used with permission by pixabay.com
Source: used with permission by pixabay.com

The American Psychological Association (APA) has conducted a yearly "Stress in America" survey during the past decade and just released Part 1 of their findings for 2016-17. The results are not pretty. Overall, stress levels among Americans have increased and are higher than at any time during the past 10 years (including the recession years starting in 2008). Americans are simply stressed out!

The majority of Americans in the survey pointed to our nation's political climate as a source of increased stress with more Democrats than Republicans feeling stressed by politics. But the majority of both Republicans and Democrats admitted that they were stressed by concerns regarding the future of our country. The report found that increased stress levels have also resulted in higher incidences of both physical and mental health symptoms including headaches, feeling overwhelmed, anxiousness, and depression. Respondents also had much more concerns for their personal safety than in the past as well. 

All this has led some to speculate that many are experiencing what has now been called Post Election Stress Disorder (PESD). While quality evidence-based research takes time to complete and publish (especially with our peer review system used in the sciences) preliminary data seems to suggest that this notion of PESD is real and is "a thing." So many people seem to feel disheartened, discombobulated, and distressed by our political climate and the future of the nation. And their stress symptoms may lead to potential troubles in their personal, social, and occupational functioning as well. 

While there are no simple answers to cope with stress, there are helpful principles that can be used to better manage stress. Considering stress management through a biopsychosocial framework may be especially helpful. Attending to the biological or physical stress symptoms using health promoting interventions such as exercise and relaxation strategies to lower physiological arousal is a good place to start. Activities such as yoga, meditation, physical exercise, prayer, and so forth are appealing and useful to many. Psychological symptoms can be addressed through cognitive restructuring such as looking at the glass as half full rather than half empty and working to accept what cannot be changed yet also making efforts to alter what can indeed be changed. Finally, social interventions may include getting support from others and being part of groups that are healthy and stress reducing.

We certainly appear to be living in turbulent times and stress levels are very high. Post Election Stress Disorder may actually be something we have to deal with for some time to come. Time (as well as quality research) will tell. Yet regardless of one's political leanings, we all could find ways to cope better with stress and to fine tune our skills and efforts in doing so. And perhaps we can do whatever we can to help others too. After all, we are in this together, whether we like it or not.

So what do you think?

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Copyright 2017 Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP

References

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