Americans stressed over politics, poll shows

(Reuters Health) - In January, just before President Donald Trump was inaugurated, Americans reported feeling more stressed than they had in at least a decade, since the American Psychological Association first began taking the public’s temperature in 2006.

The crowd on the National Mall reacts during the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

Results of a new poll of more than 1,000 adults show that anxiety levels remained stable for the usual top stress-inducing culprits: money, jobs and the economy.

But since last spring, psychologists say, their clients have been talking about a new worry – the 2016 U.S. presidential election and its aftermath. So in August, the APA, which represents 115,000 psychologists, added to its annual survey a question about the outcome of the election. More than half, or 52 percent, of 3,511 adults polled said that the hotly contested race triggered a significant source of stress in their lives.

By January, anxiety over the outcome of the then-settled presidential election slipped, but it remained at 49 percent, the survey of 1,019 adults found.

Moreover, the January poll showed a statistically significant increase in Americans’ stress levels for the first time since the survey was first conducted 10 years ago.

“There was a sense that there would be a relief after the election,” said Vaile Wright, a psychologist and member of the team that designed the survey.

“That relief, that you could exhale all the stress, I think that hasn’t occurred,” she said in a phone interview.

Two-thirds of Americans reported that they feared for the future of the nation in January, when they were asked the question for the first time. Wright described the number as “shocking.”

Also in January, 57 percent of those polled reported that the current political climate stressed them out.

Fear cut across party lines: 72 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans described the future of the U.S. as a significant source of personal stress.

The poll results mirror what University of Minnesota psychologist William Doherty said he and his colleagues have seen during therapy sessions.

About two-thirds of his patients in St. Paul, Minnesota are stressed about the political climate, and most of the rest are caught up in their own personal tragedies, he said in a phone interview.

Doherty’s clients who are stressed over politics complain about trouble sleeping, stomachaches and jaw pain. For example, he said, one Democrat in her 40s watches the news, sleeps poorly and is disturbed about a strained relationship with family members who support Trump.

Wright and other psychologists hoped the anxiety would pass after the election. In fact, events since Trump’s inauguration on January 20 might have further elevated some patients’ anxiety, Wright said.

Immigrants, children with immigrant parents and Muslim-Americans feel especially vulnerable, particularly since the president issued an executive order barring entry into the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, she said.

A federal court has suspended the order, but Trump has said he will sign another shortly.

Doherty and Wright both recommend that anxious Americans reduce stress by limiting exposure to news and social media. Doherty also encourages his patients to find ways to actively participate in the political process in positive ways.

He recently facilitated a workshop between Democrats and Republicans to try to bridge the gap. One participant said she planned to be kinder to strangers; another wrote a check to Planned Parenthood.

“We’re really encouraging people to take an active approach to managing your stress,” Wright said. “If you know that the news, social media and twitter feeds make you anxious, give yourself a break every once in a while.”

“It could mean even taking the apps for these social media off your phone,” she said.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, online February 15, 2017.