American Psychological Association Survey Reveals 2016 Presidential Election Source of Significant Stress for More Than Half of Americans
Preview of data from upcoming Stress in America™ poll shows election is equally stressful for Republicans and Democrats
Facing one of the most adversarial contests in recent history and daily coverage of the presidential election that dominates every form of mass media, 52 percent of American adults report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. The survey was conducted online among adults 18+ living in the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association.
For the past decade, the Stress in America™ survey has examined how stress affects the health and well-being of American adults. Prior to the release of this year’s full survey results slated for early 2017, APA highlighted data that points to Americans’ stress levels related to the upcoming presidential election.
“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,” said Lynn Bufka, PhD, APA’s associate executive director for practice research and policy. Across party lines, those registered as Democrats (55 percent) and Republicans (59 percent) are statistically equally likely to say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.
“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,” said Bufka.
In fact, the survey revealed that social media appears to affect Americans’ stress levels when it comes to the election and related topics. Nearly 4 in 10 adults (38 percent) say that political and cultural discussions on social media cause them stress. In addition, adults who use social media are more likely than adults who do not to say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress (54 percent vs. 45 percent, respectively).
Clinical neuropsychologist and Arkansas Psychological Association (ArPA) Public Education Campaign (PEC) Coordinator Dr. Kristin Addison-Brown notes that many of the older adults she sees are similarly affected by keeping the news on throughout the day. Although background noise is the primary purpose for many, she observes that it seems to raise baseline stress levels which, she says, “…increases risk for anxiety or depression related rumination/worry, irritability, and sleeplessness”. This is a particular concern for individuals with pre-existing mood disorders or health conditions with these symptoms, including those with cardiac problems for whom elevated blood pressure can be especially detrimental and individuals with dementia who may already be somewhat anxious or easily agitated. “I have had family members specifically request that I recommend decreased TV exposure,” says Dr. Addison-Brown, “largely due to its apparent negative effect on the individual’s overall function and well-being- with similar effects on the caregivers, as well.”
While men and women are equally likely (51 percent vs. 52 percent, respectively) to say the 2016 U.S. presidential election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, election stress differs among generations of Americans. Millennials and “matures” (71+ age category) are the most likely to say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress (56 percent vs. 59 percent, respectively) — significantly more than Generation Xers (45 percent) but not boomers (50 percent).
APA offers the following tips to help people manage their stress related to the election:
• If the 24-hour news cycle of claims and counterclaims from the candidates is causing you stress, limit your media consumption. Read just enough to stay informed. Turn off the newsfeed or take a digital break. Take some time for yourself, go for a walk, or spend time with friends and family doing things that you enjoy.
• Avoid getting into discussions about the election if you think they have the potential to escalate to conflict. Be cognizant of the frequency with which you’re discussing the election with friends, family members or coworkers.
• Stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive. Channel your concerns to make a positive difference on issues you care about. Consider volunteering in your community, advocating for an issue you support or joining a local group. Remember that in addition to the presidential election, there are state and local elections taking place in many parts of the country, providing more opportunities for civic involvement.
• Whatever happens on Nov. 8, life will go on. Our political system and the three branches of government mean that we can expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition of government. Avoid catastrophizing, and maintain a balanced perspective.
• Vote. In a democracy, a citizen’s voice does matter. By voting, you will hopefully feel you are taking a proactive step and participating in what for many has been a stressful election cycle. Find balanced information to learn about all the candidates and issues on your ballot (not just the presidential race), make informed decisions and wear your “I voted” sticker with pride.
Further detail on the survey findings is available in Stress in America™: U.S. Presidential Election 2016: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2016/presidential-election.pdf (PDF, 164KB).
For additional information on stress, lifestyle and behaviors, visit the Psychology Help Center webpage (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/index.aspx). Join the conversation about stress on Twitter by following @APAHelpCenter and #stressAPA. To find out more about Arkansas Psychological Association visit www.arpapsych.org or www.arpapsych.com and follow @ArPAPsych on Twitter.