Worry Burnout: Anxiety in America at an All-Time High

By: on June 9, 2022

Since 2020, we’ve experienced an astounding number of major events—from marches for social justice, to wildfires caused by climate change, a stock market crash, an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a supply chain crisis, record-high inflation rates, an unstable housing market, the Russia-Ukraine war, and an ongoing pandemic.

All of this means that people are stressed out. And as a result, we’re facing another type of pandemic: Worry burnout.

We are all only able to handle so much stress and emotional exhaustion before reaching a breaking point. And with so many new issues arising, COVID-19 precautions may be taking a back seat to all of the new stressors in our lives. Enter worry burnout: a feeling of being exhausted or overwhelmed by worry.

To learn more about the specific experiences patients are facing, we surveyed over 850 people about their stress levels, coping mechanisms, mental health practices, and more. We also polled more than 400 parents with children between the ages of five and 18 living at home to learn about how their kids are managing life today.

Doctors and mental health providers are looking at an influx of patients dealing with new anxieties and other struggles caused by a unique combination of cultural issues, which makes challenges related to treating those patients difficult.

In this report, we’ll analyze our survey results to provide valuable insights into the daily mental health struggles people are facing, as well as how mental healthcare providers can expect to be impacted.

Key findings
  • A majority of Americans (51%) experience pandemic fatigue or worry burnout “extremely” or “very” often. This prolonged stress is diminishing their COVID-19 prevention efforts.
  • Only 34% of patients say their level of vigilance against COVID-19 today is “high”, a drastic decline from 56% at the onset of the pandemic.
  • 85% of parents have a child who has experienced some negative effects on their mental health since 2020, and only 4% say their child hasn’t developed any negative coping mechanisms.
  • In effort to combat these stressors, about a third (32%) of adults and a quarter (26%) of kids ages 5-18 have started seeing a mental health professional since 2020.
  • Despite high anxiety, most have a positive outlook on the future as it relates to the pandemic: 80% believe the pandemic will end—however, a notable 1 in 5 believe life will never return to normal.

Other stressors gaining on, overtaking COVID to drive mental health crisis

Given the additional societal stressors that have developed since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, we wanted to understand exactly what factors are causing the most anxiety among the U.S. population today.

While over half of respondents told us they’ve experienced pandemic fatigue or worry burnout “extremely” or “very” often in the past year, they also clearly indicated that fear/worry caused by other factors is growing.

When respondents were given a shortlist of the biggest global and national issues currently happening, COVID-19 wasn’t the only leading factor causing people the most worry.

The pandemic tied with the Russia-Ukraine war, and inflation and climate change closely followed those concerns (both within 2%).

This tells us that people are fighting anxiety on multiple fronts, and the rising fear of other major stressors is starting to crowd out pandemic-related fears.

Our research bears this out. When we asked respondents about COVID-19 precautions, over half (56%) said they were highly vigilant in 2020, while only 34% said they are still highly vigilant today.

a bar graph comparing our survey respondents' level of vigilance against covid-19 in 2020 to today, showing a significant decrease in high levels of vigilance

Despite the current predominant variant of COVID (the omicron variant, at the time of reporting) having a higher infection rate than previous variants, evidence such as the elimination of mask mandates on planes in April and higher attendance rates at public, indoor events shows that people are generally less concerned about avoiding infection and willing to take more risks than they were in 2020.

Our research shows that most people have responsible reasons for relaxing their precautions. Among those who said their current vigilance levels against infection are “moderate” or “low,” over half say they are fully vaccinated and boosted, and 45% say all of their friends and family are as well.

a bar graph of survey respondents' top reasons for relaxing precautions against covid-19 infection in descending order

While the most common reasons for relaxing precautions were based on scientific data and CDC guidelines, one in four respondents say they are more willing to risk infection in order to regain a sense of normalcy.

This is something the World Health Organization predicted back in 2021 when it released a warning about pandemic fatigue and its possible implications for public health.

This data also suggests a level of worry burnout that will prove incredibly difficult for healthcare providers and researchers to overcome in the event of another deadly variant or a different pandemic. It also points to increased rates of mental health issues and general anxiety among the population, which means mental healthcare providers should brace for a significant increase in patient loads.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect before we get into some solutions.

We’re in a mental health pandemic, here’s how people are handling it

We asked a lot of questions in our survey about anxiety and stress with the aim of uncovering exactly how bad the problem is. In addition to learning that 94% of respondents have felt pandemic fatigue at some point and that 82% are living with an elevated level of general anxiety today, we also asked about specific mental health issues.

our survey finds that most people have elevated anxiety levels compared to before the pandemic

Sixty-eight percent of people in our survey say that they or someone they know has experienced a mental health crisis such as panic attacks, suicidal ideation, or newly developed depression since 2020.

28% of americans say they or someone they know has experienced a mental health crisis due to the pandemic

The fact that people are experiencing more stress and increased mental health challenges is well established. But how is this new normal of heightened anxiety manifesting day to day? And, more importantly, how are they actively coping with it?

