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Two-thirds of Americans are significantly stressed about the country's future, survey finds

Two-thirds of Americans are significantly stressed
Almost two-thirds of Americans — 63 percent — say the future of the country is a significant source of stress in their lives.

Feeling stressed and worried about the country? And is that stress keeping you up at night?

You’re not alone.

Almost two-thirds of Americans — 63 percent — say the future of the country is a significant source of stress in their lives, according to this year’s “Stress in America” survey released Wednesday by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Indeed, a majority — 59 percent — of the survey’s respondents said this is the “lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember.” And that feeling spanned all generations, including people who lived through World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War, as well as the more recent Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Being significantly stressed by worries concerning the future of the country also crossed all political lines, although it was cited more often by Democrats (73 percent) than by Republicans (56 percent) and independents (59 percent).

“We’re seeing significant stress transcending party lines,” said Arthur Evans, Jr., the APA’s chief executive officer, in a released statement. “The uncertainty and unpredictability tied to the future of our nation is affecting the health and well-being of many Americans in a way that feels unique to this period in recent history.”

Not surprisingly, the survey also found that Americans are conflicted about keeping up with the news — because of the stress it can cause. Most of the survey’s respondents (95 percent) said they follow the news regularly, but 56 percent said it aggravated their stress. 

And 72 percent said they believed the media “blows things out of proportion.”

A decade-long survey

The APA has been conducting its “Stress in America” survey since 2007. This year’s survey, which involved 3,340 adults aged 18 and older, was conducted last August. The survey’s data was weighted to proportionally reflect the participants’ demographics (age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income) in the U.S. population.

This was the first year that the survey had questions that asked participants about their worries regarding the future of the country, so there’s no way of knowing whether more Americans are stressed about that concern today than they were in the past. Last year, however, a majority of the survey’s respondents’ (52 percent) cited the presidential election as a significant source of stress for them. 

Overall, Americans’ stress level in 2017 is, on average, the same as it was in 2016: 4.8 on a 10-point scale. But this year, Americans are more likely to report symptoms of stress, which include anxiety, anger and fatigue, the survey found.

Additional findings

Here are some other interesting findings from this year’s survey: 

  • The most common issues pertaining to the country that the survey’s respondents said were causing them significant stress were health care (43 percent), the economy (35 percent), trust in government (32 percent), hate crimes (32 percent, crime (31 percent), wars/conflicts with other countries (30 percent) and terrorist attacks in the United States (30 percent). Slightly more than one in five of the respondents said unemployment and low wages (22 percent) and climate change and environmental issues (21 percent) were causing them significant stress.
  • Women continued, as in past years, to report more stress than men. The survey found that women’s stress levels increased slightly (from an average of 5.0 in 2016 to 5.1 in 2017), while men’s stress levels decreased (from 4.6 to 4.4).
  • More than seven in 10 Hispanic adults (69 percent) said the future of the country was a significant source of stress — much higher than the six in 10 white adults (61 percent).
  • Seven in 10 blacks (71 percent) said we are at the lowest point in our country’s history that they can remember, compared to 56 percent of whites, 56 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of Asian-Americans.
  • Only 27 percent of whites said that hate crimes caused them stressed, compared with 34 percent of Asian-Americans, 37 percent of Hispanics, 38 percent of Native Americans and 41 percent of blacks.
  • Millennials were the age group with the highest stress levels in 2017 (an average of 5.7), a position they have held since 2014. Older adults (aged 72-plus) had the lowest levels of stress (an average of 3.3).
  • Sources of stress regarding the country varied by generation. The economy was the most commonly cited concern for millennials (38 percent), while health care topped the list for Gen Xers (47 percent) and baby boomers (49 percent). For older adults, trust in government was the most frequently cited source of country-related stress (45 percent).

Taking action

The survey also found that stress appears to be keeping more Americans up at night than in the past.  Almost half (45 percent) of respondents in the 2017 survey said they had spent at least one night in the previous month lying awake at night, worrying — up from 40 percent a year earlier.

But the survey also discovered that many Americans are acting on their worries about the future of the country in a positive way.

“Half of those surveyed (51 percent) express that the state of our nation has compelled them to volunteer or otherwise support causes they value,” the APA’s report on the 2017 “Stress in America” survey notes, “and 59 percent have taken some form of action in the past year to address the issues of concern to them, including signing a petition (28 percent) and boycotting a company or product due to its social or political views or actions (15 percent)." 

“Despite the divisiveness in many areas,” the report adds, “most Americans (87 percent) can agree on at least one thing: a desire for people to take a deep breath and calm down.”

FMI: The 2017 “Stress in America” survey can be read in full on the APA’s website.

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The Citizen Solution: How You Can Make A Difference

Not sure how to direct your stress and frustration? Read The Citizen Solution by Harry C. Boyte (Humphrey Institute, Public Affairs). I bought my copy at the Capitol information desk.