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Fear of misrepresentation causes election anxiety

Presidential election causing 52 percent of American adults stress

Election anxiety largely arises from the fear an individual’s choice for an elected official will not adequately represent, or may even oppose, his own social, economic and other beliefs and values. Fifty-two percent of American adults say the 2016 Presidential Election is causing them stress, according to the American Psychological Association and its “Election Stress in America” poll.

Psychology Prof. Bethany Teachman explains anxiety frequently arises in uncontrollable situations, which are perceived to present some potential threat.

“To some extent, these qualities may routinely be present during election cycles, but to many of us, this is a year where the candidates have extremely different styles and positions and visions for the country, so the stakes feel especially high,” Teachman said in an email statement. “Moreover, with these large differences, an outcome where your preferred candidate loses can feel very threatening because it would portend years of leadership that do not align with your values.”

Based on data collected in an early August 2016 poll by Washington Post/ABC News, this election represents a particular trigger for many individuals beyond typical election-based anxiety.

Asst. Psychology Prof. Noelle Hurd said she believes Trump’s language has led to mental distress among marginalized youth.

“Trump has said many negative things about a variety of racial, ethnic, gender and religious — to name a few — groups that are already marginalized by society,” Hurd said in an email statement. “Trump’s comments reinforce negative stereotypes held about these groups and also contribute to increased divisiveness in our country.”

Hurd went on to state comments made by Trump, as a leader figure for the Republican party, grant credibility to the discrimination already present in our society.

“Trump currently occupies a position of authority as the Republican party’s candidate and thus, the opinions he voices are seen as more credible and powerful as many feel that he represents a large segment of our society,” Hurd said. “I think his hate speech has emboldened others to follow suit and engage in more explicit acts of discrimination.”

Hurd said several racially discriminatory acts which have taken place around Grounds this semester may have been provoked by the kind of rhetoric used by Trump.

Teachman states many of the topics covered during this election cycle may act as triggers to those listening and viewing the debates and election coverage.

“[T]his election cycle has been dominated in some ways with stories that provoke anxiety — threats of terrorism, gun safety, personal safety — e.g., tied to sexual assault — border security, economic uncertainty, whether health care and social services will be preserved, etc. — as a result, we are hearing about potentially ‘scary’ issues all the time and the 24-hour news and social media cycles can make these threats feel ever-present,” Teachman said.

The APA website offers several tips to help assuage election-related stress, including limiting candidate and election media exposure, political discussions and maintaining a level perspective.

“[T]here can be great value in taking some breaks from the endless loop of negative, fear-provoking coverage and discussions on social media,” Teachman said. “[B]e educated — some of the threats that are being presented do not reflect the facts; knowing when threats are being exaggerated can help people to make more realistic evaluations of how dangerous a situation really is.”

Both the APA and Teachman state one of the best ways to manage anxiety is to vote.

“One way to manage this anxiety is to vote!” Teachman said. “We want to feel like our actions matter and can help control a situation — our vote is one way to do that.”