Patricia Farrell's COLUMN

America Is Bursting at the Seams with Deadly Stress

New stress report reveals how serious stress is now, how widespread, and how damaging it can be

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There’s so much going on in the world. There’s so much information being thrown at us — so many things are being sold to us, and we’re being told how we should appear and how to be more successful, blah, blah, blah. How does that manifest itself? In the pressures, the stress, this need to escape. — Michael Fassbender

Stress is both a poison and a stealthy robber of our bodies and our souls. It works in nefarious ways to undermine every bit of us, both physical and mental, without noticing it’s there. But it is there, and it does its damage bit by bit unless we recognize it and begin to enact a plan to defeat this internal body enemy.

Every year, The American Psychological Association provides a study on Stress in America. This year’s study was just released. Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t good. One of the serious stressors is the loss of livelihood.

Stress continues to be a prime cause of mental disturbance as it rips through our sense of security and feeds on fears of job insecurity, healthcare coverage, illness, education, and even socialization.

Copyright : Aleksandr Davydov

Denied the social interactions that might have mitigated the usual life stressors’ effects, we plummet into a further state of diminished security and health. We are, essentially, social beings that crave the friendship and love of others.

As lockdowns increase with a similar increase in the number of infections of COVID-19, the stress it engenders in adolescents is of concern. Particularly affected are children and adolescents, especially those who are most vulnerable. In adolescents, the number of serious mental health issues is increased.

The COVID-19 pandemic could result in increased psychiatric disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress, Depressive, and Anxiety Disorders, as well as grief-related symptoms. Adolescents with psychiatric disorders are at risk of a break or change in their care and management; they may experience increased symptoms.

The COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown may have multiple consequences on the lives of adolescents: chronic and acute stress, worry for their families, unexpected bereavements, sudden school break, and home confinement in many countries, increased time of access to the internet and social media, worry for the economic future of their family and country.

Overall, everyone’s lives will experience major, unexpected disruptions as they all face an unplanned and uncertain future.

Copyright: Vadim Guzhva

Adult Stress Concerns

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the virus will not disappear, but will eventually become a part of our lives — after an effective vaccine is created.

“I think it’s so easily transmissible that I don’t think it’s going to disappear like SARS,” he said. “Whether it becomes seasonal in the sense of returning and being around chronically is going to depend completely on the level of efficacy of the virus, and how many people get vaccinated.”

The question of how the virus will mutate remains unclear regarding future treatments as it is doing now. “Despite the virus’s sluggish mutation rate, researchers have cataloged more than 12,000 mutations in SARS-CoV-2 genomes.” There have also been speculations that the newly mutated strains may be more highly transmissible.

In the meantime, the stress marches on, as shown in the APA breakdown of this year’s study of stress.

According to the latest 2020 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association, 78% of those surveyed indicated that the pandemic was a source of stress in their life and 60% said the issues that it presents are overwhelming for them.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky

The Generational Breakdown

Broken down, nearly 19% in the surey said their mental health is worse now than it was last year, and by generation, they indicated worse mental health in the following percentages:

Generation Z adults — 34%

Generation X — 21%

Millennial’s — 19%

Boomers — 12%

Older adults — 8%

The association’s survey also indicated that Generation Z adults were the most likely ones to report symptoms of depression, which was worse over the past two weeks before the survey, and that 75% of them did nothing, 74% felt very restless, 73% found it hard to think or concentrate, 73% also felt lonely and 71% were miserable or unhappy.

Considering that much of this stress may be brought on by several factors, not least of which are incremental lockdowns, we can understand that there might be a degree of restlessness and a wish for change. Younger populations, those in college or starting on their career paths, may feel inclined to disregard the virus’s dangers and the recommendations for remaining virus-free. The need for social support is a strong driving force here.

Should this be the case, it may explain the number of large groups of younger people disregarding the rules of the area where they live and going to bars, restaurants or gathering for “covid parties.” Some of the foundation for this ongoing problem may be found in uncertain messaging on the virus.

Conflicting government messaging and reopenings of restaurants, bars, hair salons, and gyms in many states have only exacerbated the wildly divergent individual responses, and reliance on personal responsibility in public health matters.

It’s created fertile ground for the public to practice the long-held wisdom that we must “carry on” in a crisis: For at least a century, citizens have believed that in the midst of a disaster, their job is to go on with their daily lives as best they can — as if it were a safeguard against an unseen enemy.

Recklessness has always been inherent in young populations who are testing the limits in their culture and this may be one of the examples of it. If loneliness and lack of social connections is as strong as the study asserts, this is another reason for increased stress brought on by isolation from one’s social group.

Photo by Estée Janssens

Career Planning

How do you plan for a future career when there is such economic turmoil? Technology is moving rapidly and failure to keep up with it, in terms of education, could mean missing out — more stress.

The APA study found that 67% of Gen Z in college were at a loss for future career planning. Additionally, their education and the resources they need to get their degrees added to this stress. Even those who have started on a career path feel endangered in their planning.

For faculty who have not secured tenure or are not on a tenure track, the pandemic is precarious. Some universities have offered to pause tenure clocks or add a year to the tenure and promotion process, as is the case at RIT. (Rochester Institute of Technology) But putting your career, i.e., tenure track, on hold is stressful, too.

Two careers would seem needed now; mental health professionals and vocational counselors who are adept at forging the career straits ahead.

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Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I absolutely agree with you. In a world where there are few stable aspects of our lives (careers, finance, relationships, health), the stress will be enormous. My concern is that we must reset the clock before it’s too late and use this time called “the new Industrial Revolution” to make life better, but my optimism is fragile. We will either find this new, better world or descend into our own Dark Ages. Pills and alcohol may have a hay day.

  2. Great article. This is going to be the issue that dictates healthcare in the next ten years in the wake of the pandemic and how we deal with it will determine the quality of life for millions of people across the globe. It is my sincere hope that we don’t look for solutions in the bottom of bottles of pills. That would simply turn a terrible, sad situation into a disaster.

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DR PATRICIA FARRELL

Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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