More than half of North Americans are experiencing moderate to severe COVID-19-related stress, according to a University of Regina survey.

Dr. Gordon Asmundson, from the University of Regina, has been conducting research on the issue since March.

“We’ve really been able to learn a lot about the way people respond emotionally and the psychological impact of a pandemic of this magnitude that really has no known time frames,” Asmundson said.

Asmundson and his team received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to conduct population based surveys across North America, assessing the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

Research found, at the core is a fear of contamination, but respondents also reported socioeconomic concerns, xenophobia, traumatic stress responses and compulsive checking and reassurance seeking.

“We know that people are struggling with restrictions and things that are being put on us by the pandemic and things we are being asked to do to help mitigate spread. We are also moving into a season, at least in most parts of Canada, where the weather is going to be getting colder and it’s going to be getting harder to get outside,” Asmundson explained.

The first wave of Asmundson’s survey responses showed more than 50 per cent of people had moderate to severe stress, with 17 per cent experiencing functional problems as a result.

Tara Osipoff saw this first hand, when she started to experience increasingly severe pain, but assumed it was related to a recent car accident. When she finally went to the hospital, she was surprised to hear the doctor say she had developed a stress related illness.

“I was really shocked,” she said. “I obviously know that things are caused by stress but often we don’t want to attribute them to things that are ailments. You think, ‘this will just go away,’ but this was something that was really impacting my life.”

Osipoff is not alone in experiencing physical responses to mental fatigue. She says her doctor told her he had seen more of this type of stress induced ailment in younger adults during 2020 than in the whole of his career prior.

Asmundson suggests those dealing with heightened stress get outside, stay safety connected and disengage from social media when necessary.

Asmundson recommends using a self assessment tool developed by his team to help understand the COVID stress scale and seek help if you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed by high levels of stress.