One year into the pandemic, many of us are stressed out. The pandemic’s rising death toll, social isolation, and day-to-day uncertainties have taken a heavy toll on our mental health. According to a recent AARP survey, nearly three-quarters of adults are feeling moderate to high levels of stress.
Older adults are slightly less stressed out than their younger counterparts. More than three-quarters (77%) of adults ages 18–49 report moderate to high levels of stress compared to less than two-thirds (63%) of adults ages 65 and older.
These findings are consistent with recent research from The Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that adults ages 65 and older reported anxiety at a lower rate than younger adults.
The picture of stress, however, isn’t entirely predictable. Yes, pandemic-related stress has driven some to eat more comfort food or pass time by sleeping, but it has also led to some upticks in healthy habits. Many adults report exercising more and turning more often to mindfulness and meditation practices.
Stress levels are high across the board. When asked to rate their stress on a scale of 1 (extremely low) to 10 (extremely high), 18% of adults said they were an 8, 9, or 10.
Racial differences also emerged. One in five (21%) Hispanics reported experiencing the highest levels of stress but a smaller portion of Black respondents (14%) rated their stress level at 8 or higher. White respondents fell in the middle at 18%.
While Hollywood may depict stress as a frantic, hair-pulling, sweating, uncontrollable situation, the reality is different. This year of ongoing worry and anxiety has yielded something much more heartening: an effort to soothe with healthier habits.
Nearly a third of adults (31%) have increased their meditation or prayer practices, with higher rates among those reporting the most stress. Among women, 35% report turning to prayer and meditation more often, and 38% of Black adults said they are meditating or praying more frequently.
Some are also engaging in more physical activity. A quarter of adults (24%) reported enjoying more exercise or walking vigorously. While some have developed a new habit of exercise, nearly an equal percentage of adults (22%) have found themselves exercising less.
Men and women are engaging in similar combinations of healthy and unhealthy habits, yet, on balance, women are engaging in more unhealthy behaviors, such as overreacting or losing control.
The report is based on a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,013 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. It was fielded between October 27, 2020 and November 9, 2020 and took less than five minutes. Data were weighted by age, race, sex, region, education, and marital status to reflect national population estimates for adults age 18 and older.
Keenan, Teresa A. Healthy Habits During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Washington, DC: AARP Research, March 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00444.001