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The nation’s distressed turning to risky behaviours for stress management

Concerning number of Australians engaging in risky behaviours to manage stress; new survey

A concerning number of distressed Australians are engaging in risky behaviours to manage stress, a new survey found.

Released today to launch Psychology Week (8-14 November) the Stress and wellbeing in Australia survey 2015, conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) for the fifth year in a row, found people reporting severe levels of distress are more likely to engage in potentially risky behaviours such as drinking alcohol (61%), gambling (41%), smoking (40%) and recreational drug use (31%) to manage stress.

The annual survey provides a snapshot of the overall wellbeing of Australians, revealing the major causes of stress and activities to manage stress. A concerning finding from this year’s survey was many of the most vulnerable Australians, those reporting the highest levels of distress, and anxiety and depression symptoms were turning to alcohol, gambling, smoking and drugs to manage their stress.

Also of concern was the number of people naming these as effective stress management strategies.

Professor Lyn Littlefield, Executive Director of the APS, said the survey findings are concerning.

“It is worrying that people are turning to potentially harmful and addictive behaviours to manage stress. Drinking alcohol, smoking and gambling can take a toll on personal finances, as well as physical and mental health. The APS recommends avoiding these behaviours if you are already feeling overwhelmed or stressed,” Prof Littlefield said.

This year’s survey found anxiety symptoms to be the highest they have been in the five years of the survey. This is concerning as people with higher levels of distress, anxiety and depression symptoms are more likely than other Australians to engage in these behaviours to help manage stress.

“It appears that there is a vicious cycle involving people finding personal finances and health the main reasons for stress, yet certain stress-relief methods are potentially contributing to people’s problems in the long-term,” Professor Littlefield said.

“We need to look at the impact of stress on society as a whole, and what we can do to reduce the potential for stress related harm.”

The APS recommends Australians seek help from a psychologist if they are feeling overwhelmed

A free referral service is available for the general public, GPs and other health professionals who are seeking the advice and assistance of a psychologist at www.findapsychologist.org.au.

Additional survey findings

  • Of those reporting extremely severe depression, 57 per cent drank alcohol, 46 per cent gambled, 41 per cent smoked cigarettes and 38% took recreational drugs to manage stress
  • Of those reporting extremely severe anxiety 66% drank alcohol, 54% gambled, 45% smoked cigarettes and 47 per cent took recreational drugs to manage stress

FOMO survey: the survey this year included questions on social media experience as well as a separate FOMO survey of 13 to 17-year-olds

  • On average one in two (50%) Australian teenagers experience FOMO (Fear of missing out)
  • 56 per cent of teens are heavy social media users
  • More than half all teens (53%) connect to social media 15 minutes before bed every night, almost four in ten (37%) connect to
  • social media in the presence of others and within 15 minutes of waking up. Almost one in four teens (24%) reported using
  • social media when they were eating breakfast and lunch seven days per week.
  • Teens who are heavy social media users experience higher levels of FOMO
  • 54% of teens who are heavy social media users fear their friends are having more rewarding experiences than them

Signs of stress include:

  • Sleep disturbance, insomnia
  • Upset stomach
  • Anxiety
  • Anger, irritability
  • Depressive
  • Feeling overwhelmed, out of control
  • Fatigue

Tips for managing stress:

  • Spend time with people who care about you and share your feelings
  • Notice negative self-talk “I can’t cope”, “I’m too tired”
  • Identify triggers, situations that make you stressed and try to avoid them
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet and stay well-nourished
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs
  • Get enough sleep

Note to editors: A copy of the survey report is available upon request.

Professor Lyn Littlefield and a number of other psychologists are available for interview throughout Psychology Week.

For more information, or to arrange an interview call the APS Media team on 03 8662 3358 or 0435 896 444, or email media@psychology.org.au. Find the APS Media team on Twitter: @AustPsych

The APS is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 23,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to people’s lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.