Do you find yourself having trouble thinking about big decisions like whether to switch jobs, start or end a relationship, or move to a new city? Or even more basic daily decisions like where to go on vacation, or how to organize your day? If so, you’re not alone - and stress may be having an impact on your decision-making ability.
The American Psychological Association (APA) in concert with The Harris Poll just released the results of their 2021 Stress in America survey. This online survey was conducted in August among adults who reside in all parts of the U.S., and reveals that the uncertainty associated with life during the pandemic has caused day-to-day stress to feel overwhelming for the majority of us. Further, this stress has made daily tasks and decision-making more difficult, particularly for younger adults and parents. This post looks at the startling results of this survey and includes suggestions for dealing with everyday stress.
Major sources of stress, according to the survey, include:
Money / finances (61%)
The economy (59%)
Family responsibility (57%)
Personal health (52%)
The top 2 sources of stress (work and money) are up
More than one-third of survey respondents said it has been more stressful to make both day-to-day and major life decisions compared with before the pandemic. Younger adults were more likely to feel both kinds of decisions are more stressful now (daily decisions: 40% of Gen Z adults, 46% of millennials, and 39% of Gen Xers vs. 24% of boomers, and 14% of older adults; major decisions: 50% of Gen Z adults and 45% of millennials vs. 33% of Gen Xers, 24% of boomers, and 6% of older adults).
Over 60% of all respondents say they have begun to question how they are living their lives and whether they are making the right decisions about it - and increased stress plays a big part of this: 63% say that uncertainty about what the next few months will hold causes them even more stress, and 49% say that the pandemic has made planning for their future virtually impossible.
Parents are citing significantly more stress over the past 18 months
‘Decision-making fatigue’ seems to have had a disproportionate impact on parents, given the big changes to schedules and everyday routines during the pandemic. Many say they are struggling to manage households divided by vaccination status, with one set of rules for vaccinated adults and kids over 12, and another for the younger, unvaccinated kids (although this should resolve soon as the FDA recently authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds).
According to the survey, parents with children under 18 were more likely than those without children to say that both day-to-day decisions and major life decisions are more stressful than pre-pandemic (daily: 47% vs. 30%; major: 44% vs. 31%), with 54% of those with younger children under 5 reporting that day-to-day decisions have become more stressful.
The real science behind our inability to make decisions when feeling stressed
Multiple research studies have found that stress has a broad impact on the brain regions involved in decision-making processes. One study found that not only is the methodology of our decision-making altered under stress, but also our ability to make reliable cost-benefit evaluations necessary for bigger life decisions. Stress can cause us to focus too much on potential rewards and too little on potential risks; or put another way, stress biases our decisions toward comfortable (but potentially negative) habits rather than on goals. This obviously becomes problematic when weighing life-changing decisions, such as changing careers or having a baby, for example.
Suggestions for coping with everyday stress
It’s not all bad news. The survey did find that U.S. adults maintain an overall positive outlook. 70% said they were confident that everything will work out after the pandemic, and 77% said that overall they are faring ok. What to do if you are feeling more stressed than usual these days? Experts suggest things like:
Building in regular exercise to your routine - even a brisk, 20 min walk can work wonders to relieve stress
Eating a balanced diet and limiting alcohol
Getting enough sleep
Connecting with supportive friends and family (and the key here is ‘supportive’)
Making time for hobbies and fun
Spending quality time with a pet
Trying meditation, journaling, or yoga if you don’t already practice these
Feeling prolonged stress or anxiety? Consider Telemynd
Request an appointment online or call our care team for assistance in scheduling a session today. Our mental health professionals understand the link between current stresses and mental health. If you’re a behavioral health provider looking to join our team, see all the benefits and learn how to apply here.