Why are you feeling more stressed?

Are you worried about your bank account? About your job and whether or not you’ll still be working next month? About how you’re going to finish the pile of work on your desk before you pick up your child at daycare? About your teenager?

You’re not alone. Taylor Clark, writing in the February 20, 2011, issue of the Dallas Morning News, says that the “United States has transformed into the planet’s undisputed worry champion.” Clark is the author of a new book called Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the United States is now the most anxious nation in the world.  From 1997 to 2004—and that’s before the current financial crisis, Americans more than doubled their spending on anti-anxiety medications like Valium from $900 million to $2.1 billion.

Why? Taylor Clark talked to psychologists and neuroscientists and came up with three main themes.

An increasing loss of community

“Human contact and kinship” help alleviate anxiety, Clark stresses. For centuries, our ancestors traveled in groups to fight off their enemies and wild animals. But today we move to distant cities far away from our families and often we don’t know our neighbors. At night, we sit in front of our big-screen TV or talk to our friends on Facebook. 

 When you’re stressed, you need a flesh-and-blood friend, Clark says.

We agree. Most of us have lots of acquaintances  and casual friends. Make sure you have a friend or two who’s ready to listen.

The torrent of (often nerve-racking) information

The avalanche of information we receive from newspapers, TV and radio “is increasingly of the alarmist, fear-igniting variety,” Clark says.

What can you do? You need friends, of course. But you also need quiet. Try to turn off the computer, the TV and all of the rest of the noise and create a time of peace-and-quiet every day. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your family.

An intolerant attitude toward negative feelings

If your mother just died or you just lost your job, it’s normal to feel sad. If you have a job interview, it’s normal to feel anxious.

Sometimes it’s okay to feel bad. Sometimes ”struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult,” Clark says.

“We try to bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and stress with alcohol or entertainment or shopping sprees.”

The goal is “a healthier balance,” Clark concludes.

What most of us need is a good friend or two. A little quiet. A recognition that we all feel stressful or anxious now and then. What do you need?

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