Who feels more economic stress?

A stressed out woman holds a bill

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Today's 3-plus percent drop on Wall Street was an unwelcome reminder of what economically induced stress feels like. Take plummeting portfolio values, soaring federal deficits and rising unemployment forecasts. It's enough to make anyone anxious.

The American Psychological Association knows a little something about anxiety. It's got a new study out showing one group in particular is feeling the stress of the downturn. Sally Herships has more from New York.


Sally Herships: Alisa Bennet-Hart is stressed out.

Alisa Bennet-Hart: Probably three or four times a week I wake up after a horrible dream. I dream that I'm being chased, I've dreamed that my boyfriend married someone else and left me.

Bennet-Hart works in real estate in Atlanta. She's a single parent still soaking up the costs from divorce. She's already come close to losing her house. Her daughter is in college. And she's had to tap into her 401(k).

Bennet-Hart: It's kind of like as long as I can keep all these balls in play, I'm fine. But if I ever drop one of them, they're all likely to be on the floor.

It's not surprising Bennet-Hart says she's feeling anxious. It turns out women say they're more stressed out about the economy then men. To see it in action we need to stop by a gym -- on Wall Street. That's where I found Glen Freeman, possibly the most chilled out guy ever. He's the manager there.

Herships: So are you worried about the economy right now?

Glen Freeman: Can't worry about it. It's out of my control. I can't force people to buy and sell stocks, I can't force banks to give up money. But I'm not gonna stress.

Nearby, some Wall Street guys were working out. I checked on their anxiety levels.

K: It's got to hit the bottom at some point. It always does. It will again.

Ross: I'm not all that stressed out about it.

Herships: You're not?

Ross: Not particularly.

To cope, men distract themselves.

Karina Davidson: Things that take their mind off of what they're stressed about, and that concentrates their minds on something else.

Karina Davidson is a psychology professor at Columbia Medical School. She says often men turn towards solitary activities, like wood-working and video games when feeling anxious. I asked her why women's nerves seem to take a bigger hit from the downturn than men's.

Davidson: There's actually psychological research to suggest that girls, from a very early age, are reinforced for showing their fear or their anxiety or their distress.

While boys, Davidson says, from early as toddlerhood are punished for showing the same emotions. So, she says it's not yet clear if women are actually more stressed out or just more quick to talk about it. But women and minorities, she says, are often the people who work part-time jobs and have less time at their companies. So with jobs declining, they know they're going to be first in line to lose them.

Back in Atlanta, single mom Alisa Bennet-Hart is still struggling.

Bennet-Hart: I'm looking forward to the day when my subconscious does not have to have free rein. But if it's got to come out, it's got to come out.

Neither men nor women, Davidson says, are better at dealing with anxiety. And, she says, nearly half of all adults said their stress has increased this year.

In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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