October 24, 2007 / 8:34 PM / 12 years ago

One third of Americans say under extreme stress

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Worries about work and money are causing one-third of Americans to suffer from extreme stress, driving them to overeat, drink, and smoke.

In an online survey for the American Psychological Association (APA) nearly half of the 1,848 people questioned believe their stress levels have shot up in the past five years, taking a toll on their personal relationships, work productivity and health.

“We see stress as being an increasing problem,” Dr Russ Newman, the executive director for professional practice at the APA, told a press briefing.

Nearly three-quarters of people blamed work and money as the main sources of stress in their lives, followed by workload and children. Low salaries, too much work and a lack of opportunity were the main reasons for stress at work.

An equal number said they suffered from physical and psychological symptoms ranging from headaches, fatigue and muscle tension to anxiety, irritability and lack of sleep.

And about one-third of the people questioned said they had difficulty balancing family and work responsibilities. More than half said stress had caused friction in relationships with family and friends.

“While stress may be unavoidable, particularly in this day and age as we are seeing, I think the good news is that it is manageable,” Newman said.

But many people admitted they had difficulty dealing with stress which led to unhealthy habits. Seventeen percent drank too much when stressed and 66 percent of smokers said their cigarette quota shot up on difficult days.

Stress caused some people to skip a meal but 43 percent said they found comfort in overeating, particularly high-fat and high-sugar foods such as candy, chocolate, ice cream and cookies.

Nearly half also lost sleep because of stress.

“This is a perfect example of the mind-body connection,” said Beverly Thorn, a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama.

While short-term stress can be a motivator for some people, Thorn said chronic stress takes its toll on health by contributing to high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and other disorders.

She stressed the importance of breaking the vicious cycle of stress, which leads to bad habits and poor health and then more stress.

Newman advised people to take a closer look at what is causing stress as a first step to dealing with it better. About half of people who participated in the poll conducted by Harris Interactive found reading, listening to music and exercising useful in relieving stress. Forty percent said spending time with family and friends helped, and 34 percent prayed.

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