Stressed out: Americans making themselves sick over politics

Stressed out: Americans making themselves sick over politics
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Kevin Smith and colleagues have published a new study that chronicles the mental and physical toll that politics is taking on US adults. Nearly 40% of surveyed Americans said politics is stressing them out, 20% are losing sleep over it, and 20% report damage to friendships stemming from political discourse. Credit: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Never-ending campaigns, social media, 24-hour news cycles. Politics are impossible to escape, even for the casual observer.

But are policy fights and polarization more than a headache in the collective consciousness? New research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests yes—that we're making ourselves sick over politics.

Nearly 40% of Americans surveyed for the study said politics is stressing them out, and one in five are losing sleep. These responses and others show many in the United States believe their mental and has been harmed in some way by exposure to politics.

The research, led by Nebraska political scientist Kevin Smith, is the first to look comprehensively at the physical and emotional costs of paying attention to and participating in . Previous examinations have focused almost solely on , such as time lost from work to vote or the monetary costs of supporting a campaign.

Smith and co-authors John Hibbing, Foundation Regent University Professor of political science at Nebraska, and Matthew Hibbing of the University of California, Merced thought it was time for a different take.

"It became apparent, especially during the 2016 electoral season, that this was a polarized nation, and it was getting even more politically polarized," Smith, Olson Chair and professor of political science at Nebraska, said. "The cost of that polarization to individuals had not fully been accounted for by social scientists or, indeed, health researchers."

Smith said the results, which were published Sept. 25 in the journal PLOS ONE, are akin to a public health crisis.

"Quite a few of the numbers jumped out at me," Smith said. "Twenty percent have damaged friendships because of political disagreements. One in five report fatigue. And it's a small (proportion), but 4% of the people in our sample said they've had suicidal thoughts because of politics. That translates into 10 million adults."

Data were collected by YouGov for five days in March 2017, with 800 respondents. YouGov uses a panel of 1.8 million people to create representative samples. Because no previous studies on this phenomenon have been completed, the questionnaire was developed by mirroring diagnostic instruments used by Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous. The survey contained 32 questions in four categories—physical health, , regretted behavior and social/lifestyle costs—and delved into how people perceive politics as the source of the problems they were experiencing.

Among the other findings:

  • 11.5% reported politics had adversely affected their physical health
  • 31.8% said exposure to media outlets promoting views contrary to personal beliefs had driven them crazy
  • 29.3% said they've lost their temper as a result of politics
  • 1 in 5 say differences in political views have damaged a friendship
  • 22.1% admit they care too much about who wins and who loses

"Politics is really negatively affecting a lot of people's lives, or at least, they're perceiving that politics is really negatively affecting their lives in deep and meaningful ways," Smith said. "Stress is a real phenomenon that can have disastrous health effects. If politics is a significant contributor to the levels of stress that American adults are experiencing, then yeah, it makes sense that there's a real add-on health effect from that.

"If we understand what's causing it, that can lead us to ameliorative strategies."

Perceptions of political stress emerged more in respondents who considered themselves on the left side of the political spectrum. Smith said this may be tied to the controversial 2016 election cycle.

"One of the things that we're really interested in is: What happens if a very left-leaning person is elected into the White House?" Smith said. "Do the symptoms stay the same but shift across the ideological spectrum?"

Because the study is the first of its kind, Smith and his co-authors plan to re-issue the survey in the future and are assisting scholars in pursuing similar research.

"I think it's critically important that we push this out to other political scientists," Smith said. "We've already handed it over to a couple of psychologists to include on some of the surveys they're doing, so we will start to get a little clearer picture and a little bit more traction on some of the questions we have."

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Journal information: PLoS ONE

Citation: Stressed out: Americans making themselves sick over politics (2019, September 25) retrieved 15 October 2019 from
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User comments

Sep 25, 2019
Finally. A political study I can agree with. And it doesn't matter whether you are left wing or right wing. I can only hope the majority of the people realize the true answer ALWAYS lies in the middle. Moderates need and want to speak up but it can be dangerous depending on your situation.

Sep 25, 2019
"this was a polarized nation..."

TRIBALISM. The most powerful motivator in human social behavior. It is always evoked whenever its services are needed.
1) The US has had a large influx of very religious people from third world countries who are used to letting god and oppressive govts tell them what to do. They've brought with them their own tribal affinities which are bolstered by resistance to integration from indigene tribalists. How to get them invested in this new system?
2) Tech is making competition-based political and economic systems obsolete. Democracy and capitalism are tribal-based. They accept the inevitability of tribal degeneration in politics and business and are designed to exploit them... control them. How to wean people off tribalism when it has become a critical danger to the future?

