A stressful imbalance

The Stress in America™ survey continues to uncover interesting differences in the way women and men experience and manage stress.* While both genders report stress levels beyond what they consider healthy, women are more likely than men to say their already high stress levels are on the rise and they are less likely to believe they are doing a good job of managing their stress.

Average Stress LevelsWomen continue to report higher stress levels than men (5.3 vs. 4.6 on a 10-point scale where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress”). Both genders agree, however, that 3.6 is a healthy level of stress, pushing women nearly two points beyond the level of stress they believe to be healthy.

More women report experiencing extreme stress than men. Twenty-three percent of women report their stress level at an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale, compared to 16 percent of men.

What’s more, women are more likely than men to say their stress is on the rise. More women say their stress levels have increased in the past five years (43 percent vs. 33 percent of men) and in the past year alone (38 percent vs. 32 percent of men).

Men and women both turn to exercise (52 percent for both genders) and listening to music (48 percent for both genders) as their top stress management techniques. However, women are more likely to engage in social and sedentary activities to manage stress such as reading (50 percent vs. 29 percent), spending time with friends or family (43 percent vs. 34 percent) and shopping (18 percent vs. 6 percent). Women are also more likely than men to say they eat to manage stress (27 percent vs. 22 percent).

In fact, men increasingly report doing an excellent or very good job at managing stress (2010: 30 percent; 2011: 35 percent; 2012: 39 percent). While women acknowledge the importance of stress management, few feel they are doing a good job of it. Sixty-eight percent of women say managing stress is important to them, but only 34 percent say they are doing an excellent or very good job at it.

Top sources of stress are the same for men and women, including money (66 percent and 72 percent), work (64 percent and 66 percent) and the economy (60 percent and 62 percent).

 *This report focuses only on men (2007 n=771; 2008 n=789; 2009 n=729; 2010 n=530;2011 n=539; 2012 n=929) and women (2007 n=1077; 2008 n=1002; 2009 n=839; 2010 n=604;2011 n=687; 2012 n=1091) within the general population (2007 n=1848; 2008 n=1791; 2009 n=1568;2010 n=1134; 2011 n=1226; 2012 n=2020).
Managing stress and health: Gender differences

Women are more acutely aware than men of the impact that stress and lifestyle and behavior can have on physical and mental health. At the same time, they report experiencing symptoms of stress more often than men. Despite their attention to these issues, however, they are no more likely to be successful when they try to accomplish healthy living goals.

Eighty-two percent of women believe that stress impacts overall health compared with 75 percent of men. At the same time, women are more likely than men to understand the impact that poor eating habits (80 percent vs. 73 percent), hostility or negativity (75 percent vs. 63 percent) and a lack of sleep can have on health (76 percent vs. 67 percent).

Women are more likely than men to report that they lie awake at night (46 percent vs. 38 percent), overeat or eat unhealthy foods (43 percent vs. 29 percent) and skip meals (31 percent vs. 23 percent) because of stress.

Women are also more likely than men to report symptoms of stress, ranging from feeling depressed or sad to experiencing headaches and changes in sleeping habits. Women are more likely than men to report experiencing the following due to stress:

  • Fatigue (45 percent vs. 29 percent)
  • Feeling nervous or anxious (42 percent vs. 27 percent)
  • Feeling overwhelmed (41 percent vs. 29 percent)
  • Lacking interest, motivation or energy (39 percent vs. 29 percent)
  • Feeling depressed or sad (39 percent vs. 28 percent)
  • Feeling like crying (38 percent vs. 17 percent)
  • Having headaches (34 percent vs. 20 percent)
  • Changes in sleeping habits, e.g., oversleeping, difficulty falling asleep, night waking (35 percent vs. 25 percent)

Symptoms of StressCompared to men, women say they place more importance on having healthy relationships, healthy lifestyles and managing stress. At the same time, women tend to place more importance on healthy living goals. Yet, they are on par with men when it comes to their ability to achieve these goals, which demonstrates a disconnect for women between what they think is important and what they are able to achieve.

Women are more likely than men to say that having good relationships with friends (70 percent vs. 63 percent), getting enough sleep (67 percent vs. 55 percent) and eating healthy (64 percent vs. 55 percent) are important to them.

Women and men are similar in their ability to achieve the healthy living goals they set for themselves. They say they are doing an excellent or very good job at having a good relationship with friends (53 percent of women vs. 49 percent of men), getting enough sleep (32 percent of women vs. 34 percent of men) and eating healthy (36 percent of women vs. 33 percent of men).

Women and men who have been recommended or who have attempted to make a lifestyle or behavior change cite lack of willpower (33 percent for women vs. 28 percent for men) and lack of time (22 percent for both women and men) as the top barriers preventing them from making such a change.

Though women and men both turn to their social networks for support in making lifestyle and behavior changes (12 percent vs. 9 percent), women report getting more value from them. Sixty-three percent of the women who turned to social networks found those networks helpful in making lifestyle changes compared with only 36 percent of men.

While only 6 percent of men and women alike report that they have seen a mental health professional or a psychologist to manage their stress, women are more likely to believe that psychologists can help manage stress (52 percent vs. 41 percent) and make lifestyle and behavior changes (45 percent vs. 38 percent).