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American stress levels are higher than in the first few months of the pandemic, poll says


FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2020, file photo, people wear face masks as they wait for an ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Relief Resource Center and Food Pantry to open during the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago. ICNA Relief provides social services across the U.S. to the underprivileged and those affected by natural disasters. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2020, file photo, people wear face masks as they wait for an ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Relief Resource Center and Food Pantry to open during the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago. ICNA Relief provides social services across the U.S. to the underprivileged and those affected by natural disasters. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
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A quick tally of friends, family or co-workers can tell you American adults are stressed. Those levels are higher than in the first few months of the pandemic, according to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” poll.

The survey reported that 84 percent of adults reported feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress including anxiety, sadness and anger. This stems from a soaring COVID-19 death toll, bitter election season, economic distress, and other reasons.

“The pandemic is so familiar, it’s easy to forget we’re in a pandemic because we’ve gotten used to it but it’s extraordinarily stressful in a variety of ways every single day,” said Dr. Amy Bowers, a licensed clinical psychologist in Northern Virginia.

Dr. Bowers said people are worn down and it’s time to point ourselves in a new direction.

“In fact, the act of doing something for your own betterment, in and of itself helps your mood,” she said.

It’s about mind and body since long-term stress can have serious physical effects as well, including muscle tension and impacts on respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems.

“Doing things every single day for your own betterment. You might stretch every single day. You might walk, go outside. You may do some writing or talking to other people about what you appreciate, what you might imagine doing after the pandemic is done. Something hopeful. Where are you putting your mind and what are you doing? And I think those things will make a big difference, even though they seem small, over time, every single day, they compound,” said Dr. Bowers.

Consistency can give you something to look forward to.

“And be kind to yourself. If you miss a day, it’s ok. None of us are doing well right now,” she said.

Tips from the American Psychological Association on how to manage stress:

  1. Give yourself permission to take a break from the news, social media or even certain friends.
  2. Practice the rule of “three good things” and ask friends and family to do the same. The rule states that at the end of each day, reflect on three good things that happened — large or small.
  3. Practice self-care in 15- or 30-minute increments throughout the day. This can include taking a short walk, calling a friend or watching a funny show. Parents should encourage or help their children to do the same.
  4. Stay connected with friends and family.
  5. Keep things in perspective. Try to reframe your thinking to reduce negative interpretations of day-to-day experiences and events.

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