Dr. Joy: Stressed Out!

By WEEK Producer

February 1, 2012 Updated Feb 1, 2012 at 9:12 PM CDT

Headlines read "Americans report a decrease in stress for the first time in five years" but is that really an accurate assessment?

Tonight, Dr. Joy addresses a 2011 research study done by the American Psychological Association and the hidden meanings behind the study.

The stress study findings:
* Self-reported stress levels are the lowest they have been since 2007, as reported by the American Psychological Association
* The average ratings on a ten point scale for 2011 was 5.2 and in 2007, it was 6.2
* In the top 10 stressors in American lives, those surveyed report the change in the economic climate has helped lower their stress, and many report a reduction of stress in the work place
* The study shows that Americans have developed a "new normal" for their stress level, which accounts for the change. By that, more Americans are stating that stress is just a normal part of life, which dismisses the powerful effects of anxiety and the heightened level of stress in today's world.
* 27 percent of Americans say their stress is decreased in the last five years
* Being stressed out has become a norm, vs. something that is an exception

Acceptance of stressors and the level of anxiety is a way that humans adapt or deal with a consistent level of angst.

By creating a "new normal" that is higher, the body accepts the increased level of stress and tends to "numb" the body as a means of creating a balance

The new numbing helps cope with the higher level of stress, but it creates a situation where people don't attend to their level of stress and physical concerns are still prominent (such as chronic headaches, backaches, etc).

As we adapt to the higher stress our body continues to feel the anxiety, but we just have normalized it so we don't have the internal alarms to warn us take action to reduce the stressors

Holocaust victims are perfect examples of those who experience long-term stress and normalizing the experience. They develop ways to cope and become out of touch with the reality of their anxiety as a way to endure.

Dr. Joy's suggestions for Americans who are living in a more stressful world:

* Take time for yourself.
* Do things that lower your stress level. Exercise is a natural method to fight stress
* Share. Talking about your stress and gathering support and empathy is a good way to lower your level of stress.
* Be Grateful. A powerful method for lower stress is to change your focus. Changing from pessimism to optimism can be your most powerful strategy for stress-free living

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