Stress in America survey says mental health supports must be prioritized

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Americans are struggling with the basic decisions required to navigate daily life as the effects of pandemic-related stress continue to take a toll, especially on younger adults and parents, according to 2021 Stress in America poll results published by the American Psychological Association (APA). 

The poll, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of APA, found that 1 in 3 Americans (32 percent) said sometimes they are so stressed about the coronavirus pandemic that they struggle to make even basic decisions, like what to wear or what to eat. Millennials (48 percent) were particularly likely to struggle with this when compared with their counterparts (Gen Z adults: 37 percent Gen Z, 32 percent Gen X, 14 percent baby boomers, and 3 percent older adults), as were parents (47 percent) versus non-parents (24 percent). 

The survey found that nearly two-thirds of adults (63 percent) agreed that uncertainty about what the next few months will be like causes them stress, and around half (49 percent) went further to say that the coronavirus pandemic makes planning for their future feel impossible. More than one-third said it has been more stressful to make both day-to-day decisions (36 percent) and major life decisions (35 percent) compared with before the coronavirus pandemic.

Younger adults, especially millennials, were more likely to feel these decisions are more stressful now. Additionally, parents were more likely than non-parents to report the same, with 54 percent of those with children ages 4 years old and younger reporting that day-to-day decisions have become more stressful. Hispanic adults were more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to say decision-making has become more stressful compared with before the pandemic.

More than 3 in 5 adults (61 percent) agreed the coronavirus pandemic has made them re-think how they were living their life, and more than 2 in 5 adults (44 percent) made a major life decision during the coronavirus pandemic. Further, many parents made at least one major life decision during the coronavirus pandemic (62 percent versus 35 percent non-parents).

While the overall stress level remained the same as last year—5.0, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means “little to no stress” and 10 means “a great deal of stress”—the report highlighted how the burden of stress is not being borne equally. Additionally, the majority of Americans (59 percent) said they have changed some behaviors as a result of stress in the past month. Most commonly, the changes were avoiding social situations (24 percent), altering eating habits (23 percent), procrastinating, or neglecting responsibilities (22%) or altering physical activity levels (22 percent). In conjunction with changes in eating habits and physical activity, more than one-third said they eat to manage their stress, which remains elevated after increasing during the first year of the pandemic.

Despite these struggles, U.S. adults have retained a positive outlook. Most (70 percent) were confident that everything will work out after the coronavirus pandemic ends, and more than half (57 percent) agreed they tend to bounce back quickly after hard times.