It's the first time since the American Psychological Association started the annual "Stress in America: Coping with Change" survey 10 years ago that this level of anxiety about the political climate and the country's future has been reported, said Lynn Bufka, associate executive director for practice, research and policy at the APA.
"People are saying they're more stressed now than they have been in quite some time," said Bufka. "We don't necessarily know all the whys, but we do know what some of the sources of stress are."
In addition to the economy, work and money stress, which annually are in the top three stressors, 57% of Americans polled in January said that the political climate is a very significant or somewhat significant source of stress, according to the online Harris Poll survey in early January. Nearly half of Americans polled - 49% - said the same about the outcome of the election.
Democrats were more likely than Republicans - 72% vs. 26% - to say the outcome of the election is a significant source of stress; 59% Republicans polled said the future of the nation was a significant source of stress for them, compared with 76% of Democrats.
None of that comes as a surprise to Dr. Ron Samarian, who is the chief of the department of psychiatry at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. At least once a day, a patient comes to him with anxiety related to politics.
"Some of the things we're seeing are really unprecedented," he said. "The fear of uncertainly is a constant, whether it's political or otherwise. We seem to have an unprecedented level of political uncertainty, which can feed into the fear of disunity of the country, fragmentation of relationships. For example, neighbors that don't agree with us, friends, family, and even of course the safety of our loved ones and the security of our finances.
"Certainly in our lifetimes, it's never been this distorted. ... It hits a lot of different areas all going to the same place, which is the uncertainty and the lack of control or the feeling that we don't have as much control."
Donald Trump holds a press conference on July 27, 2016 in Doral, Fla. (Photo: Gustavo Caballero, Getty Images)
Franklin Dohanyos, a 58-year-old conservative from Royal Oak, said he voted for President Trump and had high hopes for his presidency. But three weeks into the Trump administration, Dohanyos is feeling unsettled, especially with the resignation this week of Michael Flynn, Trump's national security adviser, amid allegations he lied about interacting with a Russian ambassador.
"His White House staff is like a revolving door," said Dohanyos, who owns his own public relations firm. "His business practices are questionable. He seems to close a big deal and then this falls through or that falls through. Some of his businesses do well, and others completely fail. Look at his golf course in Scotland, or Trump University.
"I'm not regretting my vote, but I am starting to question it. ... I am concerned about our country's future. But I would have been just as concerned as if Hillary (Clinton) had gotten in. This is an unexpected feeling. All we can do is hope and pray. I'm a praying guy."
Wendy Day, a 44-year-old political consultant from Howell who was the state director for the Ted Cruz campaign for president, said she's trying to take a break from the 24-hour news cycle, and doesn't feel as much of the anxiety that many others have expressed since the presidential election.
"People are very worried because they don't know what to believe," said Day, who helped found the Tea Party in Michigan. "They're trying to comprehend complex issues that they haven't had to watch on a play-by-play basis before, like this whole situation with Russia. We haven't had to try to guess on a play-by-play basis before and feeling like we're purposely being manipulated throughout the process it's very stressful.
"There used to be a thing called objective truth, and now it's very hard to figure out what that is."
For many who are plugged in, Bufka said, the saturation of the news - on television, on social media, and in our day-to-day conversations - can be overwhelming.
"Among those who use social media, the group that uses it regularly as opposed to those who don't use it at all, were even more likely to report these sources of stress," Bufka said. "We do think that there's the exposure to not only what's being debated in terms of our government and the political direction, but potentially how it's being debated and some of the conflict and debate and dissension that plays out more in social media than in say face-to-face or one-on-one conversations. We have to wonder how that's playing into stress, too."
"There's a lot going on," she said. "There's a level of work involved in trying to sift through all the content, but also, it's very complex... For all of us, to some extent, we've just accepted that government happens. It continues. It goes on. We trust that it will. We might not always like the decisions, but there will be trash pickup, we will have schools, and there will be a federal budget and VA hospitals will operate. Well, now that is less true.
"Now, things seem to be less sure. What will really happen? What decisions are being made? Who's making those decisions? Will things that have been happening for a long time, are those things about to change? It seems like there's a lot more that's up in the air. It's a lot more for people to digest unless they think about it."
Anxiety and stress, Bufka said, can manifest in a host of physical symptoms.
"The symptoms people are telling us they're feeling now are headaches, stomach aches, feeling nervous, feeling anxious, sleep difficulties, potentially some irritability," she said. "These are ways people physically and emotionally manifest stress. These are exactly what people are telling us. While any of these could be relatively minor, if you're experiencing them over time, they're going to lead to some negative effects on daily life... These things can add up over time and have a long-term impact on someone's health."
To relieve that stress, people can set limits on social media and news consumption so they can "stay informed without getting totally overwhelmed," Bufka said. She also recommends carving time out of your schedule to do things you enjoy, like a hobby, exercise, or time with friends and family.
"As a euchre player, cards are always something we talk about in my household as a way to relax," Bufka said.
The idea that two-thirds of the nation are worried about the future of the country seems off-base to Linda Thielfoldt, 56, of Troy. She's a self-described fiscal conservative, and says even among her more liberal friends, there doesn't seem to be a lot of angst.
"I would say the study is not well-founded," she said. I don't know who they asked. I have a lot of friends, and I'm not sensing it. Do I see stress in them at this point, three weeks into his presidency? Absolutely not.
"I think we've got bigger problems. You want to know something that stresses me about where the country is? $20 trillion dollars in debt. Now that stresses me out."
Thiefoldt said she has great hope for the country, and more confidence in the direction the nation is headed than she's had in 12 years.
"I think the vast majority of Americans - and that was never made more clear than on election night - sent a resounding a message not to Trump, but to politicians in general, that you work for us, and you have forgotten that."
Return to News Home