MORGANTOWN — One in five West Virginia residents have reportedly suffered from “quiet stress” this year, according to a survey conducted by American Addiction Centers.
American Addiction Centers, a provider of substance addiction treatment resources in the United States, conducted a survey in October to gauge the mental state of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the survey of 3,000 adults across the U.S., over a quarter of respondents said social distancing guidelines and subsequent loneliness have caused significant stress this year. Nineteen percent of adults admitted they are now more likely to use alcohol to alleviate stress than they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One-third of respondents admitted to hiding their emotions and further stated that those emotions emerge when they have consumed alcohol. And 48% of respondents said they suppress their emotions so as not to worry family members or friends.
In a state-by-state breakdown of the information, American Addiction Centers revealed 20% of West Virginia residents have suffered from quiet stress this year.
Bethany Owen and Audrey Lutz, therapists at the Women In Balance & Children In Balance practice in Morgantown, explained what quiet stress means and how West Virginians can work to overcome it in a healthy manner.
“Quiet stress is those thoughts and feelings you keep pushing down and down, until they eventually explode. Those moments when you think, ‘This doesn’t feel like me. Something is not right,’ but you ignore and ignore until it forces itself to surface,” Owen said.
Owen also said suppressed stress can have detrimental physical effects on the body. Physical symptoms of mental stress include tension, chest tightness and stomachaches/nausea.
“Take ownership of your body and thoughts, bring awareness to it,” Owen said. “Start by simply looking in the mirror and saying ‘I am feeling something, and I do not like it.’ That awareness is a great first step toward resolution and taking back control of you.”
Lutz added that quiet stress could lead to additional mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders and depression. She added that people may experience feelings of shame because they believe that other people handle stress better than they do themselves.
“However, the media, for example Facebook, Instagram, only puts out the ‘good highlights’ and not what people are really going through,” Lutz said.
Morgantown residents opened up about their experience with quiet stress this year.
Sara Lynn said her daughter’s remote learning in addition to work, the 2020 presidential election and the overall negativity on social media have been significant stressors for her.
“I’ve opened up to those closest to me, but it seems as though everything is fine on the surface,” Lynn said. “Most people don’t know I’m struggling mentally. I don’t show it.”
Lynn said her coping mechanisms have included self-isolating so as not to feel like a burden to others. She admitted she does consume alcohol more than she used to, though she does not drink excessively.
Jeffrey William said the financial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is his biggest concern. His family of six has been struggling financially, as his wife has been lacking work since March.
“I don’t want to talk about financial stuff with my wife,” Williams said. “She gets very upset about not being able to work. We just try to find a way to make it week to week.”
Lutz said to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms as a result of living with quiet stress, individuals must first identify the problems they are facing. Lutz also recommended individuals find healthy coping mechanisms rather than resorting to unhealthy ones, such as substance abuse or other self-harming behaviors.
Activities such as breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, journaling and building a support group can be helpful in managing stress and anxiety, Lutz said.
“As a therapist and yoga teacher, I educate about the importance of self-exploration and how my clients respond to distress and that there are many ways to practice self-care and taking care of their needs,” Lutz said.