The answer to both - make every issue a critical danger to tribes. Pack the airwaves full of LIES. Make the people so sick of these SYSTEMS that they embrace the tech that ends them.

Sep 25, 2019
Nothing is forever. Humanity is a long history of divorcing itself from the natural world that bore it. Tribalism was the result of the beginnings of this long extrication, when protohumans became unwilling to tolerate the natural predators that were keeping their numbers in check, and began hunting THEM.

Overpopulation was the result. Competition over resources caused the species to congeal into tribes. Intertribal competition - group selection - replaced natural selection as the vehicle of speciation. Affinity for the very unnatural constraints of tribal living determined the form and function of the tropical human animal and today it is a very unnatural thing indeed.

But whether evolution or tribal domestication, it is still competition that drives us. Technology and the approaching singularity mark the end of competition. As growth worldwide recedes and tech can finally produce enough for everybody, there will no longer be the need for deceit. One path will always become clear.

Sep 25, 2019
31.8% said exposure to media outlets promoting views contrary to personal beliefs had driven them crazy''

yup lol

Sep 25, 2019
Politics in combination with economic factors put a large number of people at risk for losing some or all health care, and huge numbers have important gaps in their coverage. It's worth remembering that we're not talking theory when the subject is stress.

Sep 25, 2019

Finally. A political study I can agree with. And it doesn't matter whether you are left wing or right wing. I can only hope the majority of the people realize the true answer ALWAYS lies in the middle. Moderates need and want to speak up but it can be dangerous depending on your situation.While politics may be sickening some, I'm just sick of the sickness of politics...

Ya, cuz then you get crap from BOTH sides...
While politics may be sickening some people, It's about how politicians sicken the system...

Sep 26, 2019
It used to be guys with swords killing each other, now its guys with words grilling each other.. there is still room for improvement.

Sep 26, 2019
Somehow it is usually the Dems/Libs that get stressed out because they are exposed to something they don't agree with, and it triggers some massive emotional response inside of them. Did you see them after the Nov 2017 election? Now they demand safe places. Crazy! Conservatives have been exposed to liberal nonsense from the mainstream media outlets for decades, and we never responded like that. We know there are more important things than politics in this world today, and in the world to come.

Sep 26, 2019
This is the price everyone pays for voting for Reprehensibles. After the election, when the truth starts to come out, they have voter's remorse. But it's too late to do anything about it, so they double down and then the stress comes.

Sep 26, 2019
Da, sounds like you are one of those Libs. Get over it. Trump won. Work with him and with people of different viewpoints. Reach out. Come together. It'll be easier on you.

Sep 26, 2019
Isn't it both liberals and oldies problem that they are exposed to something they don't agree with? Liberal that want advancement hate to see old farts sticking to "it was better before" and the conservatives like to keep things the way they are so they hate all the new young people are wanting. For some people it's hard to understand but I understand both sides.

Also, I agree very much with the study even thought I'm not American. I feel a lot better now that I don't read as much political news. Less to be angry about. Like the things would change anyway if you follow the politics or not so better not.

Sep 26, 2019
So, losers on both sides then.

Sep 26, 2019
Not stressing to me. More like entertainment! Get the popcorn. Sit back and enjoy the show!

Sep 26, 2019
Not stressing to me. More like entertainment! Get the popcorn. Sit back and enjoy the show!

I prefer a snifter of bourbon...

Sep 29, 2019
Trump is getting attacked constantly because he's NOT a career politician. This has nothing to do with both sides getting mad.

It's about the political class attacking a non-politician.

Sep 29, 2019
Lying always causes stress.

There's no use denying it.

I find it amusing that the trolls all downvoted me for saying so.

Get over it.

Sep 29, 2019
Oh, and since we're trolling, thanks for letting me know I got to you.

Sep 29, 2019
The event - musk presents his starship yesterday

The leader line on the radio today
"NASA putting pressure on musk"


Every chance they get to confront and agitate. Why?

The leftist media and politicians are making the public sick.


Sep 29, 2019
Dem Sen chris Murphy
"Morning. The GOP thinks it's ok for President Trump to trade away the security of our country to get a foreign government to help him steal an election"
"So clearly they also wouldn't have a problem if he did the same thing with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, etc."
"The Trump administration's State Department is intensifying its investigation into the email records of dozens of former department officials and aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As many as 130 officials have been recently contacted by investigators from the State Department..."
"Scary times."

Sep 29, 2019
Я зашел в Google и перевел это так, что вы думаете, что я русский. лол

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