The Youngest Adults Are More Stressed About Politics Than Any Other Generation

But Generation Z is also the least likely to say they'll vote, a new survey found.
10/30/2018 02:37pm ET | Updated November 1, 2018

Each news cycle in 2018 brings a fresh wave of hell for many people, but it’s especially taking a toll on young adults. Generation Z are the folks most anxious about political issues, according to a new report from the American Psychological Association.

Media reports surrounding matters like sexual misconduct and family separation at the Mexico border were very stressful for a majority of 15- to 21-year-olds, according to the association’s annual “Stress In America” survey. Stories about mass shootings were a “significant source of stress” for 75 percent of Gen Z.

But despite these concerns, Gen Z members who are of voting age were the group least likely to say they’d vote in the upcoming midterm elections. Some 54 percent of people ages 18 to 21 said they’d hit the polls, compared with 70 percent of adults overall, according to the report.

Researchers polled more than 3,400 people, asking questions about their news consumption habits, common stressors and more. The data were weighted based on U.S. Census Bureau information ― which included variables like gender, age, race or ethnicity, and geographical region ― in order to accurately reflect the voting-age population.

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The state of the country was a major tension point for adults overall, according to the survey. Approximately 69 percent of people said the nation’s future causes them significant stress, an increase of 6 percentage points from last year’s report. Most Americans polled ― more than 60 percent ― disagreed with the statement that “the country is on a path to being stronger than ever.” Money and work also topped the list when it came to sources of stress.

All that stress is not good for any of us.

“The bottom line is that unmanaged stress can have real health consequences,” Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, told HuffPost. “We’re seeing that more people are reporting physical and emotional symptoms of stress, such as headaches or stomachaches, and feeling nervous or anxious. ... While these common health symptoms might seem minor, they can lead to negative effects on daily life when they continue over a long period of time.”

“We know that taking proactive steps ― like voting ― can help people manage stress related to political uncertainty.”

- Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association

The lack of voting intentions among Gen Z adults was surprising, Evans said, given all the recent examples of political activism among young people. Hitting the polls may be exactly what they need to mitigate some of that anxiety around the news.

“We know that taking proactive steps ― like voting ― can help people manage stress related to political uncertainty,” Evans said.

But that’s not all you can do. Here are a few other tips for taking care of yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the news:

1. Ditch social media for a while.

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Yes, it sounds obvious, but it bears mentioning: If you’re stressed reading Twitter, log off for a bit. No one is emotionally wired to handle reading so much garbage at one time.

“If you are preoccupied by issues like sexual assault or mass shootings and it is interfering with your daily life, take a break from the news or limit social media discussions,” Evans said.

2. Turn to your body for clues on how you’re feeling.

“Listen to your body to tell when you’ve had enough,” Evans said. “If you are experiencing physical or emotional symptoms, it may be a sign that you are stressed.”

3. Give yourself breaks at work.

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Throwing yourself into your to-do list may seem like a good distraction, but you need to give yourself time off, too.

“Burnout will not help,” Evans said. “Research suggests that taking breaks can actually increase our productivity. For example, going on vacation can improve our job performance. Even just taking a 20-minute walk in the middle of the day can make a difference.”

4. Get involved.

This can’t be said enough: You can reduce stress by taking action at the polls and in your community.

“Channeling tension, feelings of dissatisfaction and uncertainty toward something that is meaningful and productive is a healthy approach to managing stress,” Evans said. That could include running for the local school board, volunteering for a cause that you care about or attending town hall meetings with your state and congressional representatives.

“Taking active steps to address your concerns can lessen feelings of stress,” he added. “Voting is another active response to feeling overwhelmed about politics and things outside your control.”

5. Cut the booze.

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Reading terrible news can easily make you want to reach for a glass of wine (or three, let’s be real). But be wary of excessive alcohol consumption as it can exacerbate anxiety, Evans said.

Instead, try turning to healthy habits like getting enough sleep, hanging out with your friends, listening to good music or going for a run. Then, you know, you can still indulge in an occasional glass of pinot.

6. Ask for support when you need it.

Especially from a therapist. There’s nothing wrong with getting an expert’s insight on how to better manage anxiety if it’s consuming your life, no matter what’s causing it.

“If you have tried these tips and are still feeling overwhelmed, you may wish to consider seeing a mental health professional who can help you develop specific coping strategies,” Evans said.

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