Stress In a Struggling Economy – Differences in Men and Women
Dr. David Prescott – Acadia Hospital
May 12, 2009
Stress During the Economic Downturn: The annual Stress in America Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association, showed that the economic downturn corresponded with a sharp rise in stress and stress related symptoms well over one year ago. However, over time the impact of difficult economic times appears to be taking a slightly different toll on men vs. women. Understanding how economic difficulties impact men compared to women can help identify what people can do to cope.
Stress in Men On the Rise: In a poll conducted in April, 2009, men in America, for the first time, were more likely than women to report work and money as a significant source of stress in their lives. While difficulties in these areas are problematic for both men and women, 81 percent of middle aged employed men reported work was a significant source of stress, compared with 68 percent of employed women. Similarly, 86 percent of men reported significant worry about money, compared to 78 percent of women. The percentage of women with significant worry about money has dropped slightly since last year.
Can we pinpoint what is causing the increase in stress among men? Surveys do not really allow people to clearly identify causes. However, they do allow some theories to be developed. The recent stress survey supports the common sense notion that the level of stress corresponds to the level of job layoffs or cutbacks that a person experiences. For example, people who could identify four or more significant changes at work, such as being forced to take unpaid days or cutbacks in benefits, have higher stress levels than people who had not faced such cutbacks. Nearly half of Americans continue to have significant worries that layoffs will affect their household in the near future.
Jobs and work contribute strongly to our sense of identify and self-esteem. Much of the stress associated with job loss or cutbacks in position stems from our struggle to maintain our sense of self-worth when work conditions change.
How Does Stress Impact Our Lives? While we cannot always change the source of our stress, it is important to minimize the impact of stress. Knowing the signs of stress is an important first step.
- In general, women report higher levels of physical symptoms when under high levels of stress. Things like headaches, fatigue, or lack of energy are more frequently reported by women under high stress.
- Increase in use of tobacco or alcohol is reported by about 1 in 5 Americans under high levels of stress. While this may help you avoid stress in the short run, it typically causes broader problems in the long run.
- Being more irritable or anxious is a common reaction to stress. If left unchecked, these problems may lead to a broader anxiety disorder or may be signs of depression.
Minimizing the Impact of Stress: A few simple tips can help keep stress at a manageable level, even during tough times.
- Action beats Inaction: In almost every case, using active strategies to cope will help you feel better than taking a passive approach. Even doing a couple of small things to address your stress, as long as they are not self-defeating, will help you feel better.
- Stay Connected: There is often a tendency to isolate yourself and your problems from others. Usually, this is exactly the opposite of what helps. Sharing some of your struggles with trusted others will lighten your stress load.
- Avoid coping in ways that harm your health: Coping by increasing eating, alcohol use, or tobacco use, will ultimately lead to more problems and higher stress levels. If nothing else, try to avoid these as coping measures.
For More Help:
Acadia Hospital: www.acadiahospital.org
American Psychological Association Help Center: www.apahelpcenter.org