Stress in America: 5 unnerving new facts

A new national survey highlights the anxieties of overwhelmed parents, jumpy kids, and insecure Southern Californians

A recent study finds that women with demanding jobs are 40 percent more likely to have heart problems.
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It may not come as a big surprise, but Americans are feeling stressed out. How bad is it? A nationwide poll conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) doesn't exactly paint a pretty picture. Just over half of Americans say they are living with "moderate" stress, and 24 percent admit to feeling "severely" stressed. The survey, conducted in August by Harris Interactive, breaks down the results into several subcategories. Here are some key findings:

1. It's all about the money

Money tops the list of stress sources (76 percent of respondents identified it as a problem), followed by work (70 percent) and the economy (65 percent). "So basically, it all comes down to moolah," says Brad Tuttle in Time. And we're not dealing too well with the fallout. "We're cranky, we're tired, our diets are bad, and we're not taking care of ourselves physically or mentally." If that description reminds you of "parents taking care of a newborn," it's an apt parallel: 8 out of 10 parents say they are stressed about money.

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2. Kids feel their parents' stress

Most parents — 69 percent — say that their stress doesn't affect their children, but the kids disagree: 91 percent of 8- to 17-year-olds said they can tell when their parents are stressed out, and many "feel sad, worried, and frustrated as a result," says Sue Shellenbarger in The Wall Street Journal. It's important to talk to your kids during stressful times, says APA chief executive Norman Anderson. "The key message is 'We're going to address these difficulties and we'll be OK. We'll get through this.'"

3. Overweight kids have it the worst

The connection between stress and overweight children was "perhaps most notable" among the findings, the report says. About a third of U.S. kids are overweight, and a third of that group reported feeling worried, compared with 14 percent of kids whose weight falls into the "average" category. Also, 43 percent of the overweight children said they suffered regular headaches, and almost half of them (48 percent) reported sleeping problems. "Of course, this kind of survey can't tell which came first — the weight problem or the other problems," notes Katherine Hobson in The Wall Street Journal.

4. Most stressed-out city: Los Angeles?

So much for laid-back Southern California: 29 percent of Angelenos reported having a "great deal of stress," versus a national average of 24 percent. Three out of 4 Angelenos listed the economy as a major source of stress, while almost 1 in 3 said the pressure to look good stressed them out "moderately or a lot." To deal with their stress, L.A. residents are "far less likely" to turn to prayer (21 percent) than other Americans.

5. Retirees are the least stressed

Every age group reported stress. While Generation X (32 to 45) claim the highest stress levels (averaging 5.8 on a 10-point stress scale), the 65+ group appears relatively mellow, with a 4.4 average rating. The retirement-age bracket was the only group that didn't list "money" as its chief concern (retirees named "the economy" as their greatest worry) and were most likely to say their stress level has gone down in the past five years.

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