STRESSED OUT: Politics Are (Literally) Making Us Sick
Warning: Politics Are Bad For Your Health!
The constant stream of political news these days is nearly impossible to escape. And it’s about to become even more unavoidable for those of us in the Milwaukee area when the (thankfully scaled-back) Democratic National Convention comes to town this week.
But the dark political cloud hanging over America is more than just an annoyance we have to deal with every four years. New research from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln suggests that, regardless of party affiliation, politics are having a seriously negative effect on our health.
And that’s too bad, because politics — and especially elections — are supposed to be about solving public health problems, not fueling them.
What the Research Says
The study is the first to look comprehensively at the physical and emotional costs of paying attention to and participating in political discourse. The results are akin to a public health crisis: nearly 40% of Americans surveyed said politics are stressing them out, 20% are losing sleep because of it, and 12% report that politics had adversely affected their physical health.
It gets worse: 20% report having damaged friendships because of political disagreements and 4% of Americans even admitted to having suicidal thoughts triggered by events in politics. That translates into 13 million adults.
The survey was collected by YouGov and contained 32 questions in four categories — physical health, mental health, regretted behavior and social/lifestyle costs — and sought to quantify how political polarization was negatively affecting the lives of Americans.
Among the other findings:
- 32% said exposure to media outlets promoting views contrary to personal beliefs had driven them crazy
- 29% said they’ve lost their temper as a result of politics
- 22% admit they care too much about who wins and who loses
- 15% said that differences in political views have created problems for them in their immediate family
Another survey by the American Psychological Association found that nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, even more so than money (62%) and work (61%).
Stress Has Real Effects On Your Body
Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but when that stress becomes long-term or chronic it can have disastrous effects on your body. If politics is a significant contributor to the levels of stress that American adults are experiencing, then it follows that there’s a real, quantifiable health effect as a result.
Symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Anxiety & depression
- Tension Headaches
- Reduced immune function
- Muscle aches
- Irregular menstrual cycles (in women) & reduced testosterone (in men)
- Higher risk of strokes, heart attacks & type II diabetes
Steps To Reduce Politically-Charged Stress
1. Reduce the amount of political information you consume. Turn off Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Set boundaries around the streaming of politically charged information into your personal space. After you’ve educated yourself on the issues and made a decision on candidates, continuing to expose yourself to politically polarized media does nothing but increase stress levels.
2. Limit political discussions in the workplace, at the dinner table and at social gatherings with family and friends. When political topics bleed into work or social events, it makes it difficult to turn off your internal alarm system and curb your stress response.
3. Practice mindful meditation and yoga to reset your nervous system. Bringing your attention into the present moment and taking deep breaths will help you unwind, relax and recharge. And you’ll be less stressed and more productive in the long run.
4. Get out and get involved. Just passively watching increases feelings of helplessness, which in turn fuels outrage and stress. Whatever issue you care about, there will be local groups that allow you to channel that outrage into action.
The Bottom Line
It’s true: Americans are literally making themselves sick over politics. And however bad the political landscape seems now, it’s only going to get worse in the coming months. So as the media, political parties and campaigns gear up for the 2020 election, we need to gear up, too. Now’s a great time to recognize and minimize sources of stress in your life, before they take a serious toll on your physical and emotional health.
And if those tight shoulders and tension headaches aren’t going away even after you’ve reduced the stress caused by today’s political climate, well, that’s why you’ve got us. Call us at 262-345-4166 to make an appointment or use our online scheduling app – we’d love to help!