Politics Causing Stress And Anxiety For Some Nebraskans

Politics has more people turning to counseling and therapy. (Photo by Brandon McDermott)
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February 18, 2020 - 6:45am

A recent survey from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows nearly 40% of people have increased stress and anxiety over politics. There are many contributing factors to the political angst.


Politics is everywhere these days.

The UNL survey shows politics is exacting a significant toll on Americans.

Figures show various reasons why people are stressed out. (Courtesy Kevin Smith)

Nearly 40% said they’re stressed-out over politics, 25% said they’ve lost sleep and 5% say they’ve had suicidal thoughts about the state of politics in America. It turns out there’s a lot of reasons why people are stressed. Matt Barros supports President Trump. He’s experienced stress and anxiety through social media. Some people when they get upset about politics, listen to music or go for a drive to let off steam, but other people turn to the internet.

“Hop on social media and try to destroy others. It’s that way of exercising those demons and they just spread that evil throughout,” Barros said.

He said the anonymity and lack of accountability brings out the worst in some people, venting to strangers with no worry about repercussions. There is a fear, he said, on the right, of being “doxxed,” when your personal information is spread all over the internet – your address, employer and phone number. In effect it’s a way to bully you. He said the internet has allowed people to create social networks to feel less alone, but some people use it to vent their anger and emptiness.

“They're looking for identity,” Barros said. “They're looking for a feeling like someone else is out there that thinks the same way I do."

Barros, who is from Omaha, has lost friends because of his politics.

“Everybody wants to rule everyone else,” Barros said. “Everybody has this moral code and everyone's doing it on both sides.”

It’s caused him anxiety since the 2016 election. He said he understands why people on the left feel the way they do. He felt the same way when President Obama was in the White House.

“One half is feeling anxious when someone's in office and then the other half is elated,” Barros said.

Cheri Zagurski calls herself a “liberal independent.” She says she’s a worrier with anxiety. She pulled away from social media because of people turning political debates into lies and name-calling. Political escalation has also happened within her own family. Before Thanksgiving last year, she told her husband and sons not to bring up politics at the family dinner.

“Somebody else brought it up and kept bringing it up until voices got louder and louder and we finally just said, ‘Look, we're gonna go because we don't want to argue,” Zagurski said.

She doesn’t think this will have long term effects within her family.

Matt Barros says politics has caused him to lose friends since 2016. (Photo by Brandon McDermott)

“Your uncle is still your uncle. If you want to have a relationship with him because he's the only one of your other mother’s siblings left, you're going to have to figure something out,” Zagurski said.

She’s found some relief by pulling back from news and social media.

It turns out psychotherapists are seeing an increase in people reporting psychological trauma based on politics.

Gerri Merck is a mental health practitioner in Lincoln. She’s seen a big increase of people seeking help since 2016.

“Politics plays a big role in that, because once you have your elected officials, there's very little you can do,” Merck said.

She was shocked at the number of people with anxiety and stress related to politics.

“I've never seen the polarization like this since the Vietnam War,” Merck said. ”It feels a little odd to have the country so polarized in the absence of that type of conflict.”

Merck said because of political unrest, there’s a fear of war, a fear of not being able to afford food, loss of rights and even racism. Elaine Allen considers herself a moderate-liberal. The political stress hit her family differently. Allen’s white daughter is married to a black man. They live in Arkansas. When President Trump was elected in 2016, her daughter was worried about what to tell her young biracial daughter. Allen calmed her daughter’s fears by saying they will love her and protect the young girl.

“By the time she's old enough to understand what happened, we will have gotten through this,” Allen said.

She said race relations in this country are causing many families stress. She worries when her daughter and son-in-law road trip to see them.

Majority of people find it hard to have political debates on social media. (Courtesy Pew Research Center)

“To think that I have to be worried about my family's safety,” Allen said.

Barbara Dewey practices clinical social work as a therapist from her house in Lincoln. She’s also seen an increase in people reporting stress and anxiety affecting their social, emotional and psychological health. A positive from this, she said, is that people are pulling away from politics and exercising more, eating better, seeking church families and meeting with friends they do agree with.

“What was missing was they weren't having dialogue with people of divergent viewpoints,” Dewey said.

So in effect they were creating echo chambers for themselves. Which helped them feel better at first, but she said it’s creating long term issues both in their personal lives and in society.  

“It's taking care of the individual, but it's not taking care of the greater good,” Dewey said.

She still sees a general angst with people when it comes to politics, but she said it’s leveled off.

Matt Barros, the Trump supporter, said he tries to reach out to the other side, to reach people, to see eye to eye. To ensure he isn’t living in an echo chamber. He has advice for those, like him, feeling anxiety in this politically divided world. He said tomorrow will bring a fresh day with something new to be anxious and stressed over. Then what?

“You can do nothing to stop it, you have no control. So why even apply those emotions to it in the first place?” Barros said.

Whether its stress and anxiety related to social media, family disputes, sexual assault or racism, politics is having a big impact on people in their communities and they're responding in various ways, with both positive and negative consequences.

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