More than half of Americans say they're more stressed than they were before the Covid-19 pandemic

Key Points
  • A representative study of 1,500 Americans found that 55% reported being more stressed in May than January.
  • The majority had stayed home for several weeks, and more than a third reported losing income or a job within their family unit. 
  • The researchers behind the study were surprised by the extent of the emotional impact. 

Weeks of social distancing at home and concern about the pandemic bringing you down? You're not alone. 

A group of researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Harvard Medical School released results from a survey they conducted in the second half of May, and 55% of people said they were more stressed than in January, before the virus was perceived to be a widespread threat. The groups that most frequently reported that they were more stressed included Hispanic individuals and people over the age of 50.

"It can be stated with certainty based on these survey findings that at least a quarter of U.S. adults is presently in a condition of high emotional distress directly attributable to the pandemic," the study reads. 

The survey covered a demographically representative group of 1,500 American adults. At the time it was conducted, there were Covid-19 outbreaks in several states and unemployment was at levels not seen in a century. But the survey responses were collected prior to police killing of George Floyd, which resulted in a wave of mass protests to highlight racial inequality and police violence across the country. 

The study asked people what was causing the most added stress and anxiety. The biggest concern was the health and safety of a friend or family member -- 66% reported being moderately to extremely stressed about that. A lower number (57%) said they were moderately to extremely stressed about their own health. 

Other stress factors that ranked moderate or greater included:

  • Frustration about not being able to enjoy usual activities (58%)
  • Worry about the possible breakdown of society (56%)
  • Concern about personal finances (53%)
  • Being more bored (53%)

Younger populations were also stressed about being unable to socialize with friends, according to one of the researchers, Harvard Psychologist Dr. Sarah Gray. She posited that older Americans seemed to be weathering the pandemic better partly because they had experienced other major crises in their lifetimes. 

Gray said that she was surprised how much the pandemic affected people emotionally. She's hoping for is that clinicians and public health will invest more in helping manage people's psychological well-being — and not just their physical health. 

"I hope we really pay attention to the stressors coming up for people, especially around finances and job loss, and see if there are supports they can provide," she said. 

The report also found 83% of the respondents had stayed at home for several weeks during the pandemic. Just shy of 1% of them said they'd tested positive for Covid-19, and 12% said they had known someone who has died from the virus. 38% had lost a job or experienced reduced household income.

In the report's conclusion, the authors suggest allocating more resources to mental health, including prevention strategies.

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