Paying Attention To Politics? You’re Probably Really Stressed Out

In a new survey, Americans cite politics and the news as the biggest sources of stress in their lives.

Stressed Out

According to a new study, politics and the news are really stressing people out:

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation just released a wide-ranging surveyon the prevalence and causes of stress in the U.S. Overall, 86 percent of Americans say they’ve been stressed out in the past month, with 26 percent saying they’ve experienced a great deal of stress.

When it comes to major stressful life events, health-related issues top the list: More than 4 in 10 respondents who said they experienced a major stressful event in the past year cited health concerns as the primary stressor.

But the survey also asked about smaller, daily stressors — the little exasperations that can add up to a miserable day. And here something surprising emerges: Americans cited “hearing about what the government or politicians are doing” as the most frequent daily stressor on their lives, and at a substantially higher rate than the usual annoyances like commuting, chores and general schedule-juggling.

Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard and one of the authors of the study, sees two things happening here. “First, the nature of news has become much more confrontational in domestic and international coverage,” he said in an email. “Secondly, we are also at a high point of public distrust and disdain for elected officials and seeing them on the news is stressful for a share of a Americans.”

We’re saturated with 24-hour news coverage of our government and politicians, many of whom we have extremely negative feelings toward. So it’s natural that when they show up on our TV screens – which we’re glued to about 3 hours a day - we experience a range of negative emotions. Frustration, anger, even stress.

The chart tells the tale:

Stress Chart

Kevin Drum wants follow-up:

[B]oy howdy, does this beg for a follow-up. I really, really want to know what news sources cause the most stress. Is it listening to NPR? Watching Fox News? Getting your daily Limbaugh fix? Reading Kevin Drum’s blog?

Perhaps the mere act of making you think about this is, at this very moment, making you red in the face. Then again, maybe not. I want to know more. Who’s most stressed out by the news? Liberals? Conservatives? Everyone? And what outlets cause the most stress? Obviously my money is on the Drudge/Fox/Limbaugh axis, but maybe I’d be surprised. I want to hear more about this.

I would suspect that such a follow up would find that there is at least some correlation between people who limit their news and information diet to largely partisan sources on either side of the aisle and the amount of stress created by watching daily news events. For one thing, people like that in my experience also tend to be people who spend more time following political news generally, so there are going to be more opportunities for them to become outraged. More importantly, these partisan news and information sources have gotten to the point where generating and feeding off of political outrage is basically their bread and butter. So, the more you watch networks like Fox and MSNBC, and the more you read hard right or hard left blogs, the more outraged you’re going to become, and the more outraged you become the more stressed out you’re likely to become.

That begin said, it seems obvious that the phenomenon that the survey captures here can’t be fully explained just by people who limit their news consumption to partisan media, or even who pay a lot of attention to news and politics. As Andrew Sullivan notes, there is a heck of a lot to be stressful about in the news today, whether its whats going on internationally in places such as Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, or Israel, or pretty much any domestic issue which unfailingly gets reduced to little more than a partisan political fight that ends up accomplishes nothing. Politicians in both parties run for office promising to “get things done,” and yet unfailingly end up in Washington involved in the same stupid arguments over the same stupid issues. Even someone who only watching relatively brief snippets of the news is going to find themselves getting stressed out by the stupidity they see on a regular basis.

Since it’s unlikely that politics and the news are going to become less stressful any time soon, I suppose Sullivan’s advice is the best course of action:

My response is to try and compartmentalize it so I don’t get completely stressed out, or upset, or just exhausted by the noise. You want to know why I insist on getting to Ptown every summer and not leaving? It’s the yin to the yang of the arena. Without it, I’ve only got the hubby, the hounds, and Angry Birds.

I’d say the Yankees are one of my distractions, but that’s just been a source of stress lately itself. At least the NFL and College Football will be back to take some attention away from what is likely to be another painful run-up to the midterms in November.

FILED UNDER: Health, Media, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    STRESSED??!!??…I’m not stressed. Who are you calling stressed? I’m not stressed. It’s those #*^&#*^~!!! right-wing pinkos that are stressed. Not me. I’m calm. I don’t get stressed. So stop accusing me of being stressed.

