Pandemic Uncertainty Keeping Americans in Limbo: Poll

One-third of Americans are struggling to make basic decisions due to ongoing stress about the pandemic, and younger adults and parents are having the most difficulty of all, a new survey reveals.

“The pandemic has imposed a regimen of constant risk assessment upon many. Each day brings an onslaught of choices with an ever-changing context, as routines are upended and once-trivial daily tasks are recast in the light of pandemic life,” said Arthur Evans Jr., chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association (APA), which conducted the survey.

Overall, 32% of the more than 3,000 adult respondents said they had difficulty with even basic decisions, such as deciding what to eat or what to wear, but rates were highest among millennials (48%), followed by Gen Z adults (37%), Gen Xers (32%), boomers (14%) and older adults (3%).

The rate was higher among parents (47%) than non-parents (24%).

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents said they’re stressed by uncertainty about what the next few months will bring, and 49% said the pandemic makes planning for their future feel impossible.

More than one-third said the pandemic has made it more stressful to make both day-to-day decisions (36%) and major life decisions (35%).

Rates were highest among younger adults for daily decisions — 40% of Gen Z adults, 46% of millennials and 39% of Gen Xers vs. 24% of boomers and 14% of older adults. It was also higher for major decisions — 50% of Gen Z adults and 45% of millennials vs. 33% of Gen Xers, 24% of boomers and 6% of older adults.

Parents were more likely to say that day-to-day and major life decisions were more stressful — 47% vs. 30% for non-parents, and 44% vs. 31%, respectively — and 54% of those with children ages 4 and younger said day-to-day decisions have become more stressful.

Hispanic adults were more likely than white adults to say the pandemic has made decision-making more stressful (day-to-day decisions: 44% vs. 34%; major decisions: 40% vs. 32%).

“Sustaining a heightened degree of vigilance inevitably wears on one’s mental health,” Evans explained in an APA news release. “And operating amid so much uncertainty compounds the general state of mental exhaustion being felt by so many right now, especially young adults and parents.”

More than 3 in 5 adults (61%) said the pandemic has made them rethink how they were living their life, and more than 2 in 5 (44%) made a major life decision during the coronavirus pandemic. The poll included adults 18 and older and was conducted between Aug. 11 and Aug. 23, 2021.

The survey did find that most (70%) respondents were confident that everything will work out after the pandemic ends, and 57% agreed they tend to bounce back quickly after hard times.

“Americans’ optimism about the future is encouraging, but we have real mental health effects emerging from this period of prolonged stress that we have to address now,” Evans said. “It is urgent that as a nation we prioritize the mental health of all Americans and provide a universally accessible system of supports.”

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health offers advice on coping with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Oct. 26, 2021