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Stress Levels in the U.S. Pose Physical Health Risks

Men fare better than women, but Americans still face an increased risk of disease due to psychological stress, according to data from three surveys between 1983 and 2009.

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If you’ve ever been stressed out because of your job or relationship, you’re not alone. Fortunately, if you’re a man, you may be better off than women when it comes to psychological stress.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University used data from three national surveys in 1983, 2006 and 2009 to measure how people perceive potentially stressful situations. While “perceived stress” sounds like something that is only in your head, a high stress score on this scale has been linked to increased levels of stress hormones, slower wound healing and signs of faster aging.

Published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, all three surveys showed that women were more stressed out than men. In addition, people with less education or income had higher levels of psychological stress, as did younger people. Unemployed people also reported greater levels of perceived stress than people with jobs, but only during the first two years. Retired people, though, were the least stressed out of all employment categories.

After the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, a certain subset of men showed greater levels of stress than in 2006—middle-aged, college-educated, white men with full-time jobs. The researchers suggest that this is because they faced the potential loss of both their jobs and their retirement funds, with little time left in their career to catch up.

Because the first survey was a telephone poll, and the other two were done over the Internet, the researchers were unable to tell whether Americans are more stressed now than in 1983.

But, said study author Sheldon Cohen, “it's clear that stress is still very much present in Americans' lives, putting them at greater risk for many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders."

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