Stress Is a Fact of Life

An NPR survey explores the extent and sources of stress, which is clearly a fact of many of our daily lives.If it seems as if a lot of people are stressed out, it may be because they are.

A survey conducted earlier this year by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health revealed almost half of the 2,500 adult respondents said they had experienced a major stress in the past year. More than 25 percent said they had been under severe stress the previous month.

Survey results showed the people feeling the most stress were in poor health, disabled or suffering from chronic conditions. Other significant sources of stress are problems at work, life changes, family issues and personal relationships gone sour.

A "heat map" of stressors shows an overwhelming set of responsibilities, financial woes and job-related problems are the major flash points for stress. Being overwhelmed is an experience shared commonly by men and women and by people at all points on the income ladder. There is greater divergence on financial woes, with women and lower-income people feeling the sting more than men and people better off financially.

Young people between the ages of 18 and 29 are more apt to feel overwhelmed and people 65 or older to feel weighed down by health problems.

People in poor health are the most inclined to suffer stress from overwhelming responsibilities, financial woes and their own health issues.

The biggest casualty of stress is sleep. Seventy percent of respondents who had experienced major stress in the last year said they slept less than usual, while 41 percent said they slept more. Forty-four percent reported eating less and 39 percent ate more. Forty-three percent exercised less and 26 percent exercised more. Forty-one percent attended religious services or prayed more often, while 33 percent watched TV or played video games more than usual.

Solid majorities of all age groups who were under high stress said stress produced some positive effects on their life.

One in seven people declared they hadn't felt any stress in the previous month. Most credited their good fortune to their personalities. Others said they had learned how to relax and neutralize stress.

The NPR report on the survey was part of a series on stress, which broadly concludes that persistent stress takes a physical toll and has a domino effect on people's health.