Until now, I’ve been too scared to say these words out loud: what if a victory for President Donald Trump becomes 2020’s next catastrophe? The buildup to the general election has been utterly chaotic, punctuated by Trump’s positive COVID-19 test, the New York Times’ exposition of his tax returns and the controversy surrounding Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. This election, more than any other, feels unpredictable. Despite former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead, I’ve spent far too much time stressing over polls and clicking through articles to gauge who will emerge the victor come November.
My anxiety is warranted. For many of us, a second Trump administration would mean a continuation of hatred and bigotry. We’ve seen him gloss over the severity of police brutality, tell white supremacists to “stand back and stand by,” and demean politicians of color by casting doubt on their birthplace. When your very identity becomes politicized, what is there to do but lose yourself in the results of an election?
But such investment comes at a heavy cost. By defining our identities on the basis of an election, we’ve neglected our own well-being.
Americans’ mental health has plummeted as the general election approaches. This is not unprecedented. In 2017, psychologist Jennifer Panning dubbed this phenomenon the “Trump anxiety disorder.” Recently, the American Psychological Association found that the 2020 election is a severe stressor for over two-thirds of U.S. adults. For some groups, that anxiety has jumped since 2016: 71% of Black adults identified this year’s contest as a major stressor, while only 46% did four years ago. Clearly, this election’s urgency has worsened Americans’ mental health, and understandably so. Our nation’s future depends on whether we elect Trump or Biden in November. It will redefine America.
A Biden administration would alleviate, but not solve, anxieties over America’s future. Our government would acknowledge the existential threat of climate change as legitimate rather than dismiss it as a hoax. Our president would condemn, rather than facilitate, white supremacy and racism. His Supreme Court nominees would aim to protect women’s bodily autonomy in lieu of most likely denying it outright. While some major stressors might diminish, anxiety as it pertains to police brutality, racism in the U.S. and numerous other issues will not disappear. Learning to manage our mental health in an increasingly stressful media and political environment is necessary whether Biden wins in November or not.
Much of our anxiety stems from the media — we’re desensitized to the tragedies, political mishaps and fear-mongering that have become the norm. We can’t allow our mental health to deteriorate as a result.
Set aside specific times where you’ll focus on the news and comb through articles, but make sure to carve out time for self-care and breaks from the media as well. We are only individuals; while you should do everything in your power by voting, donating and campaigning, there is only so much you can do. The burden should not rest on you alone.
Don’t let this election consume you. We survived four years of Trump, and whatever happens this November, our country will persevere. In the meantime, focus on yourself and your mental health. Instead of poring over articles and polls, devote your energy to something healthy and productive like phone banking or making sure all of your friends and family members have a voting plan. Don’t obsess over every individual poll; focus on aggregate data like FiveThirtyEight’s to see the big picture. Instead of allowing punditry to consume you, take a break from the media. When a sea of voices is overwhelming you, don’t neglect yourself.
Brammhi Balarajan (23C) is from Las Vegas.