COVID-19 means different approach to Stress in America survey

By Phyllis Hanlon
July 14th, 2020
Rick Barnett, Psy.D, MA, MS, LADC, Vermont-based psychologist Rick Barnett, Psy.D, MA, MS, LADC, Vermont-based psychologist
Rick Barnett, Psy.D, MA, MS, LADC, Vermont-based psychologist

Since 2007, the American Psychological Association (APA) has been gauging the nation’s attitudes and perception of stress with its annual Stress in America survey.

“Every year, we take a look at what is causing stress among U.S. adults, how they are managing or failing to manage their stress and how that stress impacts their lives, relationships, work and health,” said Sophie Bethune, APA’s director of Strategic Communications Initiatives.

She added that the results of the survey highlight the serious physical and emotional implications of stress. “By drawing attention to stress, we are able to start a conversation about emotional and behavioral health and how psychologists can help.”

For 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic has altered every aspect of American life, the APA acknowledged a need to take a different approach to the annual survey.

“Over the long term, we are concerned that the negative mental health effects of the coronavirus will be serious and long-lasting,” said Bethune. “As a result, we adapted our annual survey into a monthly tracker for the months of May, June and July, to better understand how individuals are coping with stress during this crisis.”

She explained that this monthly “pulse” will help the APA understand how individuals are processing these extreme events and strives to help health leaders and policymakers better align advice and resources to address these evolving mental health needs.

The Harris Poll surveyed 3,013 adults living in the United States on behalf of the APA from April 24 to May 4, 2020; the survey took place online.

According to the results, COVID-19 is causing significant amounts of stress on many Americans. Parents, in particular, are reporting “a great deal of stress… related to education, basic needs, access to health care services, and missing out on major milestones.”

The average reported stress level for adults related to the pandemic is 5.9; the 2019 Annual Stress in America™ survey found adults were experiencing a stress level of 4.9.

During this time of quarantine because of the virus, parents have been charged with managing their children’s education; approximately 71 percent of respondents report this responsibility as a significant source of stress.

Additionally, 74 percent of parents expressed concern about a family member getting the coronavirus; 74 percent also reported stress because of the government response to the pandemic and adjusting to disrupted routines.

Stress induced by government response to the COVID-19 virus falls nearly equally along party and geographic lines. Approximately 63 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of registered Independents cited this factor as a source of stress.

The survey results indicate that the pandemic appears to be having a disproportional effect on people of color. Forty-one percent of Hispanic adults reported a stress level between 8 and 10, because of the virus.

Additionally, people of color reported higher stress levels than their white counterparts with regard to getting the virus (71 percent vs. 59 percent), basic needs (61 percent vs. 47 percent) and access to health care services (59 percent vs. 46 percent).

Rick Barnett, Psy.D, MA, MS, LADC, of Vermont concurred that these findings are consistent with his experience in frontline clinical care. A vast majority of his patients are reporting elevated stress “…as a result of the climate we are living in under COVID,” he said.

Barnett added that the George Floyd murder that occurred after the survey was conducted has added another layer of stress to the American public. The whole situation confronting people challenges every individual’s own sense of well being, he noted.

Bethune reported that the APA’s annual survey will still take place this summer. “That survey development will be informed by what we learn from the monthly tracker,” she said.

The Stress in America 2020 survey can be found at

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