Results of a new survey bring potentially troubling news for those in senior living employees and the companies for which they work: Personal exposure to the coronavirus is linked with poor mental health.

You may not be surprised to hear that American adults who say they likely have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 are almost twice as likely as others (21% versus 11%) to feel as if “difficulties are piling up so high that they cannot overcome them,” according to the NORC COVID Response Tracking Study Among American Adults, undertaken by researchers at the well-regarded NORC at the University of Chicago.

Results are based on responses from 2,279 adults aged 18 or more years from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., who completed the survey May 21 to 29 via telephone or online. The researchers defined personal exposure as in the past month being exposed to someone who had a positive COVID-19 test, someone who received a medical diagnosis of COVID-19, or someone with possible symptoms of COVID-19. Thirteen percent of respondents reported having been exposed to someone known to have or suspected of having the coronavirus.

People who had been exposed to the virus reported a variety of physical and emotional reactions or symptoms that were greater for exposed individuals than for others, such as feeling dazed and numb (39% versus 19%), feeling nervous (60% versus 43%), having an upset stomach (47% versus 26%) and having the desire to get drunk (45% versus 24%).

Personal exposure also was found to be connected to loneliness. Sixty-five percent of unexposed respondents said they never or rarely have felt left out, compared with 48% of exposed respondents.

And in general, regardless of exposure, respondents living in COVID-19 hotspots were unhappier and lonelier than those living in other parts of the country. You can see the complete results of the wide-ranging survey here.

Fortunately, there are steps that front-line heroes and others can take to lessen the stress they might be feeling related to the pandemic, regardless of whether they have been exposed to the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips for caregivers:

  • Communicate with your co-workers, supervisors and employees about job stress and how the pandemic may be affecting your work. Identify factors that cause stress, and work together to identify solutions. Ask about how to access mental health resources through your workplace.
  • Remind yourself that everyone is in an unusual situation with limited resources, too.
  • Try to identify and accept those things over which you do not have control.
  • Recognize that you are performing a crucial role in fighting the pandemic and that you are doing the best you can with the resources that are available.
  • Try to keep a consistent daily routine when possible, to increase your sense of control. Your routine should include adequate sleep, healthful meals and breaks to rest, stretch or check in with supportive colleagues, co-workers, friends and family members.
  • When away from work, exercise and relax when you can. Do things you enjoy.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting, especially because you work with people directly affected by the virus.

The CDC lists additional resources for caregivers on its website.