Wearing Down: Chronic Stress Takes a Toll on Americans
Saybrook School of MBM PhD candidate and Teaching Fellow Carrie Phelps reports on a recent APA survey on stress in America. Carrie Phelps is also the co-founder of Intrinsic Connection, a wellness consulting firm that is dedicated to building a bridge between leading-edge wellness strategy and real-world execution for successful, long-term results. She is a board certified coach and mind-body medicine practitioner (promoting self-care at the heart of healthcare). She currently serves on the National Wellness Institute Board of Directors. For the past 10 years, she has served as a consultant on the development and implementation of leading-edge, national wellness initiatives.
A recent nationwide survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) made it clear that the prevalence of chronic stress among Americans, especially those with chronic disease, is escalating. The survey report titled Stress in America: Missing the Healthcare Connection emphasized that the emotional and physical health implications of chronic stress are serious. Persistent lifestyle-related stress can lead to health problems such as anxiety, muscle pain, and insomnia, as well as exacerbate health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Reportedly, chronic stress significantly impacts overall health and greatly impedes the adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Over half of the 1,715 adults surveyed said that they have tried to decrease the impact of chronic stress in their lives, due to factors such as money problems, work issues, a bad economy, family health problems, and personal health issues, but have not been able to adequately meet their stress reduction goals. Moreover, the APA report revealed that US citizens are not getting the resources and support they need from the healthcare system to manage stress and make health-related behavior change. Those who report increasing levels of stress also proclaim that they are less likely to make necessary lifestyle changes and achieve healthy living goals such as being physically active, eating a healthy diet, and getting the proper amount of sleep. Thirty-one percent of the respondents stated that they never discuss the topic of stress management with their healthcare provider. However, many of those surveyed expressed interest in having conversations with their health provider about stress-related issues (only 26% reported that these discussions are taking place on a regular basis). According to the APA report, these statistics highlight the important connection between individual wellness, stress, and patient-provider interaction.
In order to appropriately address the issue of stress among Americans and the failure of the healthcare system to provide the appropriate support and resource, the authors of the APA report call for a Mind/Body Health Campaign in order to educate the public on the inextricable link between psychological and physical health, and the strong connection between mind-body health and overall well-being. The symptoms and underlying causes of chronic stress are not being adequately addressed by conventional medicine and cannot effectively be eradicated by traditional medical means such as pharmacology and surgical procedures. The issue of chronic stress is best addressed from a holistic (whole-person), mind-body, contextual perspective. The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, founded by Dr. James S. Gordon, conceptualizes Mind-Body Medicine as the interactions between mind and body. Mind-Body Medicine mobilizes the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, spiritual, and social factors can directly affect health.
Unrelenting internal stress interferes with overall quality of life and makes lifestyle change difficult. Managing chronic stress goes beyond taking things off an excessive personal “to do” list. It requires a new manner of living—a healthy lifestyle—that fosters overall mind-body balance and promotes long-term stress regulation. Though not a quick fix, mind-body practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and movement can have profound and lasting effect on reducing stress and enhancing overall well-being. Managing chronic stress requires a commitment to personal self-care—even small changes in personal self-care can have profound and lasting results on health. Those who manage their stress well do better at making necessary lifestyle change, so it is imperative that health care providers know how to support individuals in managing stress and adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Saybrook University’s School of Mind-Body Medicine offers a scientific foundation for whole-person healthcare practices and research. The School of Mind-Body Medicine at Saybrook is an accredited graduate degree program and was originally founded by James S. Gordon, MD, Jeanne Achterberg, PhD, and Donald Moss, PhD, who are considered pioneers in the integrative health field. For more information go to: www.saybrook.edu/mbm