ABC News / YouTube How Donald Trump Has Used Twitter...
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Not a big fan of reality television, I never did see why so many Americans wanted to watch a jackass fire people from fake jobs on a weekly basis. Like most reality TV shows, The Apprentice appeared to be specifically designed to humiliate those lucky enough to appear on it. But The Apprentice took it one step further and turned the phrase “You’re fired” into part of the national vernacular. As someone who had to actually fire people in real life, I never found any pleasure in it and did not understand why the viewing audience would want to watch it happen to some stranger. Still, don’t, but in those days I had an easy out: I could simply change the channel.

Until the same people who enjoyed watching an idiot degrade people on television decided that he needed a wider audience and so went to the polls on November 8, 2016, and cursed our nation with his constant presence.

What were they thinking? That somehow this smarmy blowhard with a bad comb-over would become statesman-like? That he would magically gain the intelligence necessary to begin to understand how our government works? Did they think he could grow a brain or a heart in the few months between the election and the inauguration? Did they even think at all, or were they just hell-bent on owning those dangerous, politically correct liberals that Fox had been warning them about for 20 years?

If that was the case, then they should have been gratified when Americans began turning to mental-healthcare providers to help them deal with their increasing anxiety. According to a July 2018 report from the Canadian Broadcasting Company,

What’s been called “Trump Anxiety Disorder” has been on the rise in the months following the election, according to mental-health professionals from across the country who report unusually high levels of politics-related stress in their practices.

And while some right-wing pundits were happy to rename it “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” Trumpsters were often waiting in line to see the same mental-health professionals.

Apparently Trumpsters are not exempt from the increasing levels of anxiety. Our anxiety and disgust with their choice has troubled them as well:

Therapists around the country told CBC they’re seeing politically tinged anger and anxiety from patients no matter their political affiliation.

In Columbus, Miss., John Hawkins’s LGBTQ clients have opened up about their worries “that their marriages might be voided,” while Trump supporters in his sessions worry that liberals are trying to thwart a president who is “doing the best he can.”

His supporters don’t seem to appreciate that our anxiety is often due to the fact that we realize that he is “doing the best he can.” We just realize that his best is not even acceptable for a comic-book president. He has spent his time in office finding and destroying every semblance of honest government, appointing grifters to major cabinet positions from which they raid the Treasury for a life of comfort and ease while dismantling the departments they are meant to head. He is filling the judiciary with hacks and partisans, to ensure that the damage he does remains long after he is gone.

He has insulted our allies and praised our enemies. His trade war with China is devastating the flyover country that elected him, costing the rest of us a $12 billion payout in financial aid to the farmers who no longer have a market for their crops. Skinheads and racists all recognize him as a fellow bigot and are thrilled to have an easily manipulated idiot like him in the White House.

So, yes, liberals are trying to thwart this man, righteously so, and are experiencing increasing levels of anxiety and stress.

Of course, no studies have yet to be conducted on the public health ramifications of Trump’s behavior. Indeed, it would be difficult to isolate and study the broader, population effects of the President’s actions and control for other confounding variables such as actual policy changes. But it seems intuitively accurate to think that some subpopulation of the vast number of voters who were left horrified on November 9 might now be experiencing a form of toxic stress. This stress is perpetually aggravated by the belligerent, unpredictable, and sometimes bizarre behavior of the President himself.

Toxic stress is caused by prolonged exposure to stressful situations—violence in the home, emotional abuse by a parent, unstable housing, or economic hardship will damage the brains of children and young adults.  Adults in physically or verbally abusive relationships may also experience the ill effects of toxic stress. Toxic stress has horrible downstream effects.  It causes a prolonged activation of our stress response systems—which include hormonal changes and increased metabolic rates—that significantly increase the risk for both serious physical and mental illness. Think of toxic stress as the psychological equivalent of breathing second-hand smoke everyday for months or years.

Since his election victory, President Trump has infused stress and uncertainty into virtually every facet of American life. From travel and immigration, to healthcare, to small businesses and investment markets, his erratic behavior leaves millions of people wondering what is next. At the same time he and his surrogates flatly deny saying and doing things that were actually recorded. Offering “alternative facts” blurs the line between reality and fantasy and is a common form of abuse sometimes called gaslighting.

This political anxiety is something new, something that did not exist during the eight years of President Obama, according to the annual Stress in America reports of the American Psychological Association (APA), which began reporting on American stress in 2008. Back in those days, after the financial crash, Americans were more concerned with the economy than with politics, according to the APA’s first report on Stress in America.

