The Rutgers Center for State Health Policy took an interesting poll a year ago, asking state residents about how much stress they experienced in the past month.
The New Jersey Health and Well Being Poll asked about overall stress or worry, and then asked whether people felt stressed about particular things such as money, jobs, time, family and health.
The results, released earlier this fall, showed New Jersey to be slightly more stressful than the nation as a whole, with 27 percent reporting “a great deal” of stress and 44 percent “some stress.” That’s to be expected for a state that’s more intense than most and the most densely populated.
The poll results were broken down by region, and South Jersey had the lowest share of residents reporting a great deal of stress overall, 24 percent for the southeast and 23 percent for the southwest. In the eastern part of North Jersey and all of the central state, high stress experience was reported by 27 to 28 percent.
That fits the reasonable expectation that less urbanized South Jersey is more laid back. But two other poll results seem to say otherwise.
One is that people along the South Jersey shore were more likely to report “some stress” the prior month, 52 percent compared to 42 to 44 percent for those further north.
More puzzling is that they also reported more stress on nearly all of the particular questions, such as not having enough money to pay the bills, not having enough time and worrying about jobs or a family member.
How can area residents have the lowest overall stress but be the most stressed about the basics of everyday life?
The answer is in when the survey was conducted, from Oct. 24 to Nov. 22, 2016. That is right about at the bottom of the economic slump that has ravaged the Atlantic City region since four casino closings in 2014.
Increased stress is the appropriate response to that economic crisis. As the National Library of Medicine says, “Not all stress is bad. All animals have a stress response, and it can be life-saving. But chronic stress can cause both physical and mental harm.”
A manageable amount of stress can motivate people to overcome the misfortune causing it, whether a job loss, a divorce, an illness or an economic depression.
Stress can have serious health effects when it is chronic and felt regardless of current circumstances, or when it is beyond one’s ability to bear.
The poll’s question about overall stress seems to reflect people’s estimates of chronic stress, while the questions about particular causes of stress focus on what often could be temporary conditions. South Jersey shore people probably don’t feel like they have enough time because they’re too busy working to get themselves and their families through this tough economic period.
The good news, of course, is that the regional economy started growing soon after the poll was taken. If another poll were taken next year, probably much less particular stress would be reported.
Meanwhile, anyone feeling too stressed or looking for a better way to manage their stress levels should follow this advice from the National Institutes of Health:
Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly. Build a social support network. Set priorities for what must get done and what can wait. Think positively, about what you’ve accomplished and not what you’ve failed to do. Try relaxation methods such as meditation or yoga.
And if you feel unable to cope, seek help. There’s no shame in talking to a mental-health professional. When the stress is reduced, you’ll be glad you did.