On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected president. In the year since the event, the United States has experienced significant shifts, as the new administration has worked to reverse many Obama-era policies. What has also shifted since the election are the levels of stress experienced by Americans and their confidence in the future of the country. Polls tracking the emotional state of the country over the past year paint a picture of increasing anxiety across political lines that doesn’t look like it will plateau in the near future.
According to the most recent annual “Stress in America Survey” conducted by the American Psychological Association, more than half of Americans believe now is currently the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember. Approximately 63 percent of adults, regardless of political party, said they were significantly stressed about the future of the country. These numbers are in line with an APA survey conducted in January, which found that 59 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats said the future of the country was a significant source of stress.
Whether or not the anniversary of the election will cause a rise in stress levels depends on how much a person was significantly emotionally affected by the election, Vaile Wright, Ph.D., tells Inverse.
As director of research at the APA and one of the psychologists who worked on the “Stress in America” report, she says that while the election isn’t the same as trauma, some people may feel an uptick in stressed symptoms akin to what a person who experienced trauma experiences on the anniversary of the incident, a psychological phenomenon appropriately named “the anniversary effect.”
“Anniversaries can serve as a trigger,” says Wright. “The election would not be considered a traumatic event, but I think for some people given the level of stress and maybe even grief they experienced around the election, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some people that were feeling a little bit worse today.”
The APA has been measuring American stress levels since 2006 to help the public understand what stress is, what are the most common sources of stress are, and what are the outcomes of stress but only began to ask survey participants about there stress in regards to elections and the future of the country in August 2016. Around that time APA member psychologists began to report their patients were increasingly anxious about the election, and the subsequent survey found that 52 percent of Americans reported that the U.S. presidential election was a significant source of stress. This was four months before the actual election.
“Part of why we asked the election questions was because our member psychologists were saying look, my therapy patients are really stressed out — particularly groups that feel targeted like undocumented individuals and individuals with sexual assault histories,” says Wright. “But I also think that, for us in the room as psychologists and as professionals, we were also feeling the stress related to everything that was going on.”
Since the election APA surveys has found that the election itself is a source of stress for 72 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans. Overall, Gallup Polls has found the overall state of worry for all Americans has risen by 4.1 percentage points since Trump’s election: These higher levels of worry were first evidence after the election, continued to rise in January, and increased further in the first month of the presidency.
Wright acknowledges that while stress is a normal part of life what struck her and her co-authors most while conducting the “Stress in America” 2017 report was that people were reporting more symptoms of stress, particularly fatigue, anger, irritability, and trouble sleeping.
“Over time, these are the effects that build up,” Wright explains. “When stress becomes chronic and doesn’t get managed or is sustained at a relatively high level, that’s when it can cause significant physical and mental health consequences.”
Wright hopes that by educating the public about the nation’s state of stress, that can get across the message that stress may be inevitable but there are active things you can do to manage stress. When someone doesn’t take these active approaches, that’s when they may be setting themselves up for health problems. Basic self-care help like getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and engaging in a social support network, Wright says, can go a long way to buffer stress.
She also says that while it’s important to stay informed and survey respondents do say they want to stay on top of the news, it’s important to acknowledge that can be a form of stress as well.
“We encourage people to put some boundaries around what type of news you consume and when you bring it in,” says Wright. “Stay informed but put some control around it.”