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Mental Health

After More Than a Year of Pandemic Life, We’re Stressed Out and Putting Our Health at Risk

The American Psychological Association study shows that the pandemic has done a number on our mental and physical well-being.

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Are you irritable? Exhausted? Unable to stick to a running routine or get through a day of work without a case of the grumpies? You’re not alone—living through a pandemic, as it turns out, has put most of us in a bad place emotionally and physically, according to new research by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The prolonged stress on everybody, no matter what our individual circumstances, is creating a new wave of pandemic-related health risks that will extend past the more immediate COVID-19 concerns, experts predict. According to the APA “Stress in America” survey, which was released in March, 61 percent of adults experienced an undesired weight change since the pandemic started in 2020, with 42 percent reporting weight gain (an average of 29 pounds) and 18 percent saying they lost an average of 26 pounds.

Slightly More Than 6 in 10 U.S. Adults (61%) Report Undesired Weight Change Since Start of Pandemic.
Photo: American Psychological Association

And of note: 53 percent of American adults have been less physically active during the pandemic than they wanted.

Adults also responded that their sleep patterns aren’t what they once were either—67 percent reported that they’ve been sleeping more or less than desired. On top of that, 23 percent said they’re drinking more alcohol to cope with stress.

“We’ve been concerned throughout this pandemic about the level of prolonged stress, exacerbated by the grief, trauma, and isolation that Americans are experiencing,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., the APA’s chief executive officer, in a written statement.

Parents’ Mental, Physical Health Impacted Since Start of Pandemic
Photo: American Psychological Association

Certain groups, as a whole, have experienced more pandemic-related trauma and anxiety than others, according to the report. Half of mothers whose children are home for remote learning reported that their mental health has worsened and half of essential workers said that they’ve relied on “unhealthy habits” to survive the pandemic and more than half of Black Americans felt concerned about the future.

“We must do more to support communities of color, essential workers, and parents as they continue to cope with the demands of the pandemic and start to show the physical consequences of prolonged stress,” said Jennifer Kelly, president of the APA, in a written statement.

If you’re among the many who are coping with increased stress and having a hard time sticking to healthy habits, the APA recommends the following strategies:

  • Set some attainable goals. For example, if you want to drink less alcohol, determine a day of the week you’ll allow yourself an adult beverage. Tell a close friend or family member and ask them to hold you accountable.
  • If you’re unhappy with how you feel physically, choose a fitness activity you enjoy (it doesn’t have to be running if it isn’t appealing to you right now). Write down a weekly plan that progresses gradually or search out a pre-made workout schedule that works for you. Build a routine over time and if you fall off or miss a day, just start again the following day. The point is to ease back into an active lifestyle in a way that is sustainable over time.
  • Set aside 15- or 30-minute windows throughout the day to take a short walk—and if your kids are home, take them along. The fresh air and movement can help you all refocus and rejuvenate.
  • Whether it’s dinner time or game night, make sure you set a time for yourself and/or your household to have a device-free period each day. We can all better connect and care for ourselves when we’re unplugged.
  • If you are looking for psychological help, information, and resources, visit the APA Help Center.

And if you’re looking for more resources about your mental and physical health (and how they’re connected), read on:


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