AU students battle stress amid tense political climate
Counseling center expands services and professors enact more lenient policies in order to help students cope with stress
With the tumult of the current political environment, especially during and following the