The University of Michigan’s Arline T. Geronimus, Sc.D., and Shervin Assari, M.D., contributed to an Everyday Health story about stress in the United States. The research shows that “chronic stress is a national epidemic for all genders and ages.” Geronimus is a professor in the U-M School of Public Health, while Assari is a research assistant professor in the U-M Department of Psychiatry, which houses the U-M Depression Center. Below is an excerpt.
Stress on steroids. That’s how life feels for many Americans today. Consider senseless shootings, a nasty political climate, catastrophic weather, increasing suicide rates. Factor in close-to-home stressors such as caring for a loved one; parenting a learning-disabled, autistic, depressed, or anxious child; managing your own chronic condition or addiction; looking for a job. Now layer in everyday annoyances — traffic, train delays, a nasty coworker, a long supermarket line after an even longer day. No wonder we feel overloaded, overwhelmed, out of control, and unsafe.
Chronic stress zaps brainpower by damaging neural pathways and skewing judgment. It compromises the immune system. It taxes the heart, kidneys, liver, and brain.
Stress in the modern world is a constant. When stress doesn’t let up and is paired with the feeling that we have little to no control over the circumstances that are creating it, that’s called chronic stress. Over and over again, the research points to one key fact: Prolonged or unremitting stress exacts a stunningly toxic toll on the body, brain, mind, and soul. Its ongoing assault wears us down, measurably aging — or “weathering” — our insides, for some of us much more than others. Chronic stress zaps brainpower by damaging neural pathways and skewing judgment. It compromises the immune system. It taxes the heart, kidneys, liver, and brain.
But does living in the world today mean that no matter what we do, we’re doomed to swim in a sea of stress and its ill effects, including anxiety, meltdowns, and panic attacks? Or could it be that everything we thought we knew about stress and how to manage or alleviate it is outdated or outright wrong? Maybe it’s time for everyone to get on the same page when it comes to stress.
Everyday Health’s United States of Stress special report surveyed 6,700 Americans nationwide [download survey data], ages 18 to 64, cutting a wide swath across demographic groups, gender, and health conditions to find out what stresses us and how we cope. Our survey panels were chosen to closely mimic the geographic distribution of the U.S. population. (Our respondent distributions won’t match up directly with Census percentages because we phrased our questions about demographics, such as race/ethnicity, differently, with survey participants selecting as many identifiers as applied — including “other” — from a list.) Then, we invited some of the nation’s top “stress response” thinkers to weigh in on the survey data and offer insights.
Even our expert panelists — among them some of the nation’s top researchers — say they’ve been genuinely surprised about the extent of harm wrought by chronic stress and the lack of attention paid to it.
Read the rest of the story on everydayhealth.com.