As Election Day approaches, Americans nationwide are filled with a sense of dread. An August Washington Post- ABC poll found that 70 percent of voters feel anxious about a potential Donald Trump presidency, and 51 percent feel the same about Hillary Clinton. With polarization at an all-time high and most Americans left with no choice but to elect someone they don’t trust, the pressure of the election is starting to affect our collective mental health.
Regardless of who wins, this election season has been a stressful one. Every day the media brings new issues to light, and constant internet commentary is often overwhelming and disheartening. Politically active people across the country are struggling to stay informed, while also taking care of their own wellbeing.
Over 3,000 therapists signed an online manifesto this summer denouncing Trump’s ideologies, declaring that “Trumpism will undermine the emotional health of those seen as the ‘other’ in America — both historically denigrated groups and those whose turn will come,” and that his rhetoric “normalizes what therapists work against in our work: the tendency to blame others in our lives for our personal fears and insecurities and then battle these others instead of taking the healthier but more difficult path of self-awareness and self-responsibility.”
Psychology instructor Tess Yevka said she thinks some of the stress of this election comes from how it is reported on.
“The media tends to focus on the things that are the most riling or disturbing about different political candidates,” Yevka said. “You’re getting bombarded with the emotionally charged stuff. Which then, of course, seeps into our attitudes, our feelings, our thoughts, because that’s all we’re seeing. We tend to get our emotions wrapped up in politics; it’s difficult not to be stressed.”
Michael Ceriello, a political science professor, said that the most reliable, non-emotional news is found by seeking a variety of neutral sources.
“The more different places you get your news from, the more of a complete picture you’re going to get,” Ceriello said. “Especially if you are consciously choosing ones from different parts of the political spectrum. You’re going to get a variety of viewpoints, and that’s a way to dispassionately evaluate an issue or an argument from multiple points of view.”
Ceriello said that the current political climate is exceptionally “mean-spirited and partisan,” and that elections “used to be much more of a civic event.”
“People that are inherently more partisan choose their own news sources that confirm their own existing biases,” he said. “Fox doesn’t turn you conservative, conservative people watch Fox.”
Communications professor Molly Lampros said that when looking for reliable political news, it’s important to understand one’s own political biases.
“I’m mindful of the sources that are really politically charged. I steer clear of the MSNBC’s and FOX’s of the world that are just so rife with agenda. I find what I consider to be neutral sources. I think it’s all about sifting through the minutia to find quality content.”
Lampros said that traditional print media is often a more reliable source of information. She believes that well-established print resources, not opinion-based resources, do a better job of presenting neutral facts about debates, candidates and current events.
“The internet is an echo chamber of error,” Lampros said. “It is negligent to say ‘I’m just going to pop onto Twitter and select the candidate I will be voting for.’ There is a lot of fallacy and opinion.”
She also said that the power of information should not be underestimated.
“It is really easy to feel overwhelmed by a world that is overcome with chaos,” she said. “Take any top hot-button issue, and if you allow yourself to go down that rabbit hole you with leave feeling exhausted and likely dissatisfied. When you turn on the TV and see all these mass shootings and police officers killing people and politicians that are disheartening, it makes you a little depressed, no matter who you are.”
Stressed news viewers and readers should focus on positive and uplifting stories, not just doom and gloom, Lampros suggested.
“It’s our responsibility to be informed citizens in this country and I think that sometimes the truth is hard,” she said. “But there are things to be positive and feel optimistic about. Maybe we just have to dig for it, but it’s there.”
Another approach to gathering political awareness is to get it first-hand, according to Andree Mahalyo, co-president of the nonpartisan Clark County League of Women Voters. She said that the League will travel to government offices and talk to local candidates and representatives about issues. “We try to get to the source, the one who is making the decisions,” she said.
Yevka said she believes it is difficult but possible to be an informed citizen and manage the level of stress and anxiety that comes with it, but sometimes it is necessary to let yourself take a step back.
“Be curious rather than certain. Don’t be attached to other people thinking the same way you do. And, sometimes, you have to simply let go.”