The Burden of Stress in America

Earlier this spring NPR, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health conducted a survey to examine the role stress plays in different aspects of Americans' lives.  The 2,505 respondents were asked about their experiences of stress in the past month and year, the perceived effects of their stress and causes of that stress, their methods of stress management and their general attitudes about effects of stress in people's lives.

  • About half of respondents indicated that they experienced a stressful event in the last year, and 43 percent of those said that their most stressful event was health-related (either illness or the death of a loved one).
  • A quarter reported being under a "great deal" of stress in the past month, especially those who are disabled or in poor health.
  • The important factors affecting people included having too many responsibilities, financial difficulties, and work-related problems. But personal health problems and health problems in the family were also commonly cited.  The extent to which these stressors affect people seem to be associated with age.  For example, "young adults [...] felt the most overwhelmed by responsibilities, while older people were most likely to say that personal health problems were stressful."
  • Among people who said they'd had a great deal of stress in the previous month, the most common effects of stress were difficulties sleeping and eating and a decrease in exercise.  Respondents also reported that stress affected all areas of their lives: family life, health, work life, and social life.
  • The top 10 daily events that contribute to people's stress are: juggling schedules of family members, hearing about what the government or politicians are doing, watching/reading/listening to the news, household tasks (such as cooking and cleaning), running errands, car problems, commuting to work, handling household repairs, losing something important (like keys or cellphone), and using social media. 
  • Respondents who reported having experienced a great deal of stress over the past month tried to reduce their stress by spending time with family and friends, praying or meditating regularly, spending time outdoors, and eating healthfully.
  • Among those who said they hadn't had any stress at all in the past month (about 1 in 7 respondents), two thirds said it was because of their personality. Other factors that helped people stay relaxed were steps they had taken to reduce stress, an absence of stressful events in the past month, and their faith or religion. Nearly three-quarters said they have a great deal of control over the stress in their life. 

Read more: resources:
Gallup Healthways Wellbeing Index Interactive (
BRFSS: Prevalence Data and Data Analysis Tools (
IHME: Data Visualizations (
Social Class and Health: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Exploring the Second Shift: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Racial Disparities in Mental Health: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Sociology of Healthcare (
Frederique Laubepin

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