stress has caused them to lose sleep and 33% said it has caused them to overeat in the last month (American Psychological Association, 2017)
The cost of stress
- It’s estimated that job stress costs U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal, and insurance costs (The American Institute of Stress)
- Stress costs businesses an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in additional health care expenditures per year (Management Science, 2016)
The daily health issues and costs of stress have prompted Americans to look for ways they can preemptively head it off. It’s not always possible to prevent stress, but there are some ways to stop it before it starts. Many of these techniques stem from a mindset shift. “Sometimes stress can be caused by negative self-talk, a pessimistic outlook, perfectionism or inability to accept change,” says Brian Wind, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and Chief Clinical Officer at JourneyPure. Learning how to curb these unhealthy thought patterns can improve one’s ability to deal with stressful situations, resulting in less stress overall.
Identifying significant stressors can also help a person handle them when they arise or avoid them entirely (if possible). “Stress can be caused by external events such as difficulties in personal relationships, financial difficulties or work,” says Wind, and while these aren’t always avoidable, they’re things that a person can mentally prepare for. And maintaining positive life habits like a healthy diet, adequate sleep schedule, and fulfilling social friendships, he continues, can help improve resilience and improve relationships.
Since work is a top stressor around the world, a healthy work-life balance is an essential piece in the puzzle as well. Many companies are recognizing the detrimental effect stress can have on their employees (and finances), and in response, they’re implementing stress management training and initiatives that encourage a well-balanced work experience.
Of course, stress is just a part of life. Everyone experiences it at some point or another. But the way it’s managed can either mitigate or exacerbate it. For example, excessive alcohol consumption, overeating, smoking, and overspending might seem beneficial in the moment but can be detrimental to a person’s mental and physical health in the long run.
When it comes to positive stress management techniques “It’s important to maintain healthy coping strategies such as yoga, meditation, journaling or hobbies,” Wind says. “Make time for yourself even if you feel you don’t “deserve” it. Going for a walk in nature or exercise are also great ways to relieve stress.”
Some studies have shown that mindfulness meditation has moderate evidence to improve anxiety and depression, and others showed that yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and more. A 2020 study also found that spending at least ten minutes outdoors can help reduce the mental and physical effects of stress and a 2014 study on regular exercise noted its positive effect on emotional resilience. Other potentially beneficial activities include listening to music, playing with a pet, laughing, and spending time with friends.
In certain cases, someone might look to medications and supplements instead. Doctors won’t typically prescribe medication for mild, temporary stress. But severe, chronic stress and anxiety might warrant a prescription drug like Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), or Valium (diazepam). These drugs, which belong to a drug class called benzodiazepines, affect certain neurotransmitters to produce a calming effect in the brain.
For minor, day-to-day stress, some people opt for dietary supplements like green tea, lavender, magnesium, lemon balm, and kava. These aren’t as powerful as medications, but they may help.
How many people are stressed?
Around 75% of Americans reported to the American Psychological Association that they experienced a physical or mental symptom of stress in the last month.
Who is affected by stress the most?
According to the APA’s 2020 Stress in America study, Gen Z is more stressed than Millenials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, or older adults.
What percent of high schoolers are stressed? What percentage of college students are stressed?
How many deaths are caused by stress?
One meta-analysis showed that approximately five million deaths worldwide are attributed to mood and anxiety disorders each year. Stress has also been linked to America’s five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis, and suicide.
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- Gender and Stress. American Psychological Association
- Stress in America 2020. American Psychological Association
- Stress in America 2018. American Psychological Association
- Stress in America 2017. American Psychological Association
- Stress in America 2015. American Psychological Association
- Americans‘ stress, worry, and anger intensified in 2018. Gallup
- Eight in 10 Americans afflicted by stress. Gallup
- 42 worrying workplace stress statistics. The American Institute of Stress
- Mental health. Our World in Data
- Workplace stress continues to mount. Korn Ferry
- Worplace Stress. American Institute of Stress
- Effects of stress on the development and progression of cardiovascular disease. Nature Reviews Cardiology
- Work stress precipitates depression and anxiety in young, working women and men. Psychological Medicine
- The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States. Management Science
- Homework Wars. Princeton Review