Nearly every year in recent history, the APA has taken the “Stress-Temperature” of this country on at least an annual basis. The most recent article is called Stress in America 2023/A nation recovering from collective trauma. However, even though the title of the article is about a nation recovering from the collective trauma of Covid-19, the news is not good, and recovery is not the topic of the paper. No one can argue that Covid-19 was a traumatic time and it is mostly over. But the stress of so many other crises and problems is building. The APA article points out how much higher the percentage of stress-related chronic illnesses are being seen today. To add to the growing concern about professional stress, the Louisiana Psychological Association Fall/Winter Workshop hosted Dr. Leisl Bryant, a Professional Consultant with The Trust, who spent almost the last hour of her Ethics, Risk Management and Vulnerabilities: Yours, Mine, and Ours presentation talking about stress and the need to manage it in order to remain effective therapists.
I must admit that I was getting tired of writing about stress and stress management every month and I figured the readers are getting tired of it too. However, my thoughts as I read the APA paper and then listened to Dr. Bryant were different. I realized how important it is for us all to take stress management more seriously. In other words, stop putting it off and start doing something on a regular scheduled basis. That was Dr. Bryant’s basic message.
The message of the APA article was full of data about increased and increasing numbers of people who are reporting chronic stress-related illness but denying that they are all that stressed. It is as if people do not want to admit that they are stressed.
According to the APA, adults between the ages of 35 and 44 are showing an increase in chronic illness from 48% in 2019 to 58% in 2023. The article made an important point that we all know but put it in everyday language so that it is more digestible: “Long-term stress puts the body on high alert and as stress accumulates, leads to inflammation, wearing on the immune system, and increasing the risks of a host of ailments, including digestive issues, heart disease, weight gain, and stroke.”
The APA’s yearly survey concluded that many people (81%) felt that their physical health was good even when they also reported (66%) being diagnosed with a chronic illness (high blood pressure (28%), high cholesterol (24%), or arthritis (17%). That is as close to being a river in Egypt as you can get. They also reported an anxiety disorder (24%) or depression (23%). At the same time, the data indicated that people are playing down stress. The reasons given for not
seeking treatment were: therapy doesn’t work (40%), lack of time (39%), or lack of insurance (37%). While we cannot do much about insurance costs and lack of coverage, but our field needs to get busy to change the beliefs that therapy doesn’t work and that people do not have enough time to go to therapy. We need more information into the public.
Then there is the Elephant in the room: Stress Management and how many of us really do it. There are so many ways to reduce stress. Each of us needs to spend a good half hour thinking about all the things we do to reduce stress on a DAILY basis. Make a list and really try to put it into a regular schedule. You can set your iPhone or smart watch to remind you when it is time to take a break.
I went back over the columns posted in the Psychology Times since I started writing them around 2014 and came up with so many possible ways we can pay attention to how stressed we feel at the end of the day and what we can do about it. But, as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the originator of Transcendental Meditation ™ once said, “If you can’t do anything else, Breathe!” Breathing is automatic. Maharishi was not talking about mindless breathing; he was talking about breathing with intention and focus, with mindfulness.
Maybe spend 2-3 minutes every few hours to Pause, and take some slow, deep inhalations.