Australia’s economy may have enjoyed considerable success in recent years, but for the average Australian, stress levels have never been so high.
Compared to the rest of the world, Australia is doing pretty well. A 2015 UN report that measured economic, education and life-expectancy data, ranked Australia as the second-best in the world for its quality of life.
To the outside world, it looks as if we have got it all together, but upon closer inspection, Australians are stressed like never before.
Money: the main stress
The Australian Psychological Society’s 2015 Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey shows Australians are faring worse than they were back in 2011, when the survey last took place.
Australians are reporting lower levels of general and workplace wellbeing, and higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety symptoms. The top cause of stress for Aussies is ‘personal finance’ with 49 per cent of respondents saying they worried about money.
Aussies face huge debts
Many Australians are struggling when it comes to making ends meet. Our household debt-to-income ratio now sits at a record 189 per cent. This means that if a person is earning an annual salary of $80,000, they are actually spending $151,200 per year.
High mortgages and rents mean more Australian families are under financial pressure. KPMG has analysed spending data to gain insights into how we’re tracking—and the results are surprising.
- Around 10 to 15 per cent of households are consistently unable to pay bills on time.
- Between 3 and 5 per cent of households need to pawn possessions, or rely on welfare organisations to stay afloat.
- The bottom 20 per cent of households are trying to increase their incomes by getting involved in risky investments, increasing their stress levels even further.
Is it any wonder we’re stressed out?
The effects of chronic stress
While small amounts of stress can be beneficial, high levels or long periods of stress aren’t good for us. They can result in any of the following side effects:
- muscle tension or pain
- chest pain or a racing heart
- change in sex drive
- gastrointestinal problems
- sleep problems
- anxiety, sadness or depression
- lack of motivation or focus
- feeling overwhelmed
- irritability or anger.
Stress can also impact on your behaviour, making you more likely to overeat, reduce your exercise, withdraw socially, and engage in risky behaviour.
The survey also showed those who reported higher levels of anxiety and depression symptoms, and distress were more likely to gamble, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and take recreational drugs.
Dealing with stress
While you may not be able to remove the source of stress, you can learn to manage it better. Key things include:
- ensuring you engage in regular physical activity—walking is particularly good
- trying relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga or massages
- laughing and keeping a sense of humour
- spending time with family and friends
- keeping up with your hobbies
- engaging in relaxing activities such as reading or listening to music
- eating a healthy, balanced diet, focusing on the five food groups. Avoid smoking, excess caffeine and alcohol consumption, and using illicit drugs.
If your stress symptoms continue despite you taking steps to manage them, speak to your doctor. Sometimes symptoms of stress can be indicators or other health issues. If you’re given a clean bill of health, your doctor may refer you to a professional counsellor or therapist, who can help you learn to manage your stress.
If you feel overwhelmed by your financial situation, seek the advice of a financial advisor, who may be able to make a plan to ease your financial burden.