US Election a Major Source of Stress for Americans

Megan Brooks

October 17, 2016

More than half of adults in the United States are suffering significant stress over the 2016 US presidential election, according to the Stress in America survey, conducted by the Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association (APA).

"We're seeing that it doesn't matter whether you're registered as a Democrat or Republican — US adults say they are experiencing significant stress from the current election," Lynn Bufka, PhD, the APA's associate executive director for practice research and policy, said in a news release.

"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 Dr Bufka.

Nearly 4 in 10 adults (38%) surveyed said that political and cultural discussions on social media are stressful. Adults who use social media are more likely than adults who don't to say the election is a very significant or a somewhat significant source of stress (54% vs 45%).

Men and women are equally likely to say the 2016 US presidential election is a very significant or somewhat significant source of stress (51% and 52%, respectively), but election stress differs among generations of Americans.

Millennials (those aged 19 to 37) and "matures" (those aged 71+) are the most likely to say the election is a significant source of stress (56% and 59%, respectively) ― significantly more than Generation Xers (those aged 38 to 51, at 45%) but not more than baby boomers (aged 52 to 70, at 50%).

Election-related stress is not confined to one racial or ethnic group. Rather, it appears to manifest across groups — moreso in some than others. Hispanics, in particular, are most likely to say that the election is a very significant or somewhat significant source of stress (56%), followed by whites and Native Americans, at 52% each.

Of Americans with disabilities, 6 in 10 (60%) say the election is a very significant or somewhat significant source of stress, compared to 48% of those without disabilities.

The APA offers the following tips to help people manage their election-related stress levels:

  • Limit media consumption. Read just enough to stay informed. Turn off the newsfeed or take a digital break. 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 aware of how often you discuss the election with friends, family members, or coworkers.

  • Remember that stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive. Channel your concerns so as 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.

  • Remember that whatever happens on election day, life will go on. Our political system means that we can expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition of government. Avoid catastrophizing, and maintain a balanced perspective.

  • Remember to vote. 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.

The Stress in America survey was conducted online between August 5 and August 31, 2016, among 3511 adults aged 18 years and older living in the United States. Surveys were conducted in English and Spanish. The full Stress in America report will be released in early 2017.

APA. News release. Full text

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