  2. John Peabody says:

    STRESSED??!!??…I’m not stressed. Who are you calling stressed? I’m not stressed. It’s those #*^&#*^~!!! left-wing pinkos that are stressed. Not me. I’m calm. I don’t get stressed. So stop accusing me of being stressed.

  3. Matt Bernius says:

    STRESSED??!!??…I’m not stressed. Who are you calling stressed? I’m not stressed. It’s those #*^&#*^~!!! can’t make a decision, no ideological core moderates and independents that are stressed. Not me. I’m calm. I don’t get stressed. So stop accusing me of being stressed.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    So…same person, different names?

  5. Eric Florack says:

    Yes, By all means, let’s ignore reality and get swept up in the World Cup.

  6. Matt Bernius says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    Oy… don’t start any conspiracy theories.

    On the substance of the article, I’m a bit surprised that health and financial issues don’t appear on that chart. Of course that might be because its meant to represent daily activities.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Apparently some senses of humor went missing this weekend.

  8. Rick DeMent says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Yes, By all means, let’s ignore reality and get swept up in the World Cup.

    .. or ignore reality and read fox News, WND, and Red State for information.

  9. CSK says:

    I wonder if some of the stress generated by reading about politics or watching political programs might not be beneficial for some people, in keeping their minds active. My father’s still yelling at the tv–and he’s 94.

  10. ernieyeball says:

    October 1962. I was 14.

    The United States requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on October 25. US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson confronted Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin in an emergency meeting of the SC challenging him to admit the existence of the missiles. Ambassador Zorin refused to answer. The next day at 10:00 pm EDT, the United States raised the readiness level of SAC forces to DEFCON 2. For the only confirmed time in US history, while the B-52 bombers went on continuous airborne alert, the B-47 medium bombers were dispersed to various military and civilian airfields, and made ready to take off, fully equipped, on 15 minutes’ notice. One-eighth of SAC’s 1,436 bombers were on airborne alert, some 145 intercontinental ballistic missiles stood on ready alert, while Air Defense Command (ADC) redeployed 161 nuclear-armed interceptors to 16 dispersal fields within nine hours with one-third maintaining 15-minute alert status. Twenty-three nuclear-armed B-52s were sent to orbit points within striking distance of the Soviet Union so that the latter might observe that the US was serious. Jack J. Catton later estimated that about 80% of SAC’s planes were ready for launch during the crisis;..

    I clearly remember listening to the radio in my dad’s donut shop.

    There are reports that the missles are out of their silos.

    Talk about stress!
    “Why would the Russians target Danville, Illinois?” I pondered.
    “Well I guess the radiation clouds from Chicago and Indianopolis and St. Louis will get us all for sure.”
    Now that I think of it. General Motors had an auto plant in Danville. I want to say they produced Corvettes. It might have been a worthy target for a megaton or two of a Socialist warhead.

  11. rudderpedals says:

    @Matt Bernius: No, your surprise is justified. The question asks about stressors in the last month. I share your surprise. For ex, 1 out of 4 had car issues and 1 in 20 felt stress induced by their fandom but in the last month no one had money or health issues?

  12. Pinky says:

    @Matt Bernius: This excerpted section of the study was about sources of daily stress. The major sources of stress over the past year were more like what you’d expect – health was by far the greatest long-term stressor.

  13. CSK says:


    Yeah, I always wondered what good crawling under my desk was gonna do if the Russkis decided to drop the big one right on top of John Quincy Adams Elementary. I also wondered why they’d bother wasting a bomb.

  14. Matt Bernius says:

    Thanks Pinky, working on getting a project out and haven’t had time to read the initial survey.

  15. beth says:

    I was pretty stressed at one point last month. Waiting at the garage for three hours to get my car fixed while Fox News blared on the tv. Was I more upset at the $1600 repair bill or listening to Elizabeth Hasselback whine about Obama? It’s a toss up. Life is a series of stresses these days it seems.

  16. Tillman says:

    Politics isn’t anything but a source of stress. That’s the whole point.

  17. C. Clavin says: