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Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. Headshot

Snow Rage: Winter Weather Stressing You Out?

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In Seattle, we just got our first snow this winter, which didn't last long. Within a day, the rains came and washed it all away. Other parts of the country have not fared as well, and it's stressing people out. A snow plow driver in Long Island was threatened with a shotgun and another driver in Connecticut was attacked with a shovel due to "snow rage."

Apparently, people are taking their frustration over all that snow out on those piling it up on the side of the road (after having just spent considerable time and energy clearing it out of their own driveways). There's just an existential quality to shoveling snow in a snow storm that appears to be leading people to act out against people who are battling the weather too. As a snow removal supervisor said, "We are out there fighting it as well, and we can't -- you know, there's nowhere to put it." The answer, of course, is put it anywhere you want, as long as it isn't in my driveway. Where else to put it is a problem, though, with 60 percent of the U.S. covered in snow.

Snow stresses us out, but that's not the only thing. Since 2007, the American Psychological Association has published a yearly report entitled "Stress in America." The 2013 report looked at the impact of stress, gender and generational differences in stress, stress by region of the country and for specific cities. It's an interesting read.

Across the demographic spectrum, Americans report living with higher levels of stress than they believe is healthy. Seventy-two percent reported their stress levels have increased or stayed the same over the past five years. Over the past year, and that figure jumps to 80 percent. Only 20 percent reported their stress levels as going down.

It appears the younger you are, the more stress you have, with those starting at 18 years of age reporting the highest levels of stress. Thirty-nine percent of millennials (identified as 18-33 years of age) said their stress increased over the past year. The Gen Xers (identified as 34-47 years of age) weren't far behind, with 36 percent reporting increased stress. Work, money and job stability topped the list of stressors for these generations, which makes sense, given this economy. In addition, the younger generations who have the highest levels of stress have the lowest levels of managing that stress well and "are the most likely to say they engage in unhealthy behaviors because of stress." The unhealthy behaviors they turn to most often to manage their stress are eating, drinking alcohol and smoking.

People appear to be aware of the negative impact of stress, identified as fatigue, feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed, lack of energy, changes in sleeping habits, headaches. They were also aware of healthy ways to manage stress, such as eating healthy, staying physically active and getting enough sleep. What was missing was the follow-through, with each generation citing barriers, such as lack of willpower, lack of time, the cost of making positive changes and, ironically, stress.

According to the report, only 6 percent of people had engaged the services of a mental health professional or psychologist to help them manage their stress. As a mental health professional, that number is shockingly, and distressingly, low. I suppose a person could read this report as a way to promote the counseling profession and, on one level, it is. On the other hand, maybe it's time to realize it's logical to ask for help from those best trained to provide it. I had hoped over the years I've been doing this work that the resistance to counseling as a tool for wellbeing was dropping. From all that's in this report, let alone the weather report, it looks the APA and I have more work to do.

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