Money and the economy now top the list as sources of stress for eight out of 10 Americans (81 and 80 percent respectively). Other stressors affected by the declining economy are considered significant sources of stress for two-thirds of Americans, including work (67 percent), health problems affecting the family (67 percent) and housing costs (62 percent). Job stability in particular is a significant source of stress for more than half of people (56 percent).

The following year, the APA also included details about the stress that America’s young people were experiencing. Topping the list of stressors for those aged 13-17 were doing well in school (43 percent) and concern about their families’ financial well-being (31 percent). Close behind were getting into a good college (29 percent) and physical appearance (26 percent).

For adults, money (71 percent) and work (69 percent) topped the list of stressors, with the economy falling to number three (63 percent). Health problems affecting the family (47 percent), housing costs (47 percent), and job stability (44 percent) continued to stress Americans.

Measured on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest level of stress, the surveys showed a reduction of stress between 2007 and 2012 as the economy improved. There was a slight but statistically insignificant increase in 2013 and 2015.

The report on 2015, Stress in AmericaTM: The Impact of Discrimination, examined the effect that discrimination had on the levels of stress that are experienced by the many Americans who are not young, healthy, straight white males.

Nearly seven in 10 adults in the U.S. (69 percent) report having experienced any discrimination, with 61 percent reporting experiencing day-to-day discrimination, such as being treated with less courtesy or respect, receiving poorer service than others, and being threatened or harassed. Within this report, discrimination is reported across subgroups of adults, including age, race or ethnicity,3 disability, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

[…]

For many adults, dealing with discrimination results in a state of heightened vigilance and changes in behavior, which in itself can trigger stress responses — that is, even the anticipation of discrimination is sufficient to cause people to become stressed.8 AI/AN [American Indian/Alaska Natives] adults are most likely (43 percent) to take care about what they say and how they say it, as well as to avoid certain situations, to cope with day-to-day discrimination. Hispanic and Black adults (31 percent and 29 percent, respectively) are most likely to say they feel a need to take care with their appearance to get good service or avoid harassment. Many adults also report trying to prepare for possible insults from other people before leaving home (25 percent of AI/AN, 23 percent of Blacks, 21 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of Asians and Whites).

[…]

The Stress in AmericaTM survey finds year after year that money and work are the sources of stress that adults most commonly rate as significant. While overall unemployment rates have been falling since the Great Recession, some groups are faring better than others, particularly White adults.14,15 With lower unemployment rates and reported higher wealth, White adults are significantly less likely than Hispanic and Black adults to say that money is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.16

Discrimination has physical effects on its victims. From a June 7, 2017, article in the New England Journal of Medicine:

Although their ecologic designs limit making inferences about causality, several recent studies have consistently found that living in communities with high levels of racial prejudice is associated with an elevated risk of disease and death. One study found an elevated risk of death among adults residing in communities where levels of racial prejudice were high.11 The highest mortality risk was observed among people who themselves scored low on survey measures of self-reported racial prejudice but who resided in highly prejudiced communities.

Another study conducted in 1836 U.S. counties revealed an elevated risk of death from heart disease among both black and white residents of high-prejudice counties, with a stronger effect among blacks than among whites.12 Research has also found that even an Internet-based measure of the racial prejudice in a geographic area — communities with a higher proportion of Google searches using “the N-word” — predicted elevated all-cause mortality among black adult residents.13 Similarly, research has found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people residing in communities with high levels of antigay prejudice had a risk of death three times that of their counterparts in low-prejudice communities.14

When you lead a campaign rooted in bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia, you have to expect negative consequences. From the same New England Journal of Medicine article:

The presidential candidacy of Donald Trump appeared to bring further to the surface preexisting hostile attitudes toward racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and Muslims. In a national (nonrepresentative) survey of 2000 elementary and high school (K–12) teachers, more than half of respondents said that since the 2016 presidential campaign began, many of their students had been “emboldened” to use slurs and name calling and to say bigoted and hostile things about minorities, immigrants, and Muslims.4 Not surprisingly, 67% of these teachers reported that many U.S. students (especially immigrants, children of immigrants, and Muslims) were scared and worried and had expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to their family after the election. Even some native-born black children whose ancestors have been in the United States for centuries expressed concerns about a return to slavery or being sent back to Africa.

A study done by researchers at San Francisco State University and Arizona State University after the 2016 election found that

One out of four students met criteria for clinically significant symptoms related to the election. Regression analyses suggested that sex, political party, religion, and perceived impact of the election on relationships were more useful predictors of stress symptoms than race or social class.

