Stress levels are on the rise as Americans grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and bitter political divisions, a new American Psychological Association (APA) survey shows.

On a 10-point scale where 1 means little to no stress and 10 means a great amount, adults’ average stress level clocked in at 5.6, according to the Stress in America: January 2021 Stress Snapshot.

That’s higher than levels reported in APA surveys since April.

Eighty-four percent of respondents in the latest survey reported feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress in the prior two weeks. The most common were anxiety (47%), sadness (44%) and anger (39%).

And two-thirds said they feel overwhelmed by the number of issues facing the nation.

Significant sources of reported stress included the future of the United States (81%); the coronavirus pandemic (80%); and political unrest (74%). Two-thirds said the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was a significant source of stress.

Among other key findings: 84% of respondents say the nation has serious societal issues that need to be addressed and 9 in 10 hope that there will be a move toward unity.

“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,” said APA’s chief executive officer, Arthur Evans Jr.

“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,” he warned in an association news release.

The APA offered tips on stress management:

  • Take breaks from the news, social media or even certain friends. Constant exposure to negative information, images and rhetoric keeps stress at unhealthy levels.
  • Practice the rule of “three good things” and ask friends and family to do the same. At the end of each day, reflect on three good things — large or small — that happened. This helps decrease anxiety, counter depression and build emotional resiliency.
  • Practice self-care in 15- or 30-minute sessions throughout the day. For example, take a short walk, call a friend or watch a funny TV show. Parents should encourage or help their kids to do the same.
  • Keep in touch with friends and family. This helps build emotional resiliency so you can support one another.
  • Keep things in perspective. Try to reframe your thinking to reduce negative interpretations of day-to-day experiences and events.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on stress management.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Feb. 2, 2021