What to Know About the 2020 APA Stress in America Report

Woman at protest

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Key Takeaways

  • The annual Stress in America™ report identifies COVID-19, politics, civil unrest, and the economy as major stressors in the U.S.
  • Compared to recent years, stress and mental health issues are on the rise.

According to the 2020 Stress in America™ report, we’re experiencing a nationwide mental health crisis. More than 77% of adults reported that the future of our nation was a significant source of stress in their lives.

Conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), the annual survey is part of the APA's Mind/Body Health campaign. It aims to educate Americans on the connection between psychological and physical health.

Since 2007, the survey has been used to examine the general causes of stress across America, the behaviors associated with stress management, and the ways in which stress is impacting Americans on a psychological and social level.

The report, presenting the results of numerous polls conducted between April and June 2020, focused heavily on COVID-19 and revealed the surprising ways in which the pandemic, the economy, the election, and civil unrest increased the stress levels of the majority of Americans.

2020 in Comparison to Previous Years

American life in 2020 has been disrupted by a global pandemic that’s already killed over 300,000 Americans. With statewide stay-at-home orders, school closings, furloughs, and high infection rates, it’s not surprising that nearly eight in ten U.S. adults felt the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic between April and June.

While the COVID-19 virus was first discovered in December 2019, Americans weren’t feeling stressed about the virus until 2020. From 2018 to 2019, issues like climate change, acts of terrorism, violence, and widespread sexual harassment led to an increase in stress, with adults feeling most stressed about health care, mass shootings, and the political climate.

While these issues didn’t go away, other issues became more prevalent. In 2020, the following issues became the most pressing causes of stress in America:

Economic Downturn

Stress related to the economy is the highest it's been in 13 years, even higher than it was in 2008. Seventy percent of Americans reported the economy as a significant source of stress in 2020 compared to just 46% in 2019.

Civil Unrest

Following the death of George Floyd, 83% of Americans reported that the future of the nation was a significant source of stress. Majority of Americans also felt that police violence against minorities was a high stressor.

Mental Health Decline

Personal levels of stress had gone largely unchanged but as of 2020 one in five adults reported a decline in their mental health from the previous year and 72% of adults felt that America was at the lowest point in history that they could remember.

Political Instability 

In 2019, more than half of adults felt the 2020 presidential election was causing them stress. By 2020, 77% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans reported feeling stressed by the political climate, with the majority feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the nation.

COVID-19 Challenges

While levels of stress from the pandemic fell from April to June of 2020, feelings of being scared, angry, and frustrated rose. Most adults, when polled, felt as though people weren’t taking the pandemic seriously enough.

Demographic Disparities 

We all experience varying degrees of stress, but it’s no surprise that some of us are disproportionately affected by certain external factors. According to the APA’s report, the following populations experienced heightened levels of stress in 2020.


While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an emotional toll on most Americans, parents have reportedly experienced more hardship than non-parents. The highest factors of parental sources of stress include the following: a family member catching the virus, disrupted routines, the government’s response to the pandemic, managing online or distance learning for their kids, and access to basic needs like housing and food.

Gen Z 

More than any other generation of adults, Gen Z members, ages 13 to 23, experienced the highest levels of stress in 2020. With graduations being cancelled, colleges going virtual, and unemployment rates rising, this isn’t surprising.

Approximately half of Gen Z teens believed COVID-19 made planning for their future feel impossible. Three in four Gen Z adults reported negative health impacts due to the pandemic and expressed heightened levels of stress, depression, and the feeling of loneliness.

People of Color

In 2020, thousands of demonstrations broke out in the fight against systemic racism and police brutality, all while people of color faced an increased risk of getting sick and dying from the COVID-19 virus.

Not surprisingly, the 2020 Stress in America™ report found that people of color experienced more stressors resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic compared to non-people of color, including the fear of getting the virus, lacking access to basic needs, and lacking access to health care services. Fifty-five percent of Black adults also reported stress from discrimination, compared to 46% in 2018.

Positive Outcomes

For many Americans, 2020 has been an overwhelmingly stressful year. Filing for unemployment, cancelling major life celebrations, avoiding travel, and limiting contact with loved ones all had a significant impact.

While the APA warns that America is facing serious health and social consequences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 report offers some positive insights:

  • 82% of parents reported feeling grateful for the extra time they had with their children. 
  • 59% of adults said they took action against racial injustice.
  • 63% of adults felt the movement against systemic racism and police brutality would lead to meaningful change.
  • 86% of adults claimed they were taking preventative measures in response to COVID-19, including wearing masks and adhering to physical distance guidelines.

As we reflect on 2020, it’s important to recognize the hardships we endured and the positive ways in which we coped as a country in the face of a crisis.

Strategies for Stress Management

Stress is inevitable and we all experience it differently. While we can’t prevent every stressful situation from occurring, we can learn stress management strategies, which can ultimately prevent or manage symptoms.

Here are some practical ways to relieve stress:

  • Practice meditation. There are many free resources online and you can make meditation part of your daily routine. 
  • Exercise. You can take a walk, ride your bike, do yoga, or any other workout you enjoy. Physical activity has a direct impact on your mental health and can help minimize feelings of stress.
  • Try breathing exercises. This strategy is best used when experiencing stressful in-the-moment situations, though these exercises can be used at any time of the day when you’re feeling anxious or worried.
  • Use a mental health app. There are dozens of free apps which can be used for therapy, meditation, practicing coping skills, and managing stress.

You can also call a friend, write in a journal, or do another activity that relaxes you. Just be sure to carve time out for yourself when you’re feeling stressed. If these strategies aren’t working, consider reaching out to a therapist or mental health expert to discuss better ways to manage.

While many Americans are facing high levels of stress and need more emotional support from loved ones, the report failed to address essential workers who are facing the highest levels of burnout at this time.

A survey conducted by Mental Health America between June and September 2020 found that 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress, in addition to high levels of anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion. With COVID-19 hospitalizations and death rates rising, health care workers are continuing to put their own physical and mental health on the line and they need our support.

What This Means For You

You likely know someone who works in health care, works an essential job, or is unemployed. The best thing you can do is reach out and offer your support. If you have the financial means, you can send money or gift cards, which can be used for food, school supplies, mental health resources, or other essentials.

This is an unusually difficult time for all of us and it’s important that we stay connected and support one another, even if we are physically distanced and masked.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Sarah Sheppard
Sarah Sheppard is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, writing instructor, and advocate for mental health, women's issues, and more.