Many often laud our current times as “the best time to be alive” as a result of remarkable advances in the dissemination of information that have undoubtedly improved the quality of life on a global scale. Breakthroughs in medicine have eased the burden of disease. As a society, we’ve secured personal freedoms to an unprecedented degree. And exponential technological growth continues to maximize our enjoyment of even the most mundane tasks.
This gives rise to the following question: Have these advances, along with a soaring economy, made us, as Americans, happier?
The Truth is in the Statistics
Unfortunately, the answer is no. A 2018 Gallup poll found Americans are more stressed, angry, and fearful now than at most periods of time in the last decade. In fact, Americans are statistically more likely to experience stress and anxiety than much of the world, rising above the global average to a considerable degree.
A 2019 study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) reported:
- Discrimination was a significant source of stress for 25 percent of adults.
- 63 percent for adults of color
- 64 percent for adults who identify as LGBT
- The upcoming 2020 presidential election has become a stressor for 56 percent of adults.
- 71 percent for Democrats
- 48 percent for Republicans
- A significant source of stress for adults (48 percent) has also been attributed to immigration.
- 66 percent for Hispanic adults
- 64 percent of adults reported stress due to the costs of health care.
- 71 percent for private insured
- 53 percent of public insurance
- Climate change has become a stressor for 56 percent of adults.
- 70 percent for Hispanic adults
This negative turn in emotional well-being is especially compelling in the context of the United States — and considering that it developed during a particularly vibrant economy. In light of this paradoxical trend between the economy and increasing negative emotions among the American population, we can conclude that factors other than economic data, which includes measures like GDP, should be considered in the examination of emotional well-being.
More recent studies have analyzed how various socio-political aspects of American life, particularly the fierce polarization, can be attributed to a deterioration in interpersonal relationships and even reports of suicidality. Distrust of the federal government, which sits among the top American fears, is another factor that has led to increasing discomfort among U.S. citizens. Understanding these correlations is the first step in establishing an effective protocol for gradually mitigating stress levels as we work to improve mental health not only among Americans but potentially on a global scale.
Tips on How to Manage Stress
Stress can manifest itself in different ways. Most commonly, stress may cause someone to experience: headaches, stomach issues, sleeping difficulties, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. With this in mind, the APA has listed helpful tips on how to manage stress related to political change:
-Find commonalities with others
-Find meaningful ways to get involved in your community
-Take care of yourself
Stress management can be a form of effective self-care not just during difficult times but throughout your life. Per the Mayo Clinic, it is vital to first identify your stressors and proceed by searching for coping strategies such as physical activity, good quality sleep, or simply enjoying oneself. Avoiding substance use, engaging in a healthy diet, seeking contact with friends and family, and meditation can be additional ways to alleviate stress, the Mayo Clinic adds.
Also, doing something meaningful about your stress can also be rewarding. If you are truly concerned about certain political issues, address them by being active in your community, volunteering at local organizations or political campaigns, and engaging in positive and productive activities is highly recommended rather than spewing negativity on social media platforms and creating conflict among your friends and loved ones. The latter is not productive and increases anxiety rather than relieving it — and you may lose friends because of it.
The APA further advises the public that if the stress related to political change has become unmanageable, then seeking the assistance of a mental health professional could be healthful. Navigating the current political environment can take a toll on mental well-being and become difficult to manage. Seeking help from your loved ones or reaching out to others in a similar position can be helpful during difficult times. The following means of help are also available. You’re not alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration
Tropical Texas Behavioral Health
Stress Relievers (Mayo Clinic)
Best Ways to Reduce Stress (Harvard University)
Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Stephanie Arellano, Stephany Navarro, Marcos Valdez, Andy Torres and Frances Morales.