Feeling stressed out? You’re in good company. The American Psychological Association released a survey last week showing that nearly a third of American adults suffer from extreme stress, due mostly to money and work pressures, followed closely by the stressor listed, simply enough, as children. Anyone with a job or a kid is probably thinking, Tell me something I don’t already know, but the trends nevertheless are striking. Half of the respondents said their stress levels had risen over the past five years, while the number of those who cited money and work as their biggest woes was up by 15 percent over just a year ago. Stress-induced health problems, from headaches to obesity, are on the rise.
There are no shortages of culprits. The economy has gotten tougher, jobs less secure. E-mail and other technologies that were supposed to make life easier only make it harder to find any solitude or escape. And there’s no forgetting that we live in an age of terror, whose very name seems designed to keep us up at night. No wonder, then, that sleep problems were reported by nearly 48 percent of those surveyed; they blamed stress for the loss of an average of 21 hours of sleep in the previous month. And sleeplessness, it turns out, may be doing a lot more than making us cranky. A new medical study found that lack of sleep appears to inhibit the brain function that keeps our emotions from spinning wildly out of control. (See Page 24.) In fact, the neural activity in the sleep-deprived is remarkably similar to that seen in patients with posttraumatic stress and other psychiatric disorders. Just what we needed: Something else to stress out about. - Eric Effron