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Stress is up and happiness is down — significantly so, according to recent U.S surveys

More than eight in 10 Americans (83 percent) say that the future of the country is a significant source of stress in their lives, the surveys found.

In one of the two recent surveys, more than seven in 10 of the respondents said this is the lowest point in history that they can remember.
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The number of Americans who feel stressed out about the country’s future continues to climb, according to the findings from two recent surveys released Thursday by the American Psychological Association (APA).

More than eight in 10 Americans (83 percent) say that the future of the country is a significant source of stress in their lives, the surveys found.

The previous high was 63 percent, reported last November as part of the APA’s annual “Stress in America” survey.

In one of the two recent surveys — conducted within the past three weeks (June 9-11), after protests over racial injustice began — more than seven in 10 of the respondents (72 percent) said this is the lowest point in history that they can remember. The previous low for that response was 59 percent, reported in 2017.

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The June survey involved a representative sample of 2,058 adults residing in the U.S. For the other survey, 3,013 adults were questioned between May 21 and June 3. Both surveys were done by the Harris Poll.

“We are experiencing the collision of three national crises — the COVID-19 pandemic, economic turmoil and recent, traumatic events related to systemic racism,” says Arthur Evans Jr., the APA’s chief executive officer, in a released statement. “As a result, the collective mental health of the American public has endured one devastating blow after another, the long-term effects of which many people will struggle with for years to come.”

Additional findings

In the most recent survey, more than seven in 10 of all the respondents (71 percent) cited police violence as a significant source of stress, and among black respondents, 55 cited discrimination as a major source of stress — up from 42 percent just a month earlier.

Most of the people surveyed (67 percent) expressed the belief, however, that the current movement against systemic racism and police brutality will lead to meaningful change in the country.

American Psychological Association
In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report notes that nearly two-thirds of American adults (66 percent) say they have been significantly stressed by the government’s response to the pandemic, particularly the response of the federal government. A similar proportion (63 percent) acknowledge that the thought of the country reopening causes them stress, but almost three-quarters (72 percent) believe they can protect themselves from contracting the virus.

Still, 65 percent desire more information about the protective steps they should take as their community reopens.

Happiness levels down, too

Another national survey, also released this week, reveals that the happiness of Americans is at its lowest in 50 years. Conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, the survey found that only 14 percent of American adults say they are “very happy” — a dramatic drop from the 31 percent who reported being very happy in 2018.

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In addition, the proportion of people who describe themselves as “not too happy” (the lowest happiness level in the survey) jumped 10 percentage points since 2018 — to 23 percent. That’s the biggest percentage since the survey first asked the question in 1972.

The survey involved 2,279 American adults, and was completed during the week of May 21-29. That was before the nationwide protests against police brutality began.

American Psychological Association
Not surprising, given the widespread sheltering-at-home imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of people who say they sometimes feel isolated has jumped to 50 percent — more than twice the proportion (23 percent) who said that in 2018.

Here are some other findings from the NORC survey:

  • Forty-two percent of Americans believe that their children’s standard of living when they are older will be better than their own standard of living — a sharp decline from 57% in 2018 and the lowest level of optimism for the next generation since first measured in 1994.
  • Compared to after 9/11, fewer Americans report feeling on top of the world (27% vs. 37%) or like things are going their way (63% vs. 70%), and more Americans feel depressed (38% vs. 33%).
  • More Americans say they have lost their temper more often after the COVID outbreak (30%) than said the same after 9/11 (20%) or the Kennedy assassination (19%).
  • More Americans currently report that they often feel anxious, depressed, or irritable compared to two years ago (18% vs. 13%).
  • Those who say they have likely been exposed to someone with the coronavirus are nearly twice as likely to feel like difficulties are piling up so high that they cannot overcome them (21% vs. 11%).

Interestingly, while happiness and optimism for the future are both at their lowest in decades, most Americans say they are relatively satisfied with their financial situation.

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“In combination, these results suggest that people are comparing their finances to that of fellow Americans hurt by the economic fallouts from the pandemic while contrasting their happiness to their own mood prior to the outbreak,” the report on the survey says.

FMI: You can read more about the APA survey on its website, and you’ll find the full report on the NORC survey on that organization’s website. The APA offers mental health resources to help people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.