Americans’ stress reaches highest levels since start of COVID-19, many blame politics

WASHINGTON — No matter where you live on this planet, it’s likely 2020 was a difficult year for you. It’s also fair to say 2020 was particularly disruptive in the United States. Between COVID-19, an election season and aftermath truly like no other, and ongoing civil unrest, last year was trying to say the least for Americans. Now, a new survey finds U.S. adults are still feeling just as, if not more, stressed than at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers with The Harris Poll surveyed 2,076 adults at the end of January 2021. A staggering 84 percent say the United States is facing serious societal issues that have yet to be properly addressed. On a more positive note, nine in 10 respondents hope that the country moves closer toward unity in 2021.

Is 2021 going to be worse than 2020?

When it comes to stress, Americans are averaging a 5.6 out of 10 (with one indicating little to no stress and 10 meaning super stressed). Almost unbelievably, that 5.6 score is higher than any average stress level from prior surveys dating back to April 2020. In other words, Americans are feeling more stressed right now than at any time since COVID-19 began.

Over just the past two weeks, 84 percent of Americans admit to feeling at least one negative emotion linked to prolonged stress. Examples include anxiety (47%), sadness (43%), and anger (39%).

As many as two-thirds of respondents say that the sheer volume of issues and problems the United States faces today has left them feeling overwhelmed.

“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,” says Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association, in a media release. “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.”

What exactly are Americans stressed about?

Most say the general future of the nation (81%) is their biggest stressor. Many others still list the COVID-19 pandemic (80%) or the current combative state of U.S. politics (79%).

Regarding politics, 66 percent say the events of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol continue to extract a toll on their mental health to this day. When that statistic is broken down according to race, 74 percent of African-Americans say the events have been a major source of stress. Sixty-five percent of white adults and 60 percent of Hispanics say the same.

Politics have played a major role in dividing people lately. When it comes to stress in 2020 however, it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re a conservative or liberal. Across all three main political categories (85% of Democrats, 83% of Republicans, and 83% of independents), Americans report feeling stressed out. Similarly, just over eight in 10 Democrats, Republicans, or Independents say they worry about the future of the United States.

The American Psychological Association commissioned this survey.

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