08/11/2015 3:30 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Australians Report Finances Are Causing Most Stress In Life

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Australians are reporting lower levels of personal wellbeing, higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety symptoms, and the main culprit will come as no surprise to many: personal finances.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) conducts an annual Stress and Wellbeing Survey and this year's results chart patterns over the past five years, with all negative indicators on the rise over the half decade.

The survey found that 35 percent of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives, 26 percent of Australians report above normal levels of anxiety symptoms, while 26 percent of Australians report having moderate to extremely severe levels of depression symptoms.

In 2015, anxiety symptoms were the highest they have ever been. Worryingly, there has also been a marked increase in the number of people overall turning to gambling to manage stress, growing from 13 percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2015.

For those reporting severe levels of distress, the numbers of those engaging in potentially risky behaviours were higher: drinking alcohol (61 percent), gambling (41 percent), smoking (40 percent) and recreational drug use (31 percent) were used to manage stress.

Professor Lyn Littlefield, Executive Director of the APS, said the survey findings are concerning.

“It is worrying that people are turning to potentially harmful and addictive behaviours to manage stress. Drinking alcohol, smoking and gambling can take a toll on personal finances, as well as physical and mental health. The APS recommends avoiding these behaviours if you are already feeling overwhelmed or stressed,” she said.

Australians’ worries about money have not abated, with personal finance issues rated as the top cause of stress over the five years -- 49 percent of Australians report stress over money. The other culprits are family issues (45 percent), personal health (44 percent), trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle (40 percent), and issues with health of others close to us (38 percent).

“It appears that there is a vicious cycle involving people finding personal finances and health the main reasons for stress, yet certain stress-relief methods are potentially contributing to people’s problems in the long-term,” Professor Littlefield said.

“We need to look at the impact of stress on society as a whole, and what we can do to reduce the potential for stress related harm," she said.

The good news is that most Australians don't turn to risky behaviour as a way of managing stress, although the number one stress buster isn't exactly healthy -- 85 percent of Australians said that watching television and movies were their favourite ways of winding down.

Other popular ways of managing stress were: focussing on the positive (81 percent); spending time with friends and family (81 per cent); listening to music (80 per cent); and reading (75 percent).

The APS 2015 survey also focussed on social media use and the concept of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). It found that teens (aged 13-17) were suffering most from social media stress.

One in two teenagers feels they are "missing out" on the seemingly perfect lives that others portray through social media, and they also reported that they felt they were having less "rewarding" experiences than their friends.