Nine out of ten highly stressed individuals are trapped in vicious cycles

Eighty-nine per cent of Brits who always feel stressed in a typical week are trapped in a ‘self-destructive’ cycle, according to AXA

18 March 2019

Posted in Innovation

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  • Research shows stress is directly correlated to changes in an individual’s personality, as well as their likelihood to take part in self-destructive activities.
  • People who are ‘always’ stressed are 46% more likely to feel anger1; while 32% stop leaving the house and a fifth engage in irresponsible spending.
  • As part of its Future of Ageing campaign, AXA investigates research by Dr Peter Joshi showing how living a healthy, low stress life can improve longevity.

As part of its Future of Ageing campaign, AXA has highlighted research by Dr Peter Joshi revealing that a sixth of how long a person lives is defined by their genetics2, with the other five-sixths defined by external factors such as lifestyle.

One of the most prominent external factors is stress. It’s common to see an individual’s personality change as a result of stress; however AXA’s research has shown that the severity of this change correlates with the amount of stress experienced.

Of the 2,000 respondents surveyed, a quarter said they experience anger as a result of their stress or anxiety; however those who said they are ‘always’ stressed are 46% more likely to display this emotion.

Those who are always stressed are also a third more likely to swear and almost twice as likely to cry compared with those who are only sometimes stressed.

According to its 2018 Stress Index, AXA found that, overall, 72% of Brits are stressed at least some of the time during a typical week, highlighting how prevalent the issue is throughout society.

The Vicious Cycle of Stress

AXA’s study found that stress not only causes respondents’ behaviour to change, it also leads to them taking part in unhealthy activities. Forty-four per cent of respondents who said they were always stressed regularly stay up late as a consequence, while over a third adapted unhealthy eating habits.

On the more harmful side of the scale, 32% of the ‘always’ stressed group said they started not leaving the house, a quarter had stopped eating regularly and a fifth engaged in irresponsible spending.

Even more concerning is that these activities could actually be making people more stressed, creating a vicious cycle. For instance, 87% of respondents said they were worried about their long-term health, but one in ten of those who are ‘always’ stressed consume what they feel is an ‘excessive’ amount of alcohol.

A fifth of those who are always stressed also admit to irresponsible spending in order to relieve their anxiety, which is counter-productive considering that 83% respondents in general said they are stressed about their personal finances.

“There are a myriad of ways people react to stress, but unfortunately a lot of the time we take part in activities that are harmful to both ourselves and those around us. Unhealthy eating, getting into arguments, or shutting down completely is more common than most people think. The issue here is people are turning to a short term ‘fix’ instead of trying to understand the core issues that are causing their stress in the first place – be it work, finances, relationships or health.”

— Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Lead, AXA PPP healthcare

Living longer by solving stress

Exercise is just one way to alleviate stress, but the reality is only a quarter of Brits get active in order to relax. AXA has recently spoken to Angela Copson, a pensioner who started running marathons at 60 years old after a health scare, to understand how jogging has helped improve her life.

At 71 years’ old, and with eight marathons and ten world records under her belt, Angela claims the key to longevity is a healthy lifestyle. This claim is echoed by Dr Peter Joshi, whose research at The University of Edinburgh, supported by the AXA Research Fund, has informed the insurer’s latest campaign into the Future of Ageing, and has paved the way to understanding how human beings can live longer and healthier lives.

1 Figures obtained from research commissioned by AXA of 2000 UK adults. The research was carried out by Opinium in September 2018.

2 AXA Research Fund. Longevity: do you have the genes for it?