Every year the American Psychological Society (APA) surveys the American public about their stress levels. Given the year we have all lived through, findings reflect life in the times of COVID-19.
In February, the survey sampled 3,013 adults across the country, and interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Data was subsequently weighted against the US population as reported by the 2020 Census to ensure appropriate representation. Weighted variables included age, gender, ethnicity, education, geographic region, household income, and time spent online.
Findings present a stark contrast from prior years and provide signals of the pandemic’s enduring health implications. Sixty-seven percent of adults reported weight gain. Forty-two percent reported gaining more weight than intended; respondents stating average gains of 29 pounds. Sleep was also impacted by pandemic life; 67% of adults reported changes to their sleeping patterns, with 35% sleeping less and 31% sleeping more. A quarter of the respondents stated they had used alcohol to cope with their stress in the pandemic.
Another concerning trend reflected in the report was the delay in routine health care tests and exams. Almost half the respondents (47%) reported on this metric. This has concerning implications for cancer prevention.
Stress impacted groups disproportionately. Essential workers were more likely to have received care for mental health needs ( 34% vs. 12%) and were also more likely to have a diagnosis for a mental health condition (25% vs. 9%).
Parents also reported increased stress; many either lost jobs or worked from home while also homeschooling children. Multiple roles in the home increased pressure in 48% of those interviewed.
African Americans were more likely to express a higher level of concern over their future. They reflected more significant discomfort with interacting with other people once the pandemic subsided (57% vs. 51% Asian to 47% white).
Gen Z as a group also reflected the pandemic had seen a deterioration in their mental health, with 46% reporting this as compared to Millennials (31%), Gen X (33%), Boomers (28%). Interestingly the group that reported the lowest level of deterioration was older adults (9%).
Financial stressors have also been reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the graphic below shows income loss by population. Hispanic and African Americans reported higher income losses as compared to white Americans. This too contributes to stress and reflects the same timeframe as the APA survey.
These findings are a barometer for today’s stress levels and a guide to some areas that will linger as we move through the pandemic. Prolonged stress will impact mental health in the long term, so developing programs and approaches to support mental health will be a focus of the next several years. Digital mental health can play a crucial role in helping more people in their journey back to total health. Also, delayed care may translate into delays in cancer diagnosis and the need to treat more advanced cancers.
The impact of working from home for prolonged periods may lead to new positive ways to work, and parents who also had to homeschool may have to navigate the potential learning delays for their children. Prolonged unemployment will also need careful attention. Stimulus payments can support people in the short-term, and it is unclear what shifts in industries will be enduring or temporary as we come out of pandemic life.
We also have more important questions to answer as individuals and as a society. What aspects of pandemic life do we want to carry forward? Have we re-discovered what is important to us as a society? Have we developed a new sense of community? How might we be able to support those whom the pandemic has more negatively impacted? We have an opportunity to emerge from this pandemic differently, as NPR reporter Michele Norris encourages us to “reach for better” as we move into our new normal, time will tell what we choose.
Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own)