In the current political climate, few sentiments seem to cross party lines. Ironically, election stress is one of the few emotions to which all sides can relate.
Regardless of political affiliation, election week is a frustrating time for all. While politics have never been easy on the nerves, recent years have done nothing to help. With rising tensions, clashing party pride, and countless ads plaguing our everyday life, all on top of school and pandemic-related stresses, students will inevitably feel overwhelmed.
According to Mitchell Blink, one of Forest Hills Eastern’s counselors, the first step to combatting the stress we feel at this time is to “normalize it.”
“It’s okay to feel stressed and to validate it,” he said regarding our current political and social situation. “We’re dealing with things that none of us have ever had to deal with before.” With so much out of our control, it’s easy to be consumed by that anxiety, but it’s important that students continue to exercise control over what we can in order to maintain a sense of stability. Mr. Blink advised, “[when it comes to any type of stress, it’s important to ask], what can we realistically attend to in our control…?” Academically, stress can be eased by staying on top of schoolwork. According to Stephanie Thornton, Forest Hills Eastern’s social worker, it’s also crucial to control and maintain our physical health at this time.
“[Controlling] what [foods] you eat, how much sleep you get at night, and having regular routines can be really helpful with trying to keep more balance,” she claimed.
Last, mental health can be improved by budgeting time for self-care. “Self-care is the most important thing, and it’s unique for each person,” declared Mrs. Thornton. Finding tailored strategies for self-care is imperative for maintaining a sense of normalcy as we navigate this time of uncertainty. “Something that works for self-care for one person may not be what works for another person, but knowing what works for you is important to make sure you’re using those strategies and taking time for that,” she claimed.
Self-care can come in many forms. According to Alena Grieser, a licensed professional counselor at Insight Counseling Partners, “each person needs to navigate and figure out which [self-care method] works best for them.” Self-care can come in the form of physical activity, such as “working out, jogging, running, yoga, or playing a sport.” It can also be something more like “talking over coffee with a close friend or journaling…[or even something] spa-related…Things that can give us a brain break and give us space to enjoy [and take time away from] what we find stressful.” Even something as simple as “taking deep breaths or working through a muscle relaxation activity” can give students the chance to ground themselves and retain a sense of control.
Another way to exercise self-care is knowing when to turn the news off. “I would definitely recommend getting off [of social media]…because there’s so much that’s bombarded through it,” said Mrs. Thornton. Though the quest to self-educate is never ending and an important part of upholding our constitutional rights, Mr. Blink nevertheless declared: Don’t watch the news if it’s only going to result in you feeling worse. “There are better outlets for getting information that don’t cause as much stress,” he promised. “Seek those [ways] out if you want to educate yourself on anything political… [social media] is not one of them.”
Along with controlling what we can, we must accept what we cannot. Despite the drama of election day and the stress that will ensue in the coming weeks as mail-in ballots are counted, there will ultimately be only one winning candidate. Our votes count, but there comes a time where the outcome must be accepted regardless. And while that decision may lay out of our control, we must remember that the election of the president is not the be-all end-all when it comes to democracy and our values. “A lot of times, we can put all of our hope into a person and their plans and where they’re planning to lead us,” stated Grieser. “…there are other ways we can use our beliefs and advocate for non-profits, raising awareness… We must recognize that the end goal isn’t just one person, or one policy, or one plan… there’s a bigger system in place… we can use that energy to advocate and channel that frustration in a way that is helpful and healthy.”
Regardless of the steps one may take to administer self-care, political conversations are bound to continue between family members, friends, and peers. While these conversations have the potential of being helpful, they can often become personal, counterproductive, and frustrating. In order to create an empathetic and nurturing environment at FHE, students need to be able to call quits on interactions that may end up doing more harm than good.
“If students are feeling stress and anxiety… and are trying to balance that while having discussions, approach those discussions with a mindset of knowing your audience,” advised Mr. Blink. “[Ask yourself,] is this a discussion where my goal is to try and convince [the other person] otherwise? That’s likely not going to happen.”
Similarly, Grieser believes that political conversations can be viewed as an opportunity for growth, and can be beneficial when the goal is to have an open-minded dialogue versus a battle of statistics. “Go into [these conversations] prepared for differences and recognizing that it’s helpful to have [people in your life] that are different from us,” she claimed. [That way we can] become more open-minded and learn… that’s always the goal.” Mutually beneficial dialogues can be achieved by “talking about specific [policies and topics], not necessarily party related, and having an open dialogue as opposed to lots of trapping, close-ended statements.” That way, the division we often feel can be counteracted by common ground and a better understanding of the situation.
Especially in conversations with close friends and family members, it’s healthier to leave the conversation before it becomes too damaging for the sake of mental health. “Sometimes it’s helpful to have three phrases ready in times where you know there might be conflict,” advised Grieser. Phrases such as “maybe it’s better if we pick this conversation up later,” or “let’s come back to it another time” or “thank you for sharing that, but I know we’re going to stay on different pages” can be helpful when you get in difficult situations. “[Think of phrases] so when you’re caught in those moments, you don’t feel frozen,” she explained.
Heated debates can ensue with loved ones, and healing after a difficult discussion can take time. According to Grieser, a big part of the recovery process post argument is to acknowledge it happened. “It’s important to follow up with them. Acknowledge the argument, and thank your friend for the conversation, even if it was hard. Or, acknowledge the awkwardness and ask to move forward with your relationship… You have to decide what’s healthy for that particular argument and relationship, but it can be helpful to calm down, process, reach out, and name that it happened.” Especially if you’re interested in preserving that friendship, it’s important to be understanding and willing to accept differences.
The most important thing to remember, Hawks, is that it’s always okay to seek help. Forest Hills Eastern has resources available to help you through this difficult time. Talk to a trusted adult, or any counselor, and they can work to connect you with more experts. Through the dissonance, we must remember to work as a community to make respect our top priority.
“Respecting one another is the biggest thing,” concluded Mrs. Thornton. “[We must accept] that we’re not always going to agree… [through everything] it’s important to have that respect and be accountable for our own actions, so if we do make mistakes… [we can] do better next time.”
Though it is a lot to ask, try to view this stressful time as an opportunity to “figure out what’s most important” to you. “This stress could definitely be fuel for really positive growth and change,” asserted Mr. Blink. “A lot of times, that’s how a lot of good things can happen… With so many things going on right now, I feel like this kind of stress definitely can be [a way] for students to find avenues for change.”
Take a deep breath, Eastern. Remember your passions, take care of yourself, and extend empathy towards those around you.