Everyone is feeling it, but few can actually put their finger on the source of the stress that seems to have become a pervasive part of our lives. The reason the exact cause of chronic stress may be difficult to pin down is because it’s coming from more than one source. The cumulative effect is, quite literally, killing us.
Nearly 44% of Americans in a 2012 study reported feeling more stress in the last five years, and nearly one in five have self-reported experiencing extreme stress. The chances are quite good that you’re feeling it — and stress is a precursor to many chronic illnesses. The pressure you’re feeling is not your imagination; here’s a roundup of the usual suspects in a stressful life.
While money may not buy happiness, apparently you can rent it. For Americans reporting they’re stressed out, the top stressor on their list for five years running is money. The number of those reporting money stress shot up dramatically as the recession took hold, and the numbers have stayed consistently high, even during the recovery. Americans may be doing better economically, but they’re not feeling it. At the other end of the economic scale, millionaires and billionaires report being much happier than the average person, and have greater satisfaction with life.
Over the last 40 years we’ve experienced a gradual erosion of anything resembling job security. Companies can lay off or fire workers at any time, even those who may be only a few years away from retirement, and who may have difficulty finding another job. The lack of job security is complemented by wages that have been flat for a generation, while employers have managed to raise worker productivity. If you feel like you’re working harder for less, that’s because you are. At the same time, your ability to effect any positive change in your working environment has been diminished. The steady but gradual pressure has turned many offices and job sites into virtual snake pits of passive-aggressive stress.
It seems funny that something so abstract as the economy could cause stress at the individual level — but it’s not the abstraction of the economy that’s causing stress as much as the perceived unfairness of it. Giant corporations care about your business, but only in the abstract. As more companies outsource business processes to the low bidder and squeeze workers for more profit, there are inevitably more mistakes. That means more time on hold with short-staffed call centers, operators with only the vaguest grasp of the English language, and more and more time spent fighting for the services we already paid for.
Ever since the family breadwinner morphed into two income families, the amount of stress revolving around home life has increased. It now takes two people facing the demands of an increasingly stressful workplace just to make ends meet. It’s inevitable that stress will spill over into the home lives of millions as couples strive to have it all. With less time available for family, relationships will suffer.
Anyone who’s had any major involvement with the medical community knows what a bizarre ritual of boredom, pain, and expense medical care has become. Fee-for-service medicine means facilities are more crowded, as practitioners have to make up their revenue with volume. Squabbles between insurance companies and hospital systems put patients in the middle of billion dollar corporations trying to chisel each other for a margin. It’s not unusual to have unpaid bills coming in for months after a major procedure, which involves more time on the phone with overworked call centers — and you’re on the hook when faceless corporations with no accountability to the individual get into a snit over billing.
All those individual small stressors add up to a big problem for millions of people living life like rats on a treadmill, afraid to stop running out of fear the food pellets will stop appearing. Maybe it’s time to face the reality that we can’t have it all, and start making some hard choices about what we can fit into our lives. We have to do something because, if we keep going like we are, we’re going to have a collective breakdown.