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Feeling Way More Stressed Out? You're Not Alone

Uncertainty about the future can raise stress levels, psychologists say. Here, students in Charlotte, N.C., hold hands during a Sept. 21 protest after Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by a police officer.

In the first time in 10 years, Americans report feeling more stress, according to a survey released Wednesday by the American Psychological Association.

Americans rated their stress higher in January compared to last August, increasing from 4.8 to 5.1 on a 10-point scale. What's more, 57 percent of people polled in January said they were stressed about the current political climate; 66 percent were stressed about the future of our nation; and 49 percent were stressed about the outcome of the presidential election.

When the organization asked about the election in its annual poll last August, 52 percent of Americans said the presidential election was a very or somewhat significant source of stress. That inspired the Stress in America team to put together a follow-up survey, which was administered online in January to 1,109 adults ages 18 or older.

In the January survey, both Republicans and Democrats said they are stressed about the nation's future — at 59 and 76 percent, respectively. People also said that worries about acts of terrorism, police violence toward minorities and general personal safety also are increasing. The number of people stressed about personal safety increased from 29 percent to 34 percent from August to January, the highest percentage since the survey was first conducted in 2008.

People in rural areas reported less stress, with just 33 percent saying they were very or somewhat stressed about the political changes. Forty-five percent of suburbanites reported stress, as did 62 percent of city dwellers.

Constant access to breaking news on social media, TV and other sources is probably a large contributor to the elevated stress levels, says Lynn Bufka, a psychologist and the APA's associate executive director for practice research and policy.

"It's everywhere — newspapers, social media, even elevators have screens now that push news at you," Bufka says, adding that it's hard to know when to disconnect from the news cycle. "As consumers, it can be really difficult to know when we have enough information about our world."

Uncertainty tends to up the stress, Bufka says. "Our president hasn't held public office before," she notes. "We don't know what to expect — no matter if we agree or disagree with his policies, we don't have any way of predicting his style of putting those policies forward." That uncertainty, she says, can be a major source of stress regardless of political affiliation.

Sustained stress can increase the risk of serious health problems over a long period of time, Bufka says, including obesity, heart conditions, depression and anxiety. "Stress can be good and motivating. But when it's constant and intense, people push, and push, and push, and are usually less productive. And they're bound to run into health issues in the long run."

To cope, Bufka says it's good to make a point of scheduling a time to give your brain a break. Cut off news access and enjoy a hobby instead, like reading a book or exercising. And above all, Bufka says, don't let an elevated worry level affect your routine. "Don't skip your workout, don't sacrifice sleep."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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