We’re a nation of people already wound pretty tight. But right now, we’re more stressed out than we’ve been in the past decade, according to a survey released Wednesday.
The American Psychological Association polls Americans about their stress every year, and it’s common for many of those polled to report anxiety about work and money. This time, however, people also are citing politics as a serious stressor in their lives.
The APA, which represents psychologists across the country, heard from its members that their patients were experiencing higher levels of anxiety in the lead-up to the presidential election. Since November, instead of letting up, those emotions have gotten worse, with political talk consuming therapy sessions.
Muslim Americans, immigrants and victims of sexual trauma are especially prone to greater stress since the election, and mental health specialists who work in Veterans Affairs hospitals have reported that their patients have made comments such as “This isn’t what I risked my life for,” said Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist and member of APA’s Stress in America team.
Because so many of its members reported election-related stress, the psychologists group added questions about politics to its annual survey in August. When the negative feelings didn’t ease up, APA conducted another survey in January to capture post-election stress levels. In August, 71 percent of Americans reported feeling a physical or emotional symptom of stress at least one day that month. In January, 80 percent had symptoms, such as tension headaches or feeling overwhelmed or depressed.
The survey, conducted by Harris Poll, found that 66 percent of Americans reported stress about the future of the country, 57 percent about the current political climate and 49 percent about the election outcome. Minority groups, millennials, those living in urban areas, and those with a college education had higher levels of stress about the election, which is unsurprising, because those demographics tend to lean left politically.
“The fact that two-thirds of Americans are saying the future of the nation is causing them stress, it is a startling number,” Wright said. “It seems to suggest that what people thought would happen, that there would be relief (after the election), did not occur, and instead since the election, stress has increased. And not only did overall stress increase, what we found in January is the highest significant increase in stress in 10 years. That’s stunning.”
Wright suggests that the best way to ease stress related to what’s happening in Washington is to disentangle yourself from the minute-by-minute deluge of negative news. There’s so much to consume and internalize that people’s hyper-vigilance is causing more harm than good.
“It’s not just about who won the election. It’s having a much larger impact, and it likely has to do with this global sense of uncertainty, divided-ness and this unprecedented speed of change,” she said.
“So we try to seek out ways to control it, which is to be informed. And while it’s really important to stay informed right now, there’s a point where you have to know your limits; there’s a saturation point where there isn’t new information.”