How Discrimination May Be Stressing You Out

Whether it's due to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, or any number of factors, most of us face discrimination at some point or another. In fact, you probably don't need research to tell you that discrimination is linked to stress, but if you need validation, a recent report from the American Psychological Association (APA) has got you covered. According to this year's edition of the annual report on stress in America, almost half of American adults say they've encountered a major form of discrimination or unfair treatment, and 61 percent say they've experienced more everyday varieties.

Of course, not everyone experiences discrimination with the same regularity. Ethnicity was frequently cited as the main reason for discrimination, and black adults were particularly affected: In addition to being the demographic most likely to report experiencing discrimination, two in five black men reported being unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, or physically abused by the police in the past. Overall, about half of black, Native American, Asian, and Hispanic respondents agreed that their lives had been made at least slightly harder because of discrimination.

However, ethnicity was hardly the only factor affecting discrimination. The report found that adults with a disability were twice as likely as those without to say their lives have been made more difficult as the result of discrimination, and the same amount agreed that discrimination interfered with their ability to live a full life. Thirty percent of women attributed everyday discrimination to their gender, compared to just eight percent of men, and a third of LGBT adults reported job discrimination. Furthermore, almost a quarter of LGBT adults reported being unfairly treated by the police. Are you ready to toss your computer away in rage yet?

Clearly, discrimination in America is alive and well, and according to the report, it can have long-term consequences for someone's health. Decades of previous research has indicated that chronic stress can affect everything from immune system function to cardiovascular health, not to mention its potentially devastating effects on mental health. The APA's report is one of few explicitly focusing on discrimination as a source of stress, but the evidence is strong. "We found that those folks who reported discrimination reported a higher level of stress as well as poor health as compared to cohorts in the same group that reported not experiencing discrimination," the APA's executive director for education told USA Today.

Although the report notes that stress levels in America have increased slightly over the last few years, certain populations are disproportionately affected. Hispanic adults reported the highest stress levels, although LGBT adults weren't far behind — especially if they had experienced discrimination before. However, younger generations, women, and people with disabilities tended to have higher-than-average stress levels as well.

"Dealing with discrimination results in a state of heightened vigilance and changes in behavior, which in itself can trigger stress responses ... so even the anticipation of discrimination can cause stress," researchers wrote in the report.

If, ironically, the study's results are stressing you out, there's a silver lining: The report also found that most people who dealt with discrimination felt that they had good coping mechanisms, especially if they had sources of emotional support. So what's the bottom line? To paraphrase the Beatles, we can all get by with a little help from our friends — even in the face of rampant discrimination.

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