For a recent poll, the American Psychological Association asked Americans, “How stressed are you about the future of the country?” The answer, on average, was:
The APA has been conducting its Stress in America poll every year since 2007, and the latest one finds that 63 percent of Americans say the future of the country is a very significant source of stress in their lives.
Even more tellingly, 59 percent said this is the “lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember.” And this sentiment transcended generations: A majority of baby boomers, Gen X-ers, millennials, and adults over the age of 72 felt it.
To help underscore just how difficult people perceive the current moment to be, the APA made a graphic to remind us of the most horrible events each generation has lived through, including World War II, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the September 11 terrorist attacks. And again each group all said now is the worst time.
The poll was conducted — in both English and Spanish — with 3,440 people throughout the month of August and has been weighted to reflect the demographics of the country. (Read about the methodology here.)
But there’s other data to suggest people are feeling pretty pessimistic this year. An October Gallup poll found just 21 percent of Americans are satisfied with the direction the country is heading in.
Also: Just look around.
In August — during the time the APA poll was conducted — white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, and the resulting chaos there left one woman dead. And the beginning of the year was filled with uncertainties: About the future of health care, about the future of American leadership in the world. “When asked what specific issues in our country cause them stress, Americans’ most common responses were health care (43 percent) and the economy (35 percent),” the APA found.
And it seems safe to assume the nation’s mood probably hasn’t lifted since this survey was conducted. We’ve had a historically bloody mass shooting that made October 2 the saddest day ever recorded on Twitter. And there’s been the continued drip-drip of news about how Russia successfully influenced the 2016 election, Cabinet officials resigning in scandal, massive debilitating hurricanes and an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, increased tensions with a nuclear North Korea, and a president constantly picking fights on Twitter.
Fifty six percent of APA survey respondents said watching the news is stressful. No kidding.
The APA hadn’t asked the question about whether this is the lowest point in US history before this year, so we don’t know how this year really compares. But other measures suggest the national mood probably isn’t at a historic rock bottom. In October 2008, during the worst of the financial crisis, just 7 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the direction of the country, per Gallup.
There is also some (relatively) good news in the APA survey. Overall, Americans are reporting around the same levels of stress as last year. On average, Americans rate their stress at a 4.8 out of 10. Though “Americans are more likely [than last year] to report symptoms of stress, which include anxiety, anger and fatigue,” the APA finds.
Young people are most stressed out of all. “Millennials continue to have the highest reported stress levels, with this year’s survey finding an average stress level of 5.7, a slight increase from 2016,” the APA reports. There’s no clear reason why (though two out of five millennials say the economy is a stressor in their lives). Boomer and Gen X-er stress actually went down a bit, on average, from last year.
Stress is awful. It impacts our health in a subtle, sinister way: keeping us up at night, keeping our muscles tense, and straining our hearts. Breathe deep, America. Breathe deep.
Or check out this live stream of puffins loafing around on a rocky shore. It’s intensely relaxing.