Stephen Colbert (a late-night host who you should look up if you haven’t heard of him!) recently joked that under normal circumstances the presidency makes the president go grey, but in the case of Trump, the presidency is making us citizens go grey. Throughout this semester, I have explored the causes and consequences of stress in my blog. In honor of the bigly stress that Trump has caused me and many others in the past year, I would like to devote my final blog post to exploring three major ways in which his presidency has caused us to grey based on research I explored in my previous posts about stress related to geopolitical events, intergroup contexts, and technology.
One way in which we can measure the stress caused by Trump is to simply examine how people’s stress levels were affected directly by his election. Majumbder et al. (2017) explored which demographic factors put people at risk for experiencing stress and anxiety surrounding Trump’s election. They found that women, democrats, and low socioeconomic status individuals tended to experience more stress than others. Trump himself is not only the antithesis to these identities (he is a rich Republican man), but his policies and rhetoric also threaten these groups. Importantly, this research demonstrates that while stress can be far-reaching, it is also quite specific in terms of whom it affects the most.
Unfortunately, given the racist and sexist rhetoric Trump has continued to spout since assuming office, the stress associated with him did not end after the major geopolitical event of the presidential election. Rather, stress associated with intergroup relations has undoubtedly affected many individuals. Sapolsky (2004) discussed in his book the chronic stress and consequent health problems associated with poverty while others have elaborated on similar concerns associated with being a racial minority in America (see Major, Mendes, & Dovidio, 2013, for review). Constantly wondering whether one will be able to provide food for one’s children or wondering whether a doctor will be racist and fail to prescribe adequate pain medications are common stressors associated with these groups. One category of individuals who likely experienced similar stressors since Trump assumed office was immigrants. Trump not only put forth isolationist ideals, but also took concrete action to ban individuals from certain “terror threat” (read: Muslim-majority) countries and also to deport immigrants who came to this country illegally. People continue to experience uncertainty as to whether or not they will be able to stay in America, a place many have called home since they were children. This constant threat mirrors the chronic stress previously explored in other disadvantaged groups, suggesting that immigrants may be at risk for stress-related health problems.
The stress of Trump’s presidency not only relates to his message, but also to how he communicates his message. Unlike previous presidents who may have been great orators (ahh, I miss Obama!), Trump’s main line of communication with the country is through a near-constant stream of tweets. These tweets can come at any time of day or night, and may address anything as trivial as Trump calling Rosie O’Donnell fat to something as serious as North Korea’s nuclear weapons. In one of my previous posts, I discussed how use of information and communication technologies may be associated with stress for many reasons, some of which relate to the expectation that we are constantly available and connected with our electronic devices for work (Ayyagari, Grover, & Purvis, 2011). A similar type of stress may be associated with keeping up with Trump’s tweets. Given the volatility of this administration thus far, we are constantly waking up to breaking news, whether it is directly through Trump’s Twitter feed or indirectly through the 24-hour news cycle. For those who wish to stay informed, the need to constantly stay connected and check Trump’s tweets may be stressful in the same way that constantly checking our work email may be.
I’m only 24, but at this rate I might be completely gray by 2020! As we can see with just one example of Trump’s presidency, even when focused on one aspect of our lives (i.e., our political engagement), stress can catch up to us from multiple angles. However, it is also important to recognize that every individual is different—we are not all affected in the same way or to the same degree. While many of the macro level stressors discussed in this post are unavoidable, it is important for our health that we seek out ways to support each other, particularly those who may be most vulnerable to experience stressors from multiple sources. There’s no doubt Trump is stressing us out right now. Nevertheless, we will persist. Because as stressed as humans may get, we are resilient. And we will come back from this stronger (look out, 2018 and 2020!).
**This post was a reflection on the following three posts:
Ayyagari, R., Grover, V., & Purvis, R. (2011). Technostress: technological antecedents and implications. MIS quarterly, 35(4), 831-858.
Major, B., Mendes, W. B., & Dovidio, J. F. (2013). Intergroup relations and health disparities: A social psychological perspective. Health Psychology, 32(5), 514.
Majumder, M. S., Nguyen, C. M., Sacco, L., Mahan, K., & Brownstein, J. S. (2017). Risk factors associated with election-related stress and anxiety before and after the 2016 US Presidential Election.
Sapolsky, R. M. (1994). Why zebras don’t get ulcers. New York: WH Freeman.