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Americans of all stripes see election as significant source of stress

Any one of the major issues facing the country can be stressful. And right now we are confronting all of them at the same time.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — The American Psychological Association (APA) began asking people about stress in 2007. 

Fast forward nine years to 2016, and it began asking people about stress in the American Presidential Election.

That year, it found that more than half of Americans surveyed - from all parties -found the election to be a significant source of stress.

And this year?

Dr. Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist with the APA, says in 2020 the number of adults reporting significant levels of stress has jumped to 68% with regard to the upcoming November general election. This includes a bipartisan swath of America, with majorities for Democrats, Republicans and Independents. 

I asked her why that number is so high this year.

"I think it's these compounding stressors that are really driving a lot of it. It's the economy, it's climate change ... it's the pandemic, obviously. It's the social unrest that's occurring. It's really all of these things that are happening all at once at a national level that feel very out of control, feel very uncertain, and are clearly driving a lot of the stress," Dr. Wright said. 

Feelings of stress are a direct result when something feels out of your control, or when you can't figure out the outcome of something.

An election, a pandemic, issues of race ... those are big, and out of any one person's control.

And feeling that much of a loss of control doesn't just hurt our minds, it can hurt our bodies too.

Dr. Wright says, "It can have pretty significant physical consequences ... like cardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity. And it's all in some ways linked to increased inflammation in our bodies that we can't get rid of because of the chronic stress."

Chronic because it's been weighing on all of us, for seven months.

She says, "When its chronic like this, that doesn't go away and those hormones and the neurobiological response just stays kicked in and it wears our body down. So it can look like frustration, it can look like anger, it can look like worry. And I think right now it looks like fatigue. I think people are just exhausted."

And the survey numbers show that too: 78% of respondents said COVID is a source of significant, constant stress, and 77% said the future of our nation is also a cause of significant, constant stress.

And again, this is across the political spectrum.

So if we all have this in common, what can we do as Americans, if nearly 70% of us are going through this?

"I think it requires an increase in grace and empathy and less judgement," says Dr. Wright. "I think that's how we need to approach it. I think we can all have different opinions about how to solve problems, but at the end of the day, we all experience similar emotion. And if we can connect on that emotional level and that human level, I think that's how we bridge some of these divides we continue to see in country."

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