You're not alone—pandemic stress impacts parents the hardest, says new study
My Slack notification dings again.
I glance down and see the icon next to my inbox icon, with exactly 3,235 emails beckoning my attention. But I can’t read them now, because I am in a work meeting on Zoom.
It’s my turn to work, but one of my three kids is trying desperately to open my locked bedroom door because I promised them they could play my phone later today, and “it’s later now!”
Parenting in a pandemic means there is no later, there is no break. There is only an overfilled inbox, overwhelmed children and so much stress.
Sometimes studies are done that have new or shocking findings—and something they simply give scientific proof to something we already knew to be a truth. The recent Stress in America 2020 study conducted in April and May of 2020 by the American Psychological Association shows that parents have experienced a significant increase in their stress level during the pandemic—more so than non-parents.
In fact, 46% of parents reported that their stress level has been high (ranking it an 8 out of 10). In comparison, only 28% of respondents that do not have children under 18 reported feeling levels of stress.
These results align with Motherly‘s third annual State of Motherhood Survey, which found that 74% of mothers report that they feel mentally worse since the pandemic began.
According to the Stress in America study, the lack of availability of life necessities was more stressful for parents than non-parents. This includes factors such as access to food and housing and access to health care services. Furthermore, the study found that parents of color are experiencing disproportionately higher levels of stress during the pandemic, specifically when it comes to the fear of getting the virus, and having access to basic needs and health care.
Lastly, missing significant events (like graduation and other celebrations) was more impactful on parents’ stress levels than non-parents.
“The mental health ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic are immense and growing,” warned Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., APA’s chief executive officer. “We need to prepare for the long-term implications of the collective trauma facing the population.”
This is not a drill. Our collective mental health is suffering, and we need to do something about it right now.
The tough part is that the systemic changes that need to happen to have a true effect on improving stress levels can’t right now.
People are working very hard to make things better, but it’s going to take time. So right now, and I mean right now, we need to take whatever tiny steps we can to protect our own mental health. Tiny steps won’t cure stress, but it’s a start. And we absolutely must start.
According to Dr. Evans Jr., “This means looking out for one another, staying connected, keeping active and seeking help when necessary.”
Back at my place, my husband is downstairs, trying to convince the oldest two to finish just one school assignment before we can go play outside. “Just one,” I hear him say—plead. I can hear the stress in his voice. He is trying so hard to stay calm, but he too can hear his emails dinging, each with another request.
The 8-year-old slams a door in frustration. The 6-year-old throws a book at the 4-year-old who screams which startles the dog who runs out the front door, and as I look out the window to make sure he doesn’t run away, I see a gaggle of unmasked teenagers walking by, clearly not interested in maintaining social distance from each other.
“Yes, sure, I can get that to you by tonight,” I say to my co-workers at my meeting.
I can feel my blood pressure rising again. The prickles of stress run through my body as I try (to no avail) to take a deep calming breath.
I love my children.
I love my husband.
I love my job.
But I am slowly spiraling into despair.
And the thing is, I am lucky. My husband and I have jobs and can work from home. We are not sick. We have some food in our pantry, and we have enough toilet paper to get through the week.
It could be so much worse—and for so many, it is. And parents may be feeling the brunt of the stress.
So we need to take it upon ourselves to take tiny but meaningful steps.
It’s remembering that we are not alone.
It’s skipping the glass of wine and brewing a cup of tea instead.
It’s asking your boss for an extension on that project, or saying, “Can you help me prioritize my workload?”
It’s going to bed at 8 pm tonight.
It’s calling your friend.
It’s putting the homework away and playing catch outside instead.
It’s finally making the telehealth therapy appointment you keep thinking about.
It’s eating a real lunch.
And it’s remembering that there will be another side to this. The other side, when we can look back at this time, pick up the pieces, and promise that we will never, ever go back to a “normal” that allowed this to happen.