Coping with stress
By Barry S. Anton, PhD • APA President
“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
— Lily Tomlin
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into my 50th high school
reunion in October. Mixed feelings of anxiety and joyful anticipation swirled
inside me. I felt my heart beating like I was going to the junior prom. I took
a few deep breaths to calm myself and ventured in. I worried that I wouldn’t
recognize anyone without their yearbook pictures on their nametags.
Luckily, the festive mood and warm greetings of old friends
immediately dissipated my stress.
It was over too fast, but it was a nice interlude in my stress-filled life. As I got into my car late that Saturday night, I thought
about the next day’s travel to Washington, D.C., for the APA
Education Leadership Conference and our upcoming meetings
on Capitol Hill to advocate for subsidized student loans.
Another stressful week in a long series of stressful weeks.
As psychologists, we know that stress and anxiety are flight-or-fight responses to threats. Feeling emotional or having
difficulty sleeping and eating can all be natural reactions to
stress, whether it’s acute or chronic. Fear and worry can activate
the physiological release of hormones that speed up our hearts,
increase our breathing rates and enhance our blood flow.
Research shows that long-term activation of the body’s stress
response can impair the immune system and increase the risk of
physical and mental health problems.
As APA’s “Stress in America” survey shows us each year,
many Americans are living with significant stress. Not
surprising given the Great Recession, Americans have been
particularly stressed about finances in recent years. Work is one
of the most commonly reported sources of stress. The survey
also revealed that teen stress rivals adult stress, and teens often
feel overwhelmed, depressed and sad. The survey noted that too
little sleep coupled with too little exercise, and either overeating
or eating unhealthy foods, are common among teens. In
addition, teens who reported high stress reported being online
about 3. 2 hours per day compared to two hours a day for those
teens who reported lower stress levels.
What can we do to help Americans cope with chronic stress?
Here is some of the advice that APA offers on its public website:
• Identify what’s causing stress and take action.
• Build strong, positive relationships: Connect with
supportive friends and family members when you’re having a
• Get regular exercise, eat nourishing food and participate in
activities you enjoy.
• Stay focused on the positive and avoid negative energy.
• Avoid drugs and alcohol.
• Rest your mind: Sleep, do yoga, meditate and perform
relaxation exercises that can help restore energy.
• Get help from a psychologist when you’re overwhelmed.
I can’t help but reflect on the level of stress that APA
governance members and staff have experienced in the past
few months in the wake of the independent review report. It
found that some APA officials worked with military officials
to have APA issue insufficiently restrictive ethical guidelines
for military psychologists participating in national security
Organizational change and transition can be stressful even
in the best of times. APA’s governance and staff are feeling
enormous pressure to fulfill challenging obligations to help
the association move forward. My hope is that we find healthy
ways to deal with these transitions and not allow the stressors of
change to affect our working relationships.
APA’s 125th anniversary is in 2017. Let’s be sure to celebrate
all the good we do as an association at this anniversary. n
As APA’s “Stress in America” survey
shows us each year, many Americans
are living with significant stress. Not
surprising given the Great Recession,
Americans have been particularly
stressed about finances in recent years.