A new American Psychological Association survey, Stress in America confirms that close personal relationships help people cope with stress.

Norman Anderson, the association’s CEO and a former professor at the Harvard School of Public Health said consistently, the biggest stressor in American society is money.

And, emotional support serves as a buffer against the health effects of that financial insecurity.

Having a confidant, someone to talk to about the challenges of life, can have a significant effect on long-term health.

“Emotional health or lack thereof is as much of a risk factor as smoking, high blood pressure, and lack of exercise,” Anderson said. “We’re not talking about trivial effects.”

Anderson said that he personally does not have a problem maintaining a regimen of eating right and exercising, but has to remind himself to make time for social interactions.

However, Lisa Berkman, who as led global research on emotional support, said that it is difficult to simply decide to get or give more emotional support. “It’s not that people don’t want this,” she said. “It’s that it’s really hard.”

Berkman, who is the director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies and a professor at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health said American society does not support placing a priority on maintaining close personal ties with others.

Berkman led one study that allowed nursing home workers to take time off when they needed to care for a family member. The extra flexibility reduced their stress and increased their productivity when they were at work, the study found.

Said Berkman, “We need a new set of structures that will allow us to provide the support people need as well as well as remain productive.”


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