A new study says Augusta is among the top 10 “most stressed” cities in the U.S. But chronic stress may have more to do with perception and the need to find more positive coping mechanisms and balance in life, an Augusta psychologist said.
The study by the personal finance group WalletHub looked at 30 different factors, from financial and family stress to the average hours of sleep per night, and ranked Augusta as ninth-worst among the 150 most populated cities.
Augusta fared poorly both on financial and family factors, with high rates of poverty, divorce and single-parent households.
The city had one of the highest personal bankruptcy rates and one of the lowest median credit scores, while also having a high rate of depression and suicide, according to the analysis, which drew from a number of different data sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Bernard Davidson, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at Augusta University, said that while some stressors are undeniable and serious, it is often the attitude people have toward the sources of stress in their lives that compound the problem.
For many people, work has become a source of around-the-clock pressure, he said.
“Some folks have an expectation that they need to be available 24/7,” Davidson said. “Some of these folks hardly take vacation time.”
When he treats these patients, “I ask them sometimes, if all of that was done, something else would probably pop up, wouldn’t it?” he said.
And they reply, “Oh yeah, it’s never done.”
The key is “to help them move from an expectation mode, of ‘I’ve got to get it done, I’ve got to get it done,’ to an acceptance mode of there’s always going to be something,” Davidson said.
In fact, worrying is part of the problem.
“Fretting about it and dwelling on it is only going to come back and make it seem heavier,” he said. “That’s where our perception comes in. Our views of our situations often render more stress than the situations themselves.”
Because of that, people might adopt what Davidson called negative coping strategies – smoking or drinking more or self-medicating, procrastinating or trying to avoid the situation altogether.
That can have real life health consequences and even just added stress will exacerbate chronic health problems such as high blood pressure or sleep disorders, he said.
“When your system is revved up and it is shooting out cortisol and adrenaline, and it is not recharging and turning down, you go through an adaptation syndrome where you start breaking down,” Davidson said.
The key is to find more positive coping mechanisms, and part of that is “reframing” how you view the situation, he said.
“How can you look at that as a challenge rather than as a dismal situation? What can help with that?” Davidson said.
Rather than keeping it inside, a better strategy is “Bringing others on board and sharing your feelings and asking for support. Ask for help. Don’t be ashamed to ask others to do that.”
It would also help to find a leisure activity that you do regularly, such as taking a short walk or even something like yoga, that can help to relieve the stress, he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org