Conclusions: The high level of event-related distress is concerning because elevated symptoms of event-related stress are predictive of future distress and subsequent PTSD diagnoses.

The 2016 election of this two-legged monument to self-important ignorance and grandiosity led members of the APA to contact the organization with reports of increased political stress among their patients. So the organization started adding questions about the impact of politics on stress levels to their annual stress survey. It conducted a survey in August of 2016 and one in January of 2017.

More than half of Americans (57 percent) say the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, and nearly half (49 percent) say the same about the outcome of the election, according to an APA poll conducted in January.

While Democrats were more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs. 26 percent) to report the outcome of the 2016 presidential election as a significant source of stress, a majority of Republicans (59 percent) said the future of the nation was a significant source of stress for them, compared with 76 percent of Democrats.

Stress levels were reported as higher among the college-educated participants, at 53 percent, than it was among those with only a high-school education or less, at 38 percent. Regional differences were also apparent, with 63 percent of those living in an urban environment reporting increased stress levels as compared to those in rural areas (33 percent). According to the APA,

These additional stressors may be affecting Americans’ health. The percentage of people reporting at least one health symptom because of stress rose from 71 percent to 80 percent over five months. A third of Americans have reported specific symptoms such as headaches (34 percent), feeling overwhelmed (33 percent), feeling nervous or anxious (33 percent) or feeling depressed or sad (32 percent).

The issues that concerned Americans in the 2017 Stress in AmericaTM: The State of Our Nation included politics.

The 2016 presidential election season proved to be a somewhat or very significant source of stress for more than half of Americans (52 percent), as suggested by last year’s survey results. In the August 2017 survey, while money (62 percent) and work (61 percent) remain common stressors for Americans, slightly more Americans report significant stress about the future of our nation (63 percent).1

A significant majority of adults from both political parties say they feel stress about the future of our nation, though the number is significantly higher for Democrats (73 percent) than for Republicans (56 percent) and Independents (59 percent). And nearly six in 10 adults (59 percent) report that the current social divisiveness causes them stress when thinking about the nation.

The survey showed that Americans were concerned about health care, the economy, their ability to trust their own government, crime (including hate crimes), terrorism, and high taxes. Unemployment, low wages, and the environment were also stressors for respondents.

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). Additional issues causing stress for about three in 10 Americans include trust in government (32 percent), crime and hate crimes (31 percent), and terrorist attacks in the United States (30 percent). Around one-quarter of adults (28 percent) cited high taxes as a source of stress, while one in five Americans cited unemployment and low wages (22 percent) and climate change and environmental issues (21 percent) as causes of stress when thinking about the nation.

Across all ages, the majority of Americans, 59 percent, believe that we are living through the lowest point of our nation’s history that they can remember. The memories span the time from World War II all the way through September 11 and include “high-profile mass shootings.”

For nearly half of Americans (45 percent), lying awake at night in the past month was one stress outcome, as opposed to four in 10 (40 percent) who had reported sleeplessness in 2016. The survey also revealed a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who had experienced at least one symptom of stress in the past month, from 71 percent in 2016 to 75 percent in 2017.

Of the symptoms reported, around one-third of adults reported experiencing feeling nervous or anxious (36 percent), irritability or anger (35 percent), and fatigue (34 percent) due to their stress.

The latest report, Stress in AmericaTM: Generation Z, looks at the causes and levels of stress among the younger generation, those between the ages of 15 and 21, and reveals what most of us have suspected: Instead of the stressors experienced in 2008 over doing well in school, being liked, and getting into a good college, students today fear for their lives.

For a majority of Gen Z youth, gun violence—mass shootings and school shootings—are significant sources of stress. 75 percent of those in this age group report mass shootings as a significant source of stress, and nearly as many (72 percent) say the same about school shootings or the possibility of them occurring. Around seven in 10 Millennials1 report similar feelings about these events (69 percent about mass shootings and 73 percent about school shootings or the possibility of one occurring).

Their parents are not immune from this either, with 69 percent reporting stress from mass shootings, and 74 percent concerned about school shootings.

We are now raising a generation that is afraid to go to school, with good cause, because the Republicans, at all levels of government, feel that the NRA is more important than their lives. MAGA indeed.

The APA includes methods for dealing with our heavy stress load in each one of its surveys. Most professionals recommend exercise and occasionally disconnecting from the internet.

I think we need to encourage our elected representatives to change the direction in which we are headed. Exercise is not enough to save us. Nor is Robert Mueller (although one can always hope). We need to form a government that we can forget about. One that does not demand our attention all day, every day. One that can govern fairly, openly, and honestly.

Damn, I miss President Obama.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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