Stressed: who, me?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Are you feeling particularly stressed these days?  Chances are your answer to this question might be highly influenced by both your age and your gender (not to mention what the heck is also going on in your day-to-day life). 

A national survey on how daily stress affects our personal health issues, for example, found that respondents’ answers appeared divided according to these four main age groups:  


  • 18-33 years  – “Millennials”
  • 34-47 years  – “Generation X”
  • 48-66 years  – “Boomers”
  • 67+ years  – “Matures”    

First, all age groups ranked their stress level as “above a healthy ideal”, but Matures far less so than other demographics, describing on average their stress level as being “close to a healthy ideal.”

Not surprisingly, Millennials and Gen Xers report the highest average level of stress. This makes sense, as youth through middle-aged 18-47s have so many major decisions to make and actions to take (education, employment, marriage, having children – who then turn into teenagers during your 30s-40s!) that are to some extent past for the two older groups.

The younger respondents were more likely to say they engage in unhealthy behaviours due to stress, and to also express anger or irritability due to stress.

Healthy lifestyle is more elusive for the younger groups, including over-eating, alcohol and smoking among their means of stress management. Religious service commitment was lower for younger respondents but the retail therapy of shopping was higher.

Not sleeping due to perceived stress? Definitely the younger respondents.

19% of Millennials reported they have been diagnosed with depression and 12% with anxiety disorders, higher than the older participants, with Matures showing the lowest percentages.

As in previous stress surveys, women report higher stress levels than men, and both sexes see their stress levels as above a healthy amount.

Women may live longer than men do, but at the extremely high levels of stress, women predominate. Women’s methods of managing stress beyond exercise or listening to music (the two top stress management activities reported by both men and women) tended to be more social or sedentary than men’s, including reading, time with family or friends, shopping, and over-eating – including unhealthy foods.

Men reported less depression, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed compared to women. Both sexes had a low incidence of seeking professional help in managing their stress.

Why do women seem particularly susceptible to daily stress?

According to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (and what every woman out there already knows), women are generally socialized to be the caretakers of others. Over 70% of married women with children under the age of 18 are employed outside the home. Sociologists describe women as struggling to achieve the “male standard” at work, while trying to maintain perfect standards at home, too.

“Women are also less likely to be as able as men are to change their environment. Women find it harder to say NO to others’ requests, and often feel guilty if they can’t please everyone.

“Women often spend less time nurturing their own emotional and physical needs, as that might be perceived as selfish.”

Here’s how Cleveland Clinic experts suggest you address nurturing those emotional and physical needs for a change. Leisure time must be considered a necessity, not just a reward for doing more. Personal time for rejuvenation will never be available unless it is planned. Prioritizing based on principle rather than demand is sometimes difficult to learn, but is critical for peace of mind and stress management. And finally:

“You can’t be all things to all people all of the time. Don’t be reluctant to ask for help. Avoid combining too many projects. Delegate if necessary. Learn to say NO!”

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about living with stress in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).

See also:

“Let’s all be palm trees together” in facing COVID-19

Why “NO” is a complete sentence

Is family stress hurting your heart?

Poor marriage = poor heart health for women

A heart patient’s guide to the three stages of chronic stress

“Stress creep”: are you like the frog in the pot of boiling water?

Six steps to stop emotional eating

How runaway stress hurts your heart – and your brain

How our girlfriends can help us get through the toughest times

Four ingredients in the heart patient’s recipe for stress



Q: How does your own stress level compare with this survey’s results?

6 thoughts on “Stressed: who, me?

  1. This sure seems accurate in my life. When I think back to how we lived with chronic lowgrade stress during my kids’ teenage years while trying to juggle full-time high-stress careers, big mortgage payments, then losing our house during the housing crisis, my Dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and becoming his caregiver – wow, how did I survive that? Life does seem SO much calmer now.


  2. Stress is such an important topic. When I had my heart attack in 2008, they said it was due to stress. Thanks for all the links to your other articles on stress. I will be taking a look at those as well.

    Keep up the good work!


    1. Hello Carrie – nice to hear from you. I suspect that stress is actually under-rated as a serious risk factor in cardiac events. When I was in CCU after my heart attack (also in 2008), cardiologists wanted to know if I had ever smoked, if had a family history or any other common risk factors, but not one person asked me about my home life, or if I’d be returning to a stressful workplace, or anything at all about what kind of chronic stress I’d been under.


  3. I never was one for ‘stressing out’ particularly —not that I didn’t have things that worried me. My guess why the ‘mature’ demographic (of which I’m one) doesn’t ‘stress out’ as much—– we’ve been there, done that. Still alive. LOL


    1. Oh, isn’t that the truth? When we can look back from the vantage point of years of good/bad experiences, some of the things that would have driven us stark raving mad at one point may not seem quite so stressful now.


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