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Stress in America Hits New High

All the usual suspects continue to heighten anxiety. Here’s how to curb yours.

Robert Roy Britt
Feb 2 · 3 min read

Stress levels in America are higher now than during a previous peak last spring during Covid-19 lockdowns, a new survey finds. And it’s not just you. Or me. In the Harris Poll, conducted in the days just after the presidential inauguration, 84% of U.S. adults said they’re feeling some level of stress.

On average, people ranked their stress level at 5.6, where 1 equals little to none and 10 represents “a great deal of stress.” The has been repeated four times since last spring, when the average stress level reached 5.4 before falling to 5.0 in August.

What’s causing it? Pick your poison. Here are the top stressors, based on the percentage of people who cited them as significant sources:

We all seem to largely agree on at least two things, regardless of political affiliation: Around eight in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents each reported some level of stress; and about the same number of each said the future of the country was a significant source of it.

Back in August of 2016, the average stress level . Top concerns then included the upcoming presidential election, cited by 52% of people as causing them stress, while 38% said political and cultural discussions on social media were stress inducers.

“Nearly a year into the pandemic, prolonged stress persists at elevated levels for many Americans,” says Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association, which commissioned the surveys. “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. 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.”

APA suggestions for managing stress start with doing something for yourself, even if in short bits at various times during the day. Watch some comedy, for example, and involve kids if you have them. Or take a 15-minute walk. Any form of physical activity — or — can lower stress levels immediately and over time, multiple studies have concluded.

Deep breathing is also a great stress reliever, and can be done in short sessions that are surprisingly easy and relaxing. Here’s how:

Other APA suggestions:

  • Take a break from the news and social media, and even from friends who stress you out. [See my previous article: .]
  • At the end of every day, reflect on three good things that happened, no matter how small. In general, try to focus on positive events rather than the negative.
  • Stay connected with friends and family — you can use the support right now. Oh, and a suggestion from me based on ample experience: Stick to discussions about puppies and babies, not politics or vaccines.

If stress becomes chronic, the effects on physical health can be profound. If you’re feeling a sense of dread, or your anxiety is constant, you may need to take more serious action. Here’s more about the science of stress, it’s common symptoms, and how to deal with it:

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Robert Roy Britt

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Explainer of things, independent health and science journalist, author, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience and Space dot com.

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Explainer of things, independent health and science journalist, author, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience and Space dot com.

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Health and wellness news and information about the human body and mind, the world around us, and our place in it.

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