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The Pandemic Has Increased Our Stress Levels, And It's Affecting Our Physical Health

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It feels so painfully obvious to say 2020 induced a lot of stress. Nevertheless, now the data backs up what we've known for a long time. A new survey by the American Psychological Association finds the stress of the pandemic is taking a toll on people's physical and mental health.

Here's NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Nearly half of survey respondents said that the pandemic had increased their stress levels. And they are still feeling stressed.

LYNN BUFKA: And that's a concern.

CHATTERJEE: Psychologist Lynn Bufka is with the American Psychological Association.

BUFKA: When people are feeling just that much more overwhelmed with the demands on them, that can have long-term impacts on their functioning, on their well-being, on their lives.

CHATTERJEE: The survey found that people are already struggling to cope. Over 40% said they'd gained weight during the pandemic. Nearly a quarter said they are drinking more. And nearly two-thirds are sleeping too much or too little.

BUFKA: All of these things have significant impact not only on our mental well-being but also on our physical well-being.

CHATTERJEE: The report says we may see a rise in health problems related to weight gain, like diabetes and hypertension.

BUFKA: Every aspect of the body gets affected by stress. And when stress persists, the potential for negative impacts on the body increases.

CHATTERJEE: And other studies have already begun to document the impact of that stress on Americans' mental health.

MARK CZEISLER: A third of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression.

CHATTERJEE: Mark Czeisler is a graduate student at Monash University in Australia and a researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

CZEISLER: And then 12% reporting having seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.

CHATTERJEE: Researchers like Czeisler worry that people, especially those hardest hit, like essential workers and unpaid caregivers, might be left struggling with the health consequences of stress even after the pandemic ends unless, Czeisler says, we prioritize mental health right now.

CZEISLER: It's really important that public health officials, policymakers, everyone consider mental health as a part of the pandemic response.

CHATTERJEE: One way to do that, suggests Lynn Bufka, is to use vaccination sites to also address people's mental health needs.

BUFKA: As we're working to get people vaccinated, are there opportunities there to share mental health resources, connect people to services in the local community?

CHATTERJEE: To get the people who are struggling the most the care they need? Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK & TIM SCHAUFERT’S “TIDES”)

MARTIN: If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It's 1-800-273-8255. Or you can text the word home, H-O-M-E, to 741741. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.