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April 5, 2022

What a New Study from the American Psychological Association (APA) Tells Us About Stress Since COVID-19

Written by Dr. Gia Marson

The good news: 80% of those who accessed professional mental health services report that they benefited from the help they received!

As we all know, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the past two years have been particularly stressful. Whether it’s due to isolation from loved ones, fear of illness, disagreements over vaccines and masks, losing your job, or having to head back into the office after working remotely, COVID-19 stress seems to have infiltrated all of our lives in one way or another.

“There is a divine order, a divine flow to our lives. We don’t need to have all the answers. But our job is to keep on trusting enough to put one foot in front of the other.”
―Elaine Welteroth

A recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA) in partnership with the Harris Poll looked into the impacts that the past two years have had on individual stress.

Effects of COVID-19

Concerningly, a high number of respondents reported developing unhealthy habits during the pandemic. The survey found that:

  • 63% of adults said their lives had been forever changed by the pandemic.
  • Many survey participants reported negative effects on their mental health, activity level, and sleep quality.
  • 23% of Americans reported drinking more alcohol than usual to cope, consuming an average of 10 drinks per week, compared to 2 drinks per week in the group who did not report an increase in alcohol consumption.

Current top stressors

According to the poll, conducted between February 7 and 14, the top five significant sources of stress reported by at least 80% of participants were

1. the rise in prices of everyday items due to inflation (e.g., gas, utilities, groceries)
2. supply chain issues
3. global uncertainty
4. potential retaliation from Russia (e.g., cyberattacks, nuclear threats)
5. Russian invasion of Ukraine

Barriers that block mental health access

Sadly, people facing these stressors and anxiety-inducing events are finding it hard to access mental health care.

  • 56% of survey participants stated they could have used more emotional support.
  • 21% reported needing a lot more emotional support.
  • 20% received help from a mental health professional since the pandemic began.
  • 80% of those who received mental health support felt that they benefited from the treatment.
  • 45% of respondents stated that issues such as treatment location, appointment timing, provider capacity, and costs prevented them from seeking mental health treatment.
  • 27% of all respondents said that the thought of asking for help from a mental health professional was too overwhelming.
  • 21% said they did not know how to find a mental health professional.
  • 18% were concerned about the stigma if others found out they sought mental health treatment.

This survey shows us that clearly more needs to be done to allow people to feel informed, empowered, and comfortable enough to reach out for help from a mental health professional.

Three tips for getting help

“…we tend to think of healing as something binary: either we’re broken or we’re healed from that brokenness. But that’s not how healing operates, and it’s almost never how human growth works. More often, healing and growth take place on a continuum, with innumerable points between utter brokenness and total health.”
―Resmaa Menakem

Speak to a loved one

If you’re struggling with the concept of seeking out mental health help, then a gentle first step is to simply talk to a trusted loved one. Opening up to a person you’re close with and trust can allow you to see the support that you have in your life—and it can strengthen that relationship too. It can also help you to remove some of the stigmas that you might feel about getting professional help. If you’re nervous about starting this conversation, just ask yourself, How would I react if someone came to me about the same issue? My guess is that you’d respond with kindness and warmth.

Talk to your family doctor

Finding quality mental health treatment can be tough if you don’t know where to go. But you don’t need to navigate this system alone. While it might be difficult to know where to look for a new therapist, it’s a lot easier to get an appointment with your family doctor. Your general practitioner will be able to refer you to a mental health professional and guide you through the process of getting appropriate help. You are also welcome to reach out to me for referrals.


Beyond seeking professional help, another option that can be particularly empowering to take control of your emotions and stress levels is meditation. Research (and my own clinical and personal experiences) makes it clear that meditation reduces blood pressure, lessens the impact of chronic stress, and can even help us better self-regulate.

Stay Hopeful

Whatever you are going through, hold on to hope until you find the next step you plan to take.

“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening…. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant… Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is not knowing what is happening… Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize we are being prepared for the next phase of our life….”
―Alice Walker


American Psychological Association. (2022). Stress in america survey.

Anderson, J. W., Liu, C., & Kryscio, R. J. (2008). Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation. American Journal of Hypertension, 21(3), 310–316.

Buric, I., et al. (2017). What is the molecular signature of mind–body interventions? A systematic review of gene expression changes induced by meditation and related practices. Frontiers in Immunology, 8.

Tang, et al. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(43) 17152-17156.

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