Election stressing you out? It’s OK to take a break


As the vote-counting process for one of the most divisive U.S. presidential elections ever continues to linger, feelings of stress and anxiety persist among the nation’s citizens.

Pitt leaders and experts gathered on Oct. 30 in a virtual town hall to give the Pitt community tips on how to deal with stress stemming from the 2020 election.

“Electoral Trauma: Prescription for Prevention” is the latest in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s “This Is Not ‘Normal’: Allyship and Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19” town hall series.

Panelists included Ahmed Ghuman, the associate director of strategic programs and services at the University Counseling Center; Andrew Lotz, a senior lecturer and academic advisor in the Department of Political Science; Clyde Pickett, vice chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion; and Kristin Kanthak, an associate professor of Political Science.

The moderators were Cheryl Ruffin, institutional equity manager for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; and Paula associate vice chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Office of Health Sciences Diversity.

Speakers discussed several topics related to U.S. political party messaging, racial dynamics and the root causes of election-related stress. 

This type of stress can manifest itself in several types of symptoms, Ghuman said, including:

  • Compulsively checking the news

  • Difficulty focusing on tasks at work and home

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Procrastination

  • Increased irritability

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion has created a website to provide the community with a variety of resources related to this stress. 

Ghuman and the other panelists each offered tips on how to handle the stress, which may come in handy as court battles seem likely after the election results are finalized. Some potential ways to cope with election stress include:

  • Avoiding dwelling on things that are out of your control, and focus on what’s in your control

  • Limit news and social media consumption

  • Get involved in issues that are meaningful to you

  • Spend time connecting with friends and family

Another way to cope with feelings of stress and anxiety, Lotz said, is remembering that there’s more to people than their party affiliation.

“One (strategy) is a reminder that you are not the party that you vote for nor the party that you identify with. Those are not the same things,” Lotz said. “The party is a collection of individuals working to forward an end. And you as an individual can choose to be connected to them, to the extent you wish to.”

It also can help to realize that a key tool political parties use is removing this distinction.

“If they can get you to believe that your party ID is you, then they've won,” Lotz said. “Why do they want that? Because parties want predictability. At the end of the day, parties want power, and that means they want to pitch a position that is sustainable and predictable.”

This realization can help bring more feelings of freedom.

“You don't have to accept the parts of your party that you may disagree with,” Lotz said. “The parties are going to try and treat it like it's all part and parcel — like you've got to buy the whole package and it all comes together — and that is absolutely not the case.”

Lotz echoed Ghuban’s point about focusing on what’s in your control, especially once the election finally ends.

“No matter what any of those outcomes are, the response is that your vote isn't the end of your engagement with the political unit,” Lotz said. “You get to go have your voice be heard. And that means finding ways to get your wants communicated to politicians. … Votes are actually a really crappy way of telling politicians what we want. They're really actually really crummy because they don't learn why you voted for them. “

Pickett said another way to address this stress is to create an open forum for civil dialogue about the election and various political issues.

And finally, there’s no shame in taking a break from it all.

“We have to take breaks from those messages and understand that there has to be balanced from this process,” Pickett said. “While the stakes are very high and while we have to be invested, certainly we have to take breaks and make sure that there are other things that we put our focus and attention on.”

For a list of other potential coping strategies, visit the Office of Student Affairs website.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905. 


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.