A woman with her hands over her face, reacting to something stressful.

A poll finds that in the past year, health-related events were the most common major stressful events in Americans' lives.

This poll is part of an ongoing series sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and National Public Radio. A nationally representative sample of more than 2,500 adults age 18 and older participated in the poll.

Participants were asked about the occurrence of stress in their personal lives over the past month and year, the perceived effects and causes of their stress, methods of managing stress, and general attitudes about the effect of stress in their lives. Close to half of those polled reported they had a stressful event or experience within the past year and more than a quarter reported having a great deal of stress in the past month.  Compared to the public as a whole, those who identified as being in poor health and who are disabled were much more likely to report a great deal of stress in the last month. Those experiencing a great deal of stress in the past month largely reported that it affected their family life, health, and social life.

Key Findings

  • When asked if they had had a major stressful event or experience in the past year, almost half of all respondents (49%) reported that they had. More than four in 10 (43%) of these respondents reported stressful events and experiences related to health.

  • People who identified as being in poor health were more than twice as likely (60%) to report experiencing a ‘great deal’ of stress within the past month. Eight in 10 (80%) of those in poor health reported that their own health problems contributed to their stress, and more than half (58%) attributed the health problems of a family member.

  • Close to three-fourths of those polled (74%) identified their health as a sphere affected by stress. The most commonly reported effect on health was poor emotional well-being (63%), followed by problems with sleep (56%), and difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions (52%).

  • Only one-third (34%) of those polled who reported having a ‘great deal’ of stress within the past month said that they had a great deal of control over the stress in their life. Four in 10 (40%) said they had some control.

About the study:

Interviews were conducted via telephone (including both landline and cell phone) between March 3 and April 8, 2014, among a nationally representative sample of 2,505 adults age 18 and older. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. To compensate for known biases and variations in probability of selection within and across households, sample data were weighed by household size, cell phone/landline use and demographics to reflect the true population. Random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, and systematic respondent selection within households, were used to ensure that the sample is representative.


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Media Contacts

Catherine Arnst

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 609-627-7511

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