I’m really stressed out. And I feel like it might be getting worse, not better.

Mental Health

A: You are not alone: Surveys tell us that adults in the U.S. are reporting the highest stress levels since the early days of the pandemic.

If the obvious stress-busting advice hasn’t helped, we’ve got some bigger-picture ideas to ponder.

According to the American Psychological Association’s just-released January 2021 Stress Snapshot, 84% of American adults say they’ve experienced prolonged stress. Anxiety (47%), sadness (44%) and anger (39%) topped the list, with 80% saying that the pandemic was a cause of their stress.

Our ability to deal with life’s stressors depends on how much stress we have recently experienced.

🔔 Think of a bell. Ring the bell, and it vibrates. Slowly, it dissipates and stops ringing. Let’s say we ring the bell again, but this time, before the bell stops vibrating, we ring it again. The vibrations ramp up even faster now, because it never fully calmed down.

We are just like that bell. And that bell has been ringing a lot lately, with the vibrations increasing because they never full stopped between rounds of stress. If we are overtired or sick, our ability to incorporate stress decreases, too.

All the usual advice still applies: Maintain routine, make sure you sleep, keep up with social relationships, do some exercise (ideally outside), limit the doomscrolling, and focus on one small positive thing every day.

If the bell still won’t stop ringing, take a step back and ask why:

1. 😬 Am I suppressing my stress instead of owning it? If you suppress stress, it will seep out sideways – with friends, family, and even if you think you’re hiding it from your kids, they’ll pick up on it too. A new study finds that children recognize emotions through what they hear more than what they see. Instead, talk about these feelings within your family and friends. Acknowledge where you are and steps you are taking to help yourself. “Kids see us as superheroes, but just like Spiderman and Wonder Woman, sometimes we have negative reactions to stress. It’s what we do with those reactions, and how we learn from them that matters,” Dr. Monika Roots, a chief medical officer with Sanvello Health said of these recent studies.

2.😩 Am I trying to do it all on my own? While we’re all for evidence-based self-help, it’s important to acknowledge that external stress is impacting our internal feelings. And when we internalize societal problems as individual shortcomings, we are both less like to make changes in the world around us and less likely to get the personal change we hope to see. Research shows that prosocial behavior – reaching out to others to check in, calling an elderly relative, brainstorming group solutions to the stresses in our lives – in fact, the secret to lasting happiness.

3.🆘 Do I need more active help to process my stress? Talk to someone, begin an online behavioral therapy program or check in with your primary care physician about local mental health resources. Links below, too. And if you’re in need of urgent help, in the US please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK.  Helplines in the UK

Dr. Whelan and Those Nerdy Girls


APA: U.S. Adults Report Highest Stress Level Since Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic: American Psychological Association

How Can I Help Someone Who Is Struggling With Mental Wellness

Dr. Monika Roots at Sanvello, a cognitive behavioral therapy app

What is Psychological PPE?

Kids Recognize Emotion By What They Hear, Not What They See, Study Shows

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