UTAH (ABC4) – Utah is known far and wide for our vast array of outdoor activities and beautiful, natural locations — from the red rocks of Southern Utah to the snowy peaks of the Wasatch. With ample evidence that spending time in nature is a prime stress reliever, it may be surprising for Utahns to learn that in a recent report, our state ranked as the sixth most stressed.

The report, conducted and published by William Russell, analyzed six factors — LGBTQ+ safety rating, suicide rates per 100,000 residents, cost of living, CO2 gas emissions from large facilities, average air quality, and percent of land made up of State and National Parks, to determine total stress level. According to these metrics, the report determined Texas to be the most stressed state, and Delaware to be the least.

Lindsay Wilson-Barlow, a licensed clinical psychologist at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Mental Health Institute, says that many of the analyzed factors can indeed be big stressors.

Firstly, seemingly uncontrollable environmental factors like air quality — a topic that is not far from Utahns’ minds (and lungs) this winter season, can be a big contributor, she says.

“A big variable that relates to stress is perceived control, like ‘How much control or agency do I have over a certain domain?’ she explains. “For some people, if something seems out of their control, or maybe too big or beyond what they feel they can directly impact, that can lead to really high levels of stress.”

Another hot topic — and key stressor — facing Utahns now is the rising cost of living. Our state has seen an influx of new residents, which has driven housing prices up astronomically. In addition, staffing shortages and supply issues have driven up the price of groceries across the board.

According to Wilson-Barlow, this all adds up, especially for our younger residents.

“Especially for young people, who are maybe first starting out their lives and coming into adulthood, and they look at all the variables: higher education, buying a house, starting a family, all those things come with big price tags,” she says. “That can seem really overwhelming, especially if we’re looking at all those pieces put together.”

But, even though the analyzed factors certainly do contribute to stress, they might only paint half the picture. Wilson Barlow also says that the report may not have taken other factors — ones that perhaps give Utah a leg up on stress — into account.

For instance, she says, Utah has a great sense of community.

“One thing that stands out to me is a sense of community, whether that’s related to your religious affiliation or a social group,” she explains. “We know that can have positive influences for stress levels and making things feel more manageable. As far as I can tell, that wasn’t reflected in this metric.”

But, regardless of whether or not Utah is indeed the sixth most stressed — or if that’s even quantifiable — it’s almost certain that everyone will experience a period of anxiety in their lives. So, what are some tips for managing it?

According to Wilson-Barlow, there are two main approaches to dealing with stress. First is what she calls a “problem-solving approach,” which involves breaking down the task or situation into more manageable pieces. This aids in developing a sense of mastery and control, which eases stress.

“Feeling like we are making progress on something that’s within our control can be really empowering and have really positive effects for our mood and our anxiety,” she says.

The second approach is more “acceptance-based,” Wilson-Barlow says. Taking this path, individuals don’t try to change the situation, but rather adjust responses or reactions to the situation.

“We, first of all, allow ourselves the space to have our emotional reactions, but then we also don’t want to get stuck there,” she explains. “So we acknowledge what it is that we’re experiencing and how we’re reacting and then we continue on with the things that are important in our lives.”

Focusing on these things can also contribute to the aforementioned sense of mastery that is so helpful for reducing stress.

In addition, Wilson-Barlow says it’s important to make time for fun each day. And in a fast-paced, results-driven world, it’s all the more necessary to set aside time for the things we love to do.

And above all, it’s paramount to remember that we’re all in this life thing together.

“Generally speaking, we’re all doing the best we can,” Wilson-Barlow says. “[It’s important to] be able to recognize that within ourselves, but also amongst those people that we interact with every day.”