COVID Brings Added Stress to Gen Z

It may come as no surprise, but a 2020 survey from the American Psychological Association’s annual stress study found that the COVID-19 pandemic is stressful.   

Regardless of how you personally have handled the pandemic, it’s sure to have placed unwanted stress upon you and your loved ones. The study shows that, “nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life.”  

Additionally, two out of every three adults in America say they’ve experienced a rise in stress levels over the pandemic. 

Perhaps most concerningly for the area’s young adults, known as Generation Z, is that they’re statistically most at risk for persistent stress and trauma. Gen Z adults and teens ages 12-23 are, “facing unprecedented uncertainty, are experiencing elevated stress and are already reporting symptoms of depression.” 

The most common symptoms of this increased stress include: 

  • “Snapping” or getting angry quickly 
  • Unexpected mood swings 
  • Shouting at a loved one 
  • Increased tension in one’s body 

While these symptoms can be caused by other relevant stress factors, the pandemic has added an entirely new list of concerns to the already large list of common stressors. The most common stressors for adults were: 

  • Health care – 66% of adults counted this as a leading cause of stress 
  • Mass shootings – 62%  
  • Climate change – 55% 
  • Suicide rates – 51%  
  • Immigration – 47% 
  • Widespread sexual harassment/assault – 47% 
  • The American opioid epidemic – 45% 

These stressors in combination with the pandemic have put a large strain on Gen Z. The report states, “While older Americans may be able to embrace the feeling of ‘this, too, shall pass,’ Gen Z adults (ages 18-23) are at a pivotal moment in their lives, and are experiencing adulthood at a time when the future looks uncertain.”  

If you want to support young Gen Z adults, the study lists several good ways to help them cope with stress and anxiety. Among them are simple such as creating new traditions to celebrate milestones that are now not possible, such as birthday or graduation traditions, and creating meaningful opportunities for connection.   

The study also recommends that adults: 

  • Provide educational and work training specifically targeted to support this generation, saying, “They need to see a possible path forward for themselves.” 
  • Allow access to mental health services during and after the pandemic, whether this means telehealth or interstate psychological services, and increasing funding within schools for mental health care. 
  • Providing thanks to Gen Z for the sacrifices they’ve made. You may have gotten a high school or college graduation party with family and friends — they got to sit in their dorm room, alone, and “celebrate” over Zoom. 

In an email with The Daily Barometer, OSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services director Ian Kellems said, “This is a time when you’re supposed to be connecting with other people, figuring out what you want to do with your lives and doing all the amazing things that come with being young, but you haven’t been able to do those things — so that’s hard. We know from national surveys that young people are really struggling — experiencing more suicidal thoughts, using substances more, feeling more anxious.”  

In short, support your loved ones and community members. While everyone is struggling with the stress of COVID, it’s statistically proven that America’s younger generations are having that battle with mental health more often, and more intensely.   

Whether it means simply taking a few minutes out of your day to encourage a young adult in your life, or actively working to better their environment, there are many things you can do to help. And this doesn’t just go for Gen Z. If someone you know is struggling with anxiety or depression, simple love and support go miles to help.  

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Or, if you’re a student or member of OSU faculty, you can visit this site for online resources, places to go or call, and safety measures for those at risk.