Lincoln–(KFOR Sept. 15)– New research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that politics is stressing people out to the point of sickness.
The research, led by Nebraska political scientist Kevin Smith, is the first of its kind to look comprehensively at the physical and emotional costs of participating in political discourse. Nearly 40% of Americans surveyed for the study said politics is stressing them out, and one in five are losing sleep.
Previous studies have focused on issues such as economic costs in relation to politics, but Smith along with co-authors John Hibbing and Matthew Hibbing thought it was time for a different approach.
“It became apparent, especially during the 2016 electoral season, that this was a polarized nation, and it was getting even more politically polarized,” said Smith, Olson Chair and professor of political science at Nebraska. “The cost of that polarization to individuals had not fully been accounted for by social scientists or, indeed, health researchers.”
Smith said the results, which were published Sept. 25 in the journal PLOS ONE, are akin to a public health crisis.
“Quite a few of the numbers jumped out at me,” said Smith. “Twenty percent have damaged friendships because of political disagreements. One in five report fatigue. And it’s a small (proportion), but 4% of the people in our sample said they’ve had suicidal thoughts because of politics. That translates into 10 million adults.”
Because the study is the first of its kind, Smith and his co-authors plan to reissue the survey in the future and are assisting scholars in pursuing similar research.
“Politics is really negatively affecting a lot of people’s lives, or at least, they’re perceiving that politics is really negatively affecting their lives in deep and meaningful ways,” said Smith. “Stress is a real phenomenon that can have disastrous health effects. If politics is a significant contributor to the levels of stress that American adults are experiencing, then yeah, it makes sense that there’s a real add-on health effect from that. If we understand what’s causing it, that can lead us to ameliorative strategies.”
Some other finding from the research:
11.5% reported politics had adversely affected their physical health.
31.8% said exposure to media outlets promoting views contrary to personal beliefs had driven them crazy.
29.3% said they’ve lost their temper as a result of politics.
22.1% admit they care too much about who wins and who loses.
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