However, new research from Hadassah Medical Center and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem show that it’s worse than we thought: Increased stress and anxiety from the pandemic is not limited to doctors and nurses, but has hit ancillary staff, such as maintenance workers and administrators, as well.

Moreover, the stress doesn’t seem to lessen during lull periods, such as the time between the first and second Covid waves in Israel, which was when the study was conducted.

Dr. Yael Bar-Zeev and Dr. Nir Hirshoren at the Hebrew University’s Braun School of Public Health and Hadassah Medical Center, along with Lev Academic Center’s Dr. Michal Shauly-Aharonov and Hebrew University’s Prof. Yehuda Neumark, surveyed close to 1,000 hospital workers.

The researchers found that more than half (59%) reported an increase in stress.

Of the 1,000 workers surveyed, 132 were smokers. One third (35%) said they lit up more cigarettes each day during the pandemic.

Pandemic-stressed participants also slept less, with 28% reporting changes in sleep duration since Covid-19 reared its spikey head.

The study, published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, was unique in that similar worldwide studies have focused on stress levels among the general population during the early lockdowns, whereas the new study focused on professionals in hospitals during a relatively slower period (May 2020) when the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths were low.

Separate studies have confirmed the smoking-Covid connection.

A Dutch survey published in July 2020 found that 19% of smokers puffed more due to Covid stress. However, 14% reported smoking less in the same period.

In France, 27% of smokers reported increasing their tobacco intake over the course of March-April 2020. A US survey from April 2020 showed smokers lighting up 30% more frequently. In the UK, 25% reported smoking more than usual. The most cited reason for the increase was boredom (48.6%) followed by stress (43.2%).

Bar-Zeev noted the need to provide mental health support for all hospital workers as part of the pandemic response.

“Many smokers won’t be receptive to cessation programs right now. However, as the pandemic shows no signs of letting up, health ministries and hospitals need to take the mental health of their employees seriously and to provide stress-coping support for all their staff, even those not behind the gurney or with a scalpel in hand,” Bar-Zeev added.