The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation just released a wide-ranging survey on the prevalence and causes of stress in the United States. Overall, 86 percent of Americans say they’ve been stressed out in the past month, with 26 percent saying they’ve experienced a great deal of stress.
When it comes to major stressful life events, health-related issues top the list: More than four in 10 respondents who said they experienced a major stressful event in the past year cited health concerns as the primary stressor.
But the survey also asked about smaller, daily stressors — the little exasperations that can add up to a miserable day. And here something surprising emerges: Americans cited “hearing about what the government or politicians are doing” as the most frequent daily stressor on their lives, and at a substantially higher rate than the usual annoyances like commuting, chores and general schedule-juggling.
Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard and one of the authors of the study, sees two things happening here. “First, the nature of news has become much more confrontational in domestic and international coverage,” he said in an email. “Secondly, we are also at a high point of public distrust and disdain for elected officials and seeing them on the news is stressful for a share of Americans.”
We’re saturated with 24-hour news coverage of our government and politicians, many of whom we have extremely negative feelings toward. So it’s natural that when they show up on our TV screens — which we’re glued to about three hours a day — we experience a range of negative emotions. Frustration, anger, stress.
And much of that emotional response is justified. As if it weren’t enough that our politicians are actively working to harm the global economy and otherwise failing to do their jobs or even show up for work in general, they’re also stressing everyone out with the astonishing breadth and depth of their incompetence. And since high stress is linked to shorter life expectancy, they are also literally killing us with their incompetence.
In other words, thanks, Mr. President and everyone in Congress.
Christopher Ingraham is graphics editor for The Washington Post.