August 2014

Stress - America's #1 Health Problem

Stress - America's #1 Health Problem



A number of years ago a Time Magazine's cover story called "Stress, The Epidemic of the Eighties." The accompanying article stated that several studies had shown that stress was responsible for 75%-90% of all visits to primary care physicians. This meant that most illnesses seen by primary medical doctors are indeed Stress-Related illness.

This same article also suggested that nearly 90% of adults describe experiencing "high levels of stress" on a regular basis. More than half of these people stated that they experienced stress at least once or twice a week, and more than one in four stated that they experienced significant stress on a daily basis. The article also stated that most of the people questioned had reported that they were presently experiencing more stress at this time than they had five or ten years previously.

Overall stress levels have risen dramatically in all demographic groups, including children, teenagers, and the elderly. Whether there is more stress to day then ever before is unclear but there is no question that life is stressful and this stress takes its toll on adults, elderly and children alike.

Stress occurs not only in our day to day life but also on the job. The National Safety Council estimates that nearly 1 billion employees are absent on an average workday because of stress related problems. In 1992 a United Nations Report, labeled Job Stress "The 20th Century Disease" also considered the role of stress on the job its costs and role in creation of illness. More recently, it was described as a "World Wide Epidemic" by the World Health Organization. Job Stress is far and away the leading source of stress for adult Americans.

Nearly 80% of Americans describe their jobs as stressful. The vast majority of these workers also tell us that the problem has worsened over the past ten years. In 1973, almost 40% of workers reported being "extremely satisfied" with their jobs. Today, less that 25% fall into this category.

It has been estimated that job stress costs American industry between $200-300 billion annually. These costs are based on assessment of absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover, accidents, direct medical, legal, and insurance fees, Workers' compensation awards, etc. To put it into perspective, that's more than the price of all labor strikes combined, and the total net profits of all of the Fortune 500 companies.

Another area where stress plays a significant role is in the area of accidents on the job. Nearly 60% to 80% of all on the job accidents are stress related. While there are the occasional large scale accidents like the Exxon Valdez and the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster which account for several billion-dollar range, most are smaller dollar amounts but in the end they account for hundreds of billions of dollars each year in direct costs and in damage to the environment.

Workers' compensations claims for job stress, rare two decades ago, have skyrocketed, with double digit increases in premiums annually in several states, threatening the entire system. California employers shelled out almost $1 billion for medical and legal fees alone - more than some states spend on actual benefits. Nine out of ten job stress suits were successful, with an average payout more than four times that for regular injury claims.

Injuries and accidents are not the only areas which are responsible for major cost to employers and consumers. One of the more expensive areas was in the area of worker turnover. Recent studies have shown that nearly 40% of all job turnovers are related directly to stress on the job. The Xerox Corporation estimates that such turnover is responsible for approximately $1-$1.5 million for replacing top executives each year. The cost for turnover of an average employee is between $2,000 to $13,000 per individual.

There were 111,000 violent workplace incidents reported in 1992, resulting in 750 deaths and a cost to employers of $4.2 billion. Homicides accounted for almost 20% of the more than six thousand workplace deaths. It was the leading cause of death for working women. Violent crime and mass murders in the workplace almost always stem from job stress.

Beyond the role of stress at the job, in day to day living there are effects of stress in our home and acting directly on us. Recent studies have confirmed that there is a significant causative role of stress in cardiovascular disease, cancer, gastrointestinal, skin, neurologic and emotional disorders, and a host of disorders linked to immune system disturbances, ranging from the common cold and herpes, to arthritis, cancer, and AIDS. We refer to these conditions as Stress-Related Disorders.

In our book Stress-Related Disorders, Illness As an Intelligent Act of the Body we discuss how stress affects our body and how it can lead to illness. What the Time Magazine Article does not say is that the stress we experience is really an intelligent act of the body communicating that we must make changes in our life, our life style and the way we live our life.