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Adults say they're expecting more stress in 2023, survey finds

The good news is more also say they plan to do something about it, says the head of the American Psychiatric Association.
An illustration of a stressed woman
As 2022 draws to a close, nearly 2 out of 5 U.S. adults rated their mental health as only fair or poor, according to a survey of 2,212 adults. NBC News / kieferpix/Getty Images

More adults in the U.S. expect to be more stressed in 2023 than at this time last year, but they also say they're more willing to take steps to tackle that stress, a survey released Wednesday finds.

The American Psychiatric Association's Healthy Minds poll surveyed more than 2,200 U.S. adults Dec. 7 and 8. The results were compared to those of a similar poll from the group that ran in December 2021.

Roughly 26% of the respondents reported that they expected to experience more stress in the New Year, up from 20% the previous year.

And about 37% of adults (nearly 2 out of 5) rated their mental health as “fair or poor” this month, up from 31% a year ago. Young adults, low-income adults and parents were most likely to rank their mental health as fair or poor.

At the same time, more adults say they plan to take steps to improve their mental health next year, such as journaling or going to therapy, the survey found.

"The take-home message is really a very positive one, which is that more Americans are willing to talk about their mental health," said the APA's president, Dr. Rebecca Brendel.

What are people stressed about?

Personal finances ranked the highest among sources of anxiety, according to the APA survey, followed by:

  • Uncertainty
  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Relationships with family and friends
  • Job security

Lindsey McKernan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said people appear to be experiencing a "collective fatigue" after more than two years of the Covid pandemic.

The coronavirus, geopolitical uncertainty and ongoing fears about a recession have made people more stressed, she said.

"We're a little more worn down," she said, "and sometimes when you're a little more worn down, then you become more susceptible to the effects of stress."

Common signs of stress include trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, mood swings and difficulty concentrating, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Long-term, stress can worsen mental disorders, including depression.

How to tackle stress in 2023

About 29% of adults surveyed indicated that they would make New Year’s resolutions related to improving their mental health in 2023, up from 26% last year, according to the survey.

The resolutions included exercising more, meditating, practicing spirituality, taking breaks from social media and journaling.

Seeking therapy ranked third on the list of resolutions, a pleasant surprise to licensed psychologist Julie Cerel, the director of the Suicide Prevention and Exposure Lab at the University of Kentucky.

She attributed the uptick to more awareness about therapy in the media.

"Getting the word out there that there's treatment, that there's help, like the new 988 number, and that people really don't have to suffer alone," she said.

Besides therapy, people can take small steps to take care of their mental health, including exercising, limiting social media and rekindling old friendships, Brendel said. She advised against "radical changes" that she said can become "burdensome."

"Every small step that we take can build cumulatively over the course of time," she added.

McKernan said other ways people can take care of their mental health include paying attention to signs of stress. Connecting with close family members or other loved ones is also important.

"Some people have been limiting travel or isolating, and you want to work to stay connected," she said.

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