Woman looking anxious with speech bubbles surrounding her
Illustration by Sofia Reeves

Impending Nov. 3 election sparks mental health angst

states get called as blue or red on the electoral map as one of the candidate’s electoral votes gets closer to 270 can be thrilling for some. For others, it is anything but a thrill, rather a stressful event that causes election anxiety. 

One cause of election anxiety is the attention-seeking economy of the media. In the days leading up to the election, you may find yourself scrolling and refreshing the news, anticipating the latest October surprise. While young voters should stay informed, there is a limit to how much news we should consume. 

“It is important to ask ourselves, around the election, how much time am I engaged in this, how is this making me feel?” Chief Psychologist and Associate Dean of Students for Health and Wellness John Hancock said. 

As the election nears, Hancock encourages students to assess whether or not their news engagement is starting to affect their personal relationships, academics or other activities. 

Election anxiety is not new and impacts all members of the electorate. Before the 2016 election, 52% of Americans reported the election as a significant source of stress, according to an American Psychology Association (APA) poll. At the same time, 55% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans reported election-related stress in 2016. This year, the same survey saw an increase in election-related anxiety, with 68% of respondents reporting that the election is a significant source of stress. 

“(The election in) 2016 hurt in a way that lots of people were not prepared for, and many are expending a ton of effort to prevent having to experience that again,” Assistant Professor of International Affairs Matt Scroggs said. 

This year people are not just voting, they are also making a safe plan to vote. Part of that plan is voting early; so far, more than 59 million ballots have been casted. For mail-in voters, the plan is fairly straightforward. In other states with complex voting processes, creating a plan to vote is a strategy that can relieve some stress. This may include deciding what day and time you will vote or finding your nearest ballot drop box. 

But making a voting plan can be a lot more than a strategy to relieve stress. Many states are making changes to their voting methods due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of states are adopting the all mail-in ballot process for the first time. For some voters, there is the anxiety of making sure your vote counts or even having the ability to vote. Voter suppression in the United States, which primarily affects minority communities, has been a big topic in this year’s election cycle. A type of voter suppression that has been brought up most around this election is voter intimidation. In a Fox News interview, President Donald Trump suggested using a voter intimidation tactic by sending law enforcement officials to observe the polls. 

Political division can also make its way into the home, as some families and friends are unable to have civil discussions on issues due to differences in political beliefs. These familial divisions create a toxic, stressful home environment. Most importantly, it makes to it difficult to have productive conversations. 

“The more that things get politicized, the harder it is to have any meaningful conversation about anything across political divides,” Scroggs said. “It is getting worse now, with facts and science being politicized in new and problematic ways, such that anyone can find a source, whether it be an article, website, podcast, Twitter account, that will back up their beliefs.”  

On Election Day, there is a lot — or very little — that could happen in a short amount of time. Due to the mass intake of mail-in ballots this year, fear lingers that Election Day may turn into election week or election month. 

“Likely, we will not know with complete certainty who won by the end of Election Day, and that is perfectly fine,” Scroggs said. “It could take some time to get all the votes collected and tabulated, and if that is the extent of our uncertainty, we should count ourselves incredibly fortunate.” 

Whatever happens on Election Day, it is okay to be nervous. There are many ways to make Election Day slightly more bearable, such as limiting exposure to news and polls, finding a friend to talk to or engaging in service to others.

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