Many events have set this election apart from others. There are many moving parts, from the mass amount of media coverage to the political polarization among the two parties. Another factor making this election even more of an outlier is all the stress it comes with, according to the American Psychological Association.
Fifty-two percent of Americans 18 and older reported that the 2016 election is a “very or somewhat significant source of stress,” according to an online survey conducted by Harris Poll and released on the association’s website. The stress was not exclusive to members of a single party. Fifty-five percent of registered Democrats and 59 percent of registered Republicans both answered that they were “very to somewhat stressed.”
For college students, the stress can be especially taxing, said James Quick, leadership and organizational behavior professor. College students are a stressed demographic due to issue overloads and schedule conflicts, he said. Quick is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and has devoted multiple studies to stress. He framed a signature theory on stress management with his brother, conducted “Stress at Work” workshops and taught the “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise” freshman course to help students manage stress.
College student voters are stressed for several reasons. Political science freshman Macey Erhardt is a Hillary Clinton supporter. She said the backlash she receives from supporting Clinton really stresses her out. She said Donald Trump is her biggest concern this election because she believes he is extremely underqualified and is appalled by the scandals surrounding him. She isn’t excited to vote for Clinton, but will do so because she feels that is her only option.
Finance sophomore Kevin Moore said Trump becoming president concerns him because he is a reality TV personality, not a president.
He said some people close to him are stressed because Trump will crack down on immigration. One of his friends fears she could lose her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals permit if Trump becomes president. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an executive action immigration policy passed by President Barack Obama in 2012. It provides undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday and prior to June 2007 the opportunity to apply for a two year work permit and exemption from deportation.
“There’s not really a good option and I’m worried where the country’s going to end up because of it, and it feels like it’s out of my hands,” said computer engineering sophomore Chris Marks.
Coping with stress
Quick clarified that college students are not more stressed than their older counterparts. The difference is that older adults have developed more systemic coping skills for stress management, whereas college students are still navigating how to deal with their stress. Some college students may even turn to unhealthy methods to cope, such as alcohol.
Quick said there are a variety of things students can do to lower their stress about the election. One of the most prominent factors of stress this election is screen time.
Quick recommends students unplug for set times during the day. Students need to stay informed, but hour-by-hour election coverage and arguments on social media can unnecassarily exacerbate stress.
Quick recommends students set limits on the amount of election content they consume. For example, he reads the news for 30 minutes in the morning and watches the news on TV for 30 minutes at night.
Quick also recommends that students add regular exercise, prayer or meditation and healthy discussions with friends about stress to their schedules. Students should focus on other things that are important to them, such as academics, Quick said.
Stress isn’t a bad thing
“It’s one of our best God-given assets to deal with legitimate emergencies and achieve peak performance,” Quick said. “Stress is the arousal we experience when faced with a challenge or a threat.”
Quick said a healthy amount of stress drives students to be productive about the election through voting or volunteering. However, distress, the outcome of too much stress or not being able to deal with stress properly, can be unhealthy to both the mind and body. Distress can lead to anxiety and depression.
Quick pointed to the Expanded Yerkes-Dodson curve, which defines details healthy and unhealthy levels of stress in terms of the correlation between arousal/stress and performance.
The peak of the curve is where arousal/stress is productive, but too much stress or too little stress is unproductive, Quick said.
This is why voters who feel too stressed about the election or no stress at all may find themselves not voting on Election Day.
Put it in perspective
“The election is not going to kill you,” Quick said.
He said it’s important for students to put the election in perspective, which is a difficult task for younger adults because they do not have as many life experiences to compare to.
However, younger adults can still benefit from the practice and seek advice from older adults.
Quick said students can use this election to understand and master their stress.
“If they look at the election as a challenge or an assignment to understand, they can grow through the experience, and also develop their own critical thinking,” Quick said.