Today's Political Climate Is Bad for Some Americans' Health

Photo: Michael Morgenstern

An Iowa man is so bothered by the political climate that his psychologist says he asked for a higher dosage of his anxiety medication. A Chicago woman is so uneasy about politics that she has needed two dental implants to deal with her teeth-grinding habit. And a New York woman says she suffered her first flare-up of multiple sclerosis in 10 years due to political angst.

Americans are stressed and politics is a major cause, according to psychologists, psychiatrists and recent surveys.

A study published in September in the journal PLOS One found that politics is a source of stress for 38% of Americans.

“The major takeaway from this is that if our numbers are really anywhere in the ballpark, there are tens of millions of Americans who see politics as exacting a toll on their social, psychological, emotional and even physical health,” says Kevin Smith, lead author of the study and chair of the political science department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The study polled 800 people in a nationally representative poll and asked them 32 questions. Among the findings:

* 11.5% say politics has adversely affected their physical health.

* 18.3% say they’ve lost sleep because of politics.

* 26.4% say they have become depressed when a preferred candidate lost.

* 26.5% say politics has led them to hate some people.

* 20% say differences in views have damaged a valued friendship.

Dr. Smith notes that the survey explored people’s perceptions of their health, not actual diagnoses.

The effects seem to be more pronounced for those who are younger, on the political left and interested and engaged in politics, Dr. Smith says.

Amanda Johnson, a psychologist in Newton, Iowa, says she’s noticed the impact of politics on many of her patients.

One was so distressed recently he wanted to abstain from politics altogether.

“He identified as an independent, and when he voiced this to several family members and friends, he got some backlash from them saying he needed to pick a side,” Dr. Johnson says.

That same day she spoke with his psychiatrist about increasing his anxiety medication. The longtime patient hadn’t previously identified politics as a source of stress and had been stable and on an antianxiety medication for the past three years without needing any changes.

“I’ve seen a lot more patients like that,” Dr. Johnson says. “It’s been pretty steady since the election. It seems like there’s an uptick any time there’s a big event.”

Common problems include sleep disturbances and falling out with family members and friends with divergent views. Social media battles are another source of tension. She advises patients to take breaks from social media and watching the news. “If they want to be engaged, we work on finding ways they could have some effect on change, like becoming more involved with a campaign,” she says.

She also encourages patients to set boundaries with family and friends to avoid inflammatory conversations.

Share Your Thoughts

How stressed are you by politics these days? Join the conversation below.

Vaile Wright, director of research and special projects for the American Psychological Association, says politics-related stress is coming up more in the organization’s annual report called Stress in America.

The annual online survey polls 3,000 to 4,000 people. This year’s results will be released in November. In the 2018 survey, 69% of respondents reported feeling stressed about the nation’s future, compared with 63% in 2017, a statistically significant increase, Dr. Wright says.

Daniel Bristow, president of the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association, says he’s had to prescribe antianxiety drugs or antidepressants for some patients for the first time and increased dosages for others.

For patients with pre-existing conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, an increase in uncertainty can make old symptoms surface. “I’ve seen that many times, the newer stress worsening older symptoms that were previously under better control,” Dr. Bristow says.

He has seen people on both sides of the aisle impacted by political-related stress.

But those impacted most severely are those with personal concerns, like immigrants separated from their families due to immigration policies or who fear deportation.

Carol Sabransky, a Chicago resident and executive at a management consulting firm, says her habit of grinding her teeth has kicked into high gear over the past few years. The habit started years ago, after she gave birth to her children. She lost one tooth from it in 1992.

In the past year she’s lost two more teeth from grinding too much and had to get implants, which cost $7,000 each. She now wears a night guard, an appliance put in her mouth at night to help prevent grinding during sleep. She says she objects to the “ugliness that has been exposed from all the lying and corruption” in Washington, D.C.

“The cost of this emotionally wrenching political environment has certainly been physical for me, and emotional,” she says. “Maybe the positive side to this is I have been educated in civics and government to a degree I never have been before. But it’s very costly, both mentally and in my pocketbook.”

Laura Beatrix Newmark, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, says she had her first flare-up of MS in nearly 10 years after the 2016 election. “Everyone agreed that it was 100% stress,” Ms. Newmark says.

She has tried to channel those feelings by posting angry haikus on Facebook and producing a women’s resistance comedy show.

She downloaded a meditation app and goes to sleep listening to it every night.

The political climate, she says, has “made me operate on a much more hyped up level and that’s not been good. I’m not a comfortable flier, and I’m that much more anxious now when I fly.”

Write to Sumathi Reddy at [email protected]

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Facebook:

Must Read!