Stress of Pandemic Weighing Down Young Adults, Parents

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek December 1, 2021
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Stress of Pandemic Weighing Down Young Adults, Parents

Whether you're a student facing exams or a career professional putting in hours at work finishing up projects—or maybe both—the end of the year can be especially stressful. The continued fatigue brought on by the pandemic is adding to the tension you may be experiencing, according to findings from the American Psychological Association (APA).

"When it comes to overall stress, it is not surprising to find that younger generations, who were more likely to say they struggle with basic decisions, also reported generally high stress levels," the APA said in its Stress and Decision Making During the Pandemic report.

And parents with children under age 18 were more likely than those without children to say that both day-to-day decisions and major life decisions are more stressful than they were pre-pandemic, the APA found.

The report is based on findings from an online survey of 3,035 adults ages 18 and older, conducted between Aug. 11 and Aug. 23 in the U.S. for the APA by Harris Poll.

Rating themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning "little to no stress" and 10 meaning "a great deal of stress," adults from Generation Z (those ages 18 to 23), Millennials and members of Generation X reported that in July they experienced higher average stress levels than Baby Boomers and older adults. The younger generations attributed that stress to the pandemic.

The stress manifested through headaches, fatigue, changes in sleeping habits and feeling overwhelmed. Headaches, fatigue and other symptoms of stress were reported by the following respondents:

  • 86 percent of Millennials.
  • 84 percent of Generation Z adults.
  • 83 percent of parents.
  • 69 percent of nonparents.

A majority of adults surveyed in August said their behavior changed because of stress in the previous month: They avoided social situations (24 percent), their eating habits changed (23 percent), they procrastinated or neglected responsibilities (22 percent), and they altered their level of physical activity (22 percent).

11 Ways to Alleviate Stress

There are some steps you can take to help you build resilience against stress. SHRM Online collected the following recommendations from the APA, the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  1. Talk to people, and create meaningful opportunities for connections with family, culture and community.

  2. Maintain a regular sleep schedule. It can be tempting to stay up late when you don't have to commute to work or attend class the next morning.

  3. Be physically active. Like maintaining a sleep schedule, it helps to have a routine, such as walking a certain number of steps before breakfast or in the afternoon.

  4. Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to the news, including articles on social media.
    "The goal is to ensure you are informed enough to make decisions but not so overloaded with news headlines that it induces anxiety," advised Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being trainer in the U.K. "A good idea is to choose a few authoritative resources," he stated in a news release, "and check in with them daily while muting channels that disrupt your sense of well-being." He also suggested using a tool to manage screen time.

  5. Create traditions that celebrate important milestones, such as graduations and weddings, in new ways that are still meaningful.

  6. Make time to unwind. "If we can't disconnect from work, we face the real possibility of burnout and making mistakes," Chambers said. "It's crucial also to schedule enjoyable things in the evening," such as hobbies and interests unrelated to work. 

  7. Tap into free and confidential crisis resources to help you or a loved one connect with a skilled, trained counselor in your area.

  8. Help others cope. Volunteering your time, making a phone call or scheduling a video chat can help others—and you—feel less isolated. Consider combining a physical activity, such as bike riding or playing pickleball, with time spent with a friend.

  9. Take deep breaths, meditate, pray. Not sure where to start? There are apps for Gregorian chants, for example, and meditation and yoga exercises. “Meditation aims to increase your awareness of the present moment and help you develop a gentle, accepting attitude toward yourself,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Regular meditation practice has been shown to alter the brain—in a good way. One study showed that the area of the brain dedicated to regulating your emotions was significantly larger in individuals who meditate. 

  10. Make healthy food choices. It can be tempting when cramming for finals, for example, to reach for the junk food, but try to opt for fruit instead of chips as a snack.

  11. Learn to say 'no.' Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity during the holidays, the Mayo Clinic noted. "If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time."

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