The coronavirus pandemic has been tainted with death, political unrest and economic uncertainty, and Americans can’t help but feel overwhelmed.
A survey of more than 2,000 people conducted in late January found that U.S. adults reported the highest average levels of stress since April last year when COVID-19 cases and death rates started rising.
Of the survey participants, 84% said the country “has serious societal issues that we need to address” and reported feeling at least one emotion tied to prolonged stress in the last two weeks.
The largest triggers of stress included the future of America (81%), the COVID-19 pandemic (80%) and political unrest across the nation (74%). The insurrection on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building, forcing evacuations in both chambers of Congress, was also a “significant source of stress” for 66% of adults, despite the survey taking place nearly three weeks after the event.
The survey results come as more Americans get their coronavirus vaccines, sparking the beginning of the pandemic’s end. However, research shows feelings of stress, depression and anxiety, as well as poor health, can negatively affect a person’s immune response to a vaccine.
These consequences can include a delay in the production of antibodies following vaccination, a reduction in how long immunity lasts, and a more intense experience with side effects such as fatigue and muscle soreness.
The survey was published Tuesday and conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association.
Psychology experts say taking breaks from the news and social media, staying connected with friends and family, and exercising are ways to lessen ongoing stress as the pandemic stretches on.
“Nearly a year into the pandemic, prolonged stress persists at elevated levels for many Americans. As we work to address stressors as a nation, from unemployment to education, we can’t ignore the mental health consequences of this global shared experience,” Dr. Arthur Evans Jr., the American Psychological Association’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Without addressing stress as part of a national recovery plan, we will be dealing with the mental health fallout from this pandemic for years to come.”
Participants were mostly anxious (47%), sad (44%) or angry (39%), the survey found. The average reported stress level during January this year was 5.6, on a scale from one to 10 where the higher the number means the greater the stress.
That’s the highest average level of stress when compared to April-May 2020 (5.4), May-June 2020 (5.2) and June-August 2020 (5).
Some racial and political differences caught the researchers’ attention, too.
Nearly three-quarters, or 74%, of Black Americans said the Capitol insurrection was a “significant source of stress,” compared to white (65%) and Hispanic adults (60%).
Meanwhile, the majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, reported feeling stressful emotions during the pandemic. Nine in 10 adults said they hope the country “moves toward unity.”
“Give yourself permission to take a break from the news, social media or even certain friends. Constantly exposing ourselves to negative information, images and rhetoric maintains our stress at unhealthy levels,” experts with the American Psychological Association said.
“Practice self-care in 15- or 30-minute increments throughout the day. This can include taking a short walk, calling a friend or watching a funny show. Parents should encourage or help their children to do the same,” they added. “Stay connected with friends and family. This helps build emotional resiliency so you can support one another.”