Is this year’s presidential election stressing you out? If so, the American Psychological Association (APA) says you are not alone. The 2016 race for the White House is definitely one for the history books. No other election has involved so much controversy and all of the mudslinging, insults and poll results are starting to freak people out. While it’s a common joke on social media that viewers watching the debate had to fuel up on alcohol in order to calm down, the fact remains that there are lots of Americans feeling anxious about this election. Stress has very real neurological consequences, in the brain and in the rest of the body. It can lead to unhealthy behaviors and real damage so it’s best to mitigate stress whenever possible.
For the past decade, the Stress in America™ survey conducted by the APA has sought to describe the level of stress being felt by Americans and the sources of that stress. This year, unlike any other, the results show that the presidential election is a pretty big trigger for stress and anxiety for many. While the full results of the survey will not be released until early in 2017, which is typical for this study, the APA felt it was important to disclose the election factor. A full 52% of Americans surveyed in the annual study, conducted by Harris Poll, said that this election was a “very” or “somewhat” significant source of stress. The study was online and completed by volunteers all of whom were American citizens over the age of 18 and living in the US.
Lynn Bufka, PhD, APA’s associate executive director for practice research and policy said, “We’re seeing that it doesn’t matter whether you’re registered as a Democrat or Republican — U.S. adults say they are experiencing significant stress from the current election. Election stress becomes exacerbated by arguments, stories, images and video on social media that can heighten concern and frustration, particularly with thousands of comments that can range from factual to hostile or even inflammatory.”
Factors such as the 24-hour news cycle and the prevalence of social media were also significant. In fact, the survey revealed that social media appears to contribute Americans’ stress levels when it comes to politics. 38% of those surveyed said that political discussions on social media had caused them to feel stressed or anxious. Adults who do not use social media still reported that the election was stressful, but at a lower rate than those who did use social media (45% of those not on social media vs. 54% of those who do use it)
There wasn’t much difference in election stress between men and women, in fact the percentages were almost equal at 51% of men and 52% of women. There were differences along generational lines however. Millenials and older folks expressed the most concern over election stress, while Generation Xers had the least amount of reported stress.
Along with these results the APA offered some advice for reducing the stress this unprecedented election campaign seems to be causing. Number one on the list of things they advised was to limit media consumption. It’s always good to be informed, but don’t watch every channel or read every paper. Disconnect and take media breaks before information overload sets in. Avoid constantly engaging in debates and discussions. While political discourse can be healthy, this year has been an exception. Take time to volunteer on causes that are important rather than just arguing. Get plenty of exercise, eat well and get enough rest. All of those are measures that will reduce stress, regardless of the cause. And most importantly, vote. It’s been shown in studies that taking deliberate action on issues that cause stress can alleviate that stress, giving us back some control over these feelings.
Check out this video on election stress and remember….breathe…it’s almost over.
Sources: NBC News
, American Psychological Association
, Pyschology Today