What Stresses Americans Out the Most?

stack of receipts
(Image credit: Shutterstock.com/Kellis)

If you tend to worry about making ends meet, you're not alone. Money is the No. 1 stress factor for adults in the United States, topping work, family obligations and health concerns, a new survey found.

Parents, Gen Xers, millennials, women and those living in lower-income households report higher-than-average levels of stress — especially when it comes to money, according to the results.

And people who reported a lot of anxiety about money were more likely to use unhealthy habits to deal with their stress, like binge-watching TV, drinking or smoking, the survey showed. [11 Tips to Lower Stress]

The American Psychological Association (APA) commissioned the survey of more 3,000 adults from across the United States in August 2014.

The poll found that 72 percent of Americans had felt stressed about money at some point during the previous month, including 22 percent who felt "extreme stress" about money during that time.

For many Americans, there's little relief from that anxiety: 26 percent said they felt stressed about their finances most or all of the time, while 54 percent said they have "just enough" or "not enough" money to make ends meet at the end of the month, according to the survey.

Overall, 64 percent of Americans rated money a somewhat or very significant source of stress. But that percentage ticks up for certain demographic groups: parents with kids under 18 (77 percent), Gen Xers (76 percent) and millennials (75 percent).

Americans living in households with an annual income of less than $50,000 had higher overall stress levels than people in households earning more than $50,000 per year (5.2 vs. 4.7 out of 10 on a stress-measuring scale), according to the survey. That gap has widened over of the past seven years; in 2007, both income groups reported the same average stress levels (6.2 on a 10-point scale). Lower-income Americans were also twice as likely to say they worried about money all or most of the time compared with their better-off peers (36 percent vs. 18 percent), according to the poll.

Besides money, other top-rated sources of stress were at least loosely tied to finances. A majority of Americans (60 percent) said work was a very or somewhat significant source of stress, while 49 percent said the same about the economy, 47 percent were stressed about family responsibilities and 46 percent were stressed about health concerns.

Overall, stress levels for Americans actually dipped last year, to 4.9 out of 10 on a stress-measuring scale, down from 6.2 in 2007. But that level still might be higher than what Americans said they considered healthy: 3.7 out of 10, on average.

High stress levels can have reverberating effects on a person's health and well-being. About 75 percent of Americans said they experienced at least one negative side effect of stress in the previous month, such as feeling irritable or angry (37 percent), nervous or anxious (35 percent), unmotivated (34 percent), fatigued (32 percent), overwhelmed (32 percent) and depressed (32 percent).

People who reported more extreme stress levels over money were more likely to deal with their stress in unhealthy, or at least sedentary, ways, such as watching more than 2 hours of TV in a day, browsing the Internet, eating, sleeping, smoking or drinking. And about one in five of the people polled said that they have either thought about skipping or have skipped going to the doctor because of financial concerns, even when they needed health care.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.