By Dr. Mercola
The American Psychological Association (APA) has released its latest “Stress in America” report, with some good news to report. Overall, average stress levels in the US are trending downward.
On a 10-point scale, with 1 being “little or no stress” and 10 being “a great deal of stress,” the average stress level was 4.9 in 2014, compared to over 6 in 2007.1 That being said, many are still reporting high levels of stress, especially when it comes to one major factor: money.
Money and Financial Pressures Are Stressing Americans Out
Money topped the list of stressors to Americans, beating out work, family responsibilities, and health concerns. Close to three-quarters of Americans (72 percent) said they feel stressed about money at least some of the time, and close to one-quarter (22 percent) said they experience extreme stress about money.
In the last year, most Americans have taken steps to cut back on their expenses, including using coupons, cooking more at home, and cutting back on non-essentials. Despite these steps, 54 percent of Americans say they have “just enough” or “not enough” money to make ends meet at the end of the month.
What’s more, 32 percent of Americans said their lack of money prevents them from living a healthy lifestyle, while one in five have skipped (or considered skipping) needed doctor’s visits due to financial concerns.
It’s a vicious cycle, because both stress and financial pressure can take a toll on your health, which in turn may create more stress and money trouble. According to the APA report:2
“These findings stand against a backdrop of research that shows the profound effects of stress on health status and longevity. Research also shows that financial struggles strain individuals’ cognitive abilities, which could lead to poor decision-making and may perpetuate their unfavorable financial and health situations.”
Health Care Costs Are a Leading Source of Financial Stress
“Even though aspects of the U.S. economy continue to improve, some Americans are squeezed by sharp increases in health care costs and the cost of living,” the report noted. Overall, 38 percent of Americans said paying for out-of-pocket health care costs is a somewhat or very significant source of stress.
Parents and younger people (Generation Xers) report even higher levels of stress due to health care costs, as do those who make $50,000 a year or less (the study’s definition of lower income).
America spends 2.5 times more on health care per capita than any other developed nation, quickly approaching $3 trillion every year. With this kind of expenditure, you would expect our citizens to be the healthiest in the world, but this is not the case. In fact, the US ranks dead last in quality of care—Americans are sicker and live shorter lives than people in most other industrialized nations.
Meanwhile, those living in lower-income households report higher stress levels than those living in higher-income households, and they’re nearly twice as likely to say a lack of money prevents them from living a healthy lifestyle.
Case in point, low-income families often rely on coupons to stretch tight food budgets. But the vast majority of coupons are for processed food—not fresh produce, organic foods or local foods.
One study found that most grocery store coupons slice the cost of junk food and sugary drinks, but relatively few discount high-quality meats, dairy, or fresh fruits and vegetables.3
The majority of the coupons are for processed foods because those are the stores' most profitable products, so they make deals with manufacturers to promote them.
If the poorest families are the most frequent coupon users, then it makes sense they would also have the worst diets and most health problems—and indeed, that is what the research shows. The healthiest states in the union are also the wealthiest, and nearly all of the nation's least healthy states have the lowest per capita income.4
Likely not coincidentally, this population, along with being more stressed, is also more likely to engage in sedentary or unhealthy behaviors to manage their stress (such as watching TV for more than two hours a day, surfing the internet, eating, drinking alcohol or smoking).
Also at particular risk are women of all income levels who, according to the APA report, “consistently report high levels of overall stress and unhealthy behaviors to manage stress, also report high levels of stress about money.”
Is Too Much Stress Taking a Toll on Your Health?
Energy psychology techniques such as EFT can be very effective for reducing anxiety by correcting the bioelectrical short-circuiting that causes your body’s reactions—without adverse effects. You can think of EFT as a tool for “reprogramming” your circuitry, and it works on both real and imagined stressors. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture for more than 5,000 years to treat physical and emotional ailments, but without the invasiveness of needles.
Following a 2012 review in the American Psychological Association’s journal Review of General Psychology, EFT has actually met the criteria for evidence-based treatments set by the APA for a number of conditions.5 Recent research has shown that EFT significantly increases positive emotions, such as hope and enjoyment, and decreases negative emotional states, including anxiety.6
EFT is particularly effective for treating stress and anxiety because it specifically targets your amygdala and hippocampus, which are the parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat. In addition to stress relief, you can use EFT for setting goals and sticking to them, which is what the video above is focused on. If you are seriously stressed about money, setting goals related to your financial future might be especially pertinent – and easier to achieve when combined with EFT.
Take Control of Your Stress
There are many different stress-reduction techniques. Regardless of the source of your stress, whether it be money, family troubles, or something different entirely, the key is to find out what works best for you, and stick to a daily stress-reduction program. One key strategy is to make sure you get adequate sleep, as sleep deprivation dramatically impairs your body’s ability to handle stress. Besides that, other stress-management approaches include:
Regular physical activity Meditation: Taking even 10 minutes to sit quietly, such as during work breaks, can help decrease your feelings of stress and anxiety Mindfulness training and breath work Yoga: Health benefits from regular yoga practice have been shown to decrease stress, improve sleep, and immune function, and reduce food cravings, among other things Social connectedness Laughter and levity Spend time in nature Music Have more fun EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique