“Depending on how the election goes…” is a phrase I find myself saying very frequently. This year’s presidential election is the most consequential election our generation has lived through, and the outcome will in many ways determine the trajectory of our futures. As Democratic candidate Joe Biden says, we are truly in “a battle for the soul of our nation,” and the implications of this battle are on my mind constantly. The possibility of another four years with Donald Trump as president keeps me up at night, and when I think about how much as at stake, it is difficult for me to logically even make plans for what life might be like after Nov. 3 if Joe Biden does not win.
As we live through the heartbreaking loss and chaos of this pandemic as well as ongoing police brutality and public cries for institutional change, this election represents an assessment as to whether or not the American people are finally ready to start creating a government that will actually advocate for and protect everyone. We must recognize that the security of basic human rights, an adequate plan for reducing the spread of COVID-19, and the possibility of a last-ditch effort to respond to climate change are all currently on the ballot.
Your vote this year is a testament to your morals and whether or not you tolerate this country as it is under President Donald Trump: a crumbling democracy fueled by white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, environmental injustice, corruption, and the antagonization of science. Electing Joe Biden certainly will not solve these systemic problems, but it is an essential step in order for change to be a prospect in the near future.
Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that stress and anxiety are spiking as the election approaches. About a year ago, more than half of the respondents in a “Stress in America” survey conducted by the American Psychological Association were already defining the 2020 election as a significant source of stress. Today, more than two-thirds of Americans report overwhelming stress about the election, the political climate, and the future of our country. In comparison to the 2016 election, rates of stress regarding this election are much higher, especially among Black adults and adults with chronic health conditions.
In The Bates Student’s recent election survey, Bates students, faculty, and staff were asked about the degree to which they feel heightened stress or anxiety due to the election. On a 5-point scale with 5 representing significant stress, 36.1% of respondents reported level 5 stress, 33.2% reported level 4, and 19.6% reported level 3. The majority of the Bates campus is clearly feeling the mental health impacts of the alarming political climate right now.
The recent Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings also intensify the existing pre-election stress. When faced with a conservative majority Supreme Court, having a Democrat in the Oval Office and more Democrats in the Senate becomes all the more urgent. The 2020 election will be a turning point in history, as this electoral cycle will decide whether conservatism will characterize all three branches of government or if a balance with progressive values can be restored.
As college students, we are also at a critical point in trying to imagine our own possible futures after school and what paths we might want to pursue. This election looms as a determining factor for the kinds of opportunities and experiences that may or may not be available as we come of age.
Despite my own pessimism about the situation, I’d like to offer some advice and possible steps for taking care of your mental health as Nov. 3 approaches. Whenever I feel hopeless about the state of U.S. politics, I try to remind myself how powerful and dedicated Gen Z is. I try to reflect on this past summer and the unprecedented number of young people who rose up to demand racial justice. I try to remember that we all have a collective interest in taking climate action and working together to make sure our planet is still livable. I try to think about how we are the most social media savvy generation and how we’ve been able to utilize new tools for communication and education.
And we’re clever too… I mean, using Tik Tok as a platform for coordinating a widespread scheme to buy tickets for Trump’s rally in Tulsa and then not show up was an impressive feat. Gen Z has shown that we can bounce back and continue to be resilient in the face of all the upheaval that this pandemic has created. We have been forced to alter our lives during some of our most developmentally important years and have shown real strength in doing so.
In addition to finding hope in the energy of our generation, I think it is important to lean on your friends and family if possible during these stressful times. It can be super helpful to talk through your thoughts and concerns with others who can validate and support you. If these relationships don’t offer the types of feedback you need, you can always reach out to mental health counselors such as those at Bates Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS). It is not up to you to handle the weight of our nation’s problems on your own.
Lastly, try to avoid watching the news coverage or agonizing over different predictions, especially since the results of this election might not be final on Nov. 3 due to the increase in mail-in voting; these sources will only add to your stress. Try not to get drawn into the social media arguments, polling numbers, or frightening rhetoric from politicians. Obviously, this is all easier said than done, as we are constantly bombarded by real-time news and upsetting information every day. We will have to work together as a Bates community to be there for each other as we all grapple with our own emotions in the waiting process for this election.