We asked respondents about the real ways worry burnout has impacted their daily habits and emotions, and we learned that most find themselves avoiding the news and feeling tired or depleted.

a chart showing the percentage of people experiencing common symptoms of worry burnout on a constant, frequent, rare, or never basis

People have adopted a lot of new negative coping mechanisms as well. The top-cited one was experiencing disruptions to normal sleep—one of the most common depressive symptoms—with 46% of respondents saying they’re now sleeping too much or not enough.

American adults are developing negative coping mechanisms for new anxiety; this bar graph shows percentages for the amount of survey respondents who have developed 8 common coping mechanisms

On the bright side, people are making efforts to protect their mental health by adopting positive coping strategies as well: 60% say they’re getting more exercise, and 55% are working on getting a healthy amount of sleep.

American adults are also working to adopt positive coping mechanisms. Bar chart shows the percentage of survey respondents who have developed six common coping mechanisms

Things have been worse for households with children

There was one demographic with a unique pandemic experience that we wanted to dig a little deeper into: Families.

We isolated 441 respondents in our survey who all have at least one child living at home between the ages of five and 18. We then asked these parents questions about their children’s experiences, as well as their own. And as bad as things are for the general population, they are worse for parents.

The clearest example of this appears with a closer examination of the 82% of general respondents who said they live with an elevated level of anxiety now compared to before the pandemic. When we looked at responses to the same question exclusively from parents who assumed some responsibility for teaching their kids at home during lockdowns, that number rose to 92%.

Things have been understandably rough on kids as well.

We asked parents about the impact of the pandemic on their kids, and 85% say their child has experienced some negative effects on their mental health since 2020; 43% say their child has become more reclusive or reluctant to socialize with other kids, and 42% say their child has become more angry since the onset of COVID-19.

a bar chart showing the consequences of the pandemic on children ages 5 to 18 according to their parents who responded to our survey

A third of parents say they have a child who has developed an anxiety disorder, and another quarter of parents say their kid now has depression due to the pandemic. Even more alarmingly, the age range of kids most affected tends to skew younger; 39% of parents say their child most severely affected was between five and nine years old.

according to parents, younger children are more affected by the pandemic, with the largest group being kids ages 5 - 9 (39%)

Children aren’t immune to developing negative coping mechanisms to deal with their new issues; only four percent of parents say their child hasn’t developed any negative coping behaviors due to the pandemic.

parents also say their children have adopted negative coping mechanisms to deal with pandemic anxiety

Among the 96% of parents who did identify issues their children have developed, the most commonly cited responses mimicked the general population of adults: 51% of children have developed sleep-related issues and 50% started spending too much time on social media.

Bottom line for healthcare providers: A fine line between job stability and work burnout

OK, so we all have a firm grasp of how stressed out adults and children in the country are right now. Now, what does that mean for healthcare providers like you who have to make sure these people are as healthy as possible?

The good news: Job security. Your expertise will be in demand for a long time to come

If you’re a mental health provider, it means a lot more work.

In our survey, about a third of respondents have started seeing a therapist to deal with issues related to stress since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

a breakdown of american adults in our survey who started seeing a mental health professional since the start of the pandemic, have been seeing one since before the pandemic, or not at all

That’s in addition to the 35% who were already seeing a therapist regularly before COVID-19 kicked things up a notch.

Similarly, a little over a quarter of kids ages five to 18 began seeing a mental health provider to help them manage the effects of the pandemic.

positive coping mechanisms adopted by children in response to the pandemic

And it seems to be helping! Even though things are bad for a lot of people, most of our respondents had a positive outlook on their future: 80% said they believe the pandemic will eventually end and life will return to normal.

80% of people we surveyed have a positive outlook on the pandemic future

The bad news: Failure to properly manage a heavier workload will hurt you in the end

It’s great that so many people are actively seeking help to manage their mental health issues.

But this does represent a massive influx of patients for mental health providers, which—as we learned from the virus itself—can have negative results such as higher rates of burnout among healthcare workers, increased turnover rates among healthcare staff, and less effective care for patients.

You don’t have to tackle this influx of patients without resources, though. To avoid these potential downfalls, we recommend securing the right software to help you manage your workload and facilitate easier patient communication:

  • Carefully consider whether outsourcing your billing is the right move for your practice. If the price is right, it can save you valuable time and effort.
  • Look into implementing a patient portal system to manage patient communication, scheduling, and other tasks that can be easily automated.
  • If you’re not already using a telemedicine platform to see patients remotely, what are you waiting for? These tools were massively helpful in the early days of the pandemic, and because of their widespread and rapid adoption in early 2020, even more patients are now familiar with them. They are also especially easy for mental health providers to utilize, as physical exams aren’t a necessary part of most patient interactions in this field.

It’s clear that people need qualified mental healthcare providers now more than ever, and this confluence of events is happening during a shortage of healthcare workers. For a lot of providers, it’s easy to let your own mental health slip as you focus more on providing care to as many patients as possible.

It’s a great time to practice what you preach. Remember that you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others, so use the right tools to manage your schedule and make your own life easier.


Methodology

To collect the data presented in this survey, Software Advice polled 867 respondents comprising a natural representation of U.S. adults in terms of gender identity, age, and income. Half of the respondents in this survey had at least one child living at home between the ages of five and 18. We used screening questions and quotas to ensure these demographics were accurate.

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