U.S. survey finds respondents’ stress level far from ideal

News flash: Americans are stressed out.

On a scale of 1 to 10, residents of eight U.S. metropolitan areas told psychologists they rated their level of stress as 5.2, according to survey results released Wednesday. That may not sound so terrible — except that these Americans also said their ideal level of stress would be around 3.6.

“Have we reached the point of becoming a chronically stressed nation?” said Michael Ritz, a clinical psychologist in Irvine who serves as the public education coordinator for the California Psychological Assn. “The data might suggest we’ve reached that point where it just [becomes] a fact of life.”

Concerns about work, the economy and money were the main sources of all this stress, according to the survey conducted by the American Psychological Assn. Understandably, 44% of the 1,226 people who participated in the nationwide study said they were more stressed now than they were five years ago.


But 27% of respondents said their stress had receded over that period.

“The data actually surprised me, because it seems stress should be more prevalent in terms of the economy, people’s concerns about unemployment, about making ends meet,” Ritz said.

Residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties are about as stressed as the rest of America — but they’re probably better equipped to deal with it, the survey found.

For instance, they said their ideal level of stress was 3.9, so their actual stress level of 5.3 wasn’t as far off the mark as in the country as a whole.

And, according to the study, more adults in the two counties say they’ve done better at eating more healthfully than Americans overall (48% versus 44%), exercising more (45% versus 39%) and losing weight (39% versus 30%).

“It’s possible that it has to do with the climate,” said UCLA clinical psychologist Emanuel Maidenberg, who wasn’t involved in the survey. “There are more opportunities to use natural resources and be outdoors to do things that are involved in stress reduction, like physical exercise.”

Residents of the two counties are also more inclined to seek professional help to deal with their stress, the survey found. Significantly more agreed that a psychologist could help with managing stress (51%) than did Americans in general (41%).

Overall, of the eight major metropolitan areas surveyed, Los Angeles and Orange counties were probably best prepared to better cope with stress, Ritz and Maidenberg agreed. And that could translate into better physical health in addition to better mental health.

“Stress contributes to chronic illnesses, like heart disease, diabetes and obesity,” Ritz said, adding that about three-fourths of healthcare dollars go to dealing with chronic maladies.