Jennifer Ferrell-Hanington, Psy.D.                      407-347-4188

Licensed Psychologist                                    125 West Pineview St., Ste. 1005    Altamonte Springs, FL  32714

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Providing individual psychotherapy to adults who are coping with anxiety, stress, and general life difficulties

Stress in America Survey

Published in Orlando Medical News - December 2008

By Jennifer Ferrell-Hanington, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist

  February 2012 - The American Psychological Association updates the "Stress in America Survey" each year.  The 2012 results are available on the APA website: www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index.aspx

How can physicians and mental health professionals work together to help patients find a balance between physical and psychological health?  The mind/body connection has received growing attention in recent years as research highlights the mind/body interaction in the development and contribution to various illnesses. 

Stress is a common human experience, but prolonged stress can produce more serious symptoms such as fatigue, impaired concentration, irritability, depression, headaches, It is linked to the six leading causes of death:  heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released the results of the 2008 Stress in America survey which was conducted to evaluate the physical and emotional implications of stress and the mind/body link.  Between June and August of this year, 1,791 U.S. adults were surveyed.  Not surprisingly, nearly half of the adults reported an increase in stress over the past year.  Eight out of ten Americans are reporting money and the economy as significant sources of stress.  Two-thirds of Americans consider areas such as work, health problems affecting the family, and housing costs as significant sources of stress as well. 

The types of symptoms that were reported in this survey as a result of stress are irritability or anger (60 percent), fatigue (53 percent), and lying awake at night (52 percent).  In addition, women versus men are more likely to report such symptoms as headaches, depression, anxiety, or lack of motivation/energy. 

Emotional well-being can play a significant role in how a person deals with and recovers from illness.  Poor physical health may be caused by or exacerbated by unhealthy behaviors.  Forty-eight percent of the respondents in the APA survey reported overeating or unhealthy food choices to manage stress.  Nearly one-fifth of Americans report drinking alcohol (18 percent) or smoking (16 percent) to manage stress. 

Depression plays an interesting role in the mind/body connection.  The American Heart Association reports that 65 percent of heart disease patients with a history of a heart attack experience some form of depression, while those with clinical depression are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease or suffer a heart attack. 

Family physicians will often be the first to see patients who are presenting with stress related symptoms.  The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that this includes two-thirds of all office visits to family physicians. Taking this into consideration, physicians and mental health professionals will best assist their patients by developing a combined approach.

Patients presenting with stress symptoms benefit from comprehensive medical evaluations to rule out physical illnesses, such as thyroid disease, which could produce depression or anxiety.  Mental health professionals will address the lifestyle and behavioral issues that influence mind/body health.  The diagnosis of a serious medical condition requires significant life changes for the patient.  If the patient is unable to reach emotional and mental acceptance of their condition, it can lead to more serious mental health issues, which may affect daily functioning and/or lack of cooperation with the medical treatment. 

When a patient presents with a serious mental illness, the mental health field can play a significant role in the patient’s improvement.  The use of psychotherapy can help individuals identify psychological, behavioral, interpersonal and situational causes of their physiological and psychological condition.  It also can teach them strategies for prevention relapse.

Research shows that both medication and empirically supported therapies alone, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are equally effective for 60 percent of patients.  However, a literature review in the April 2005 Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that combining medication and psychotherapy to treat depression increased the effectiveness  for 75 percent of the patients.  Studies on anxiety disorders are not showing the same benefits with combining medication and CBT as have been shown with depression, but studies have identified that patients significantly improve with either medication or CBT.  Research is also finding a reduction in relapse of depression or anxiety when patients participate in psychotherapy. 

Mind/Body health is the successful balance of physical and psychological health - with each working to support the other.  The continued research is helping clinicians understand the link between mind and body is much more complex than previously believed.  In order for patients to receive the most appropriate care, the medical and mental health fields are developing combined approaches.  More information is available from the American Psychological Association website (apa.org) and through the APA Help Center (apahelpcenter.org).