Staying fit and healthy stressing out Australians

A new study conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) has revealed that trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle was a source of stress for 40% of Australians, with one in seven (14%) reporting it as a substantial source of stress1.

The Stress and Wellbeing Survey 2012—released today to mark the start of National Psychology Week— showed younger adults (18 – 25 year olds) were the most likely to report that trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle was contributing to their overall levels of stress (52%), with one in five (21%) nominating it as a substantial source of stress.

Further, for almost half of women (47%) trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle was a source of stress. By comparison, only one in three men (33%) reported that trying to stay fit and healthy was a source of stress.

Professor Lyn Littlefield FAPS, Executive Director of the APS, said: “From a psychological perspective, it’s not surprising that people are stressed about trying to stay healthy, and this is a particular concern for young adults. No matter what our age, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the multitude of health messages we are exposed to.

“When you consider young adulthood is a period of rapid change and transition, where people are potentially moving out of home, entering the workforce fulltime, and establishing their independence, yet another task such as trying to eat well and exercise regularly can seem too much.”

She added: “Many people in this age group will also be dating and trying to find a long-term partner so physical appearance is very important – and it becomes stressful if they are not achieving a certain body image.

“Social pressures to fit in with peers who may drink alcohol or smoke also make it more difficult and stressful to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

While most of us know what we should be doing to improve our health, many of us don’t manage to start or if we do, it’s difficult to maintain the changes, Professor Littlefield says.

She said people often developed unhealthy habits that were built into their lifestyle and were difficult to change.

“Making healthy lifestyle change is not as simple as making a single decision,” Professor Littlefield said.

“ Psychological research tells us that it is a process requiring a number of steps, including planning and preparation, and strategies for maintenance.

“Understanding that change is a process that happens over time is important. It’s also vital to be flexible as any new regime takes time to establish – and relapse is normal. However, it’s important not to focus on what you didn’t do and become disappointed or disillusioned, but as soon as possible to return to your healthy behaviours.”

Other key findings of the APS Stress and Wellbeing Survey included1:

  • Significantly higher levels of distress compared with the survey results in 2011, with 22% of Australians reporting moderate to severe levels of distress this year.
  • Significantly lower levels of wellbeing in this year’s survey compared with those reported in 2011.
  • Two out of three Australians reported that their current stress levels are impacting on their physical health.
  • Almost three in five Australians reported that their current levels of stress impacted on their mental health.
  • One in five Australians reported mental health issues as a source of stress.
  • One in ten Australians reported depression and anxiety symptoms in the severe to extremely severe range, with younger adults reporting significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression symptoms compared to older Australians
  • Many Australians reported using psychological techniques to manage stress, including focusing on the positive, adjusting expectations, and avoiding stressful situations or people, and rated these strategies as effective.

“We recommend people seek professional help if they feel over-stressed or are struggling with life issues.  Psychologists are experts in human behaviour trained to help people meet life’s challenges and overcome barriers to change,” Professor Littlefield said.

More information, including a free guide to understanding and managing stress, is available on the NPW pages of the APS website at To stay in touch with the latest updates from the APS, follow @APS_Media on Twitter.


Note to editors:
Professor Lyn Littlefield and a number of other psychologists are available for interview throughout National Psychology Week.

Media contacts
Stephen Richardson (02) 8094 7748 / 0438 262 869 or 

Julia MacQueen (02) 8094 7745 / 0422 074 354 or


  1. Stress and Wellbeing in Australia in 2012: A state-of-the-nation survey.  The survey comprised a nationally representative sample of 1,552 people who completed an online survey over a three week period from 3 August to 23 August 2012 for the Australian Psychological Society.

About the APS
The APS is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to people’s lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.

During National Psychology Week, APS psychologists around Australia host a large number of events and activities in their local communities to highlight psychology – the science of human behaviour – and how it can help people lead happier, healthier lives.

The APS also provides a free referral service for the general public, GPs and other health professionals who are seeking the advice and assistance of a psychologist at or by calling the toll-free number 1800 333 497.