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Economic Stress Weighing Heavy on Americans

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You can’t sleep, and you’re craving junk food. You lack motivation, energy, and your shoulders ache. You are having more headaches, indigestion and sometimes, you just feel like crying. Overall, you feel an intense sense that things are just not right.

Chances are you are one of the three-quarters of Americans experiencing moderate to high levels of stress.

Each year, the American Psychological Association (APA) puts out their Stress in America report that describes the causes and impacts of stress in this country. Not surprisingly, in the 2009 report, money and financial problems ranked the number one cause of stress, followed by work and the economy. Family money issues far outranked housing costs, health issues and job stability as sources of stress.

The APA's report focuses on six areas of research: survey participants' perception of their personal stress; causes of stress; how well people manage stress; the impact of stress on families; how people deal with stress; and the management of chronic illness.

In 2009, 42 percent of Americans reported an increase in their stress level, with 24 percent of Americans reporting experiencing high levels of stress at eight or greater on a 10-point scale with 10 meaning a very high stress level. More women than men reported feeling stress, and more women felt stress at the highest levels.

The body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones, such as epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and cortisol. These stress hormones help a person react to a situation with more speed and strength. But stress hormones also increase blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels. In small amounts, stress can be beneficial, but chronic stress at high levels can be harmful to a person's health.

Directly, stress has serious health consequences like anxiety and depression. Indirectly, stress leads to lifestyle choices such as overeating and not sleeping that adversely affect health. Fifteen percent of those with the highest stress levels reported feeling too stressed out to make healthy lifestyle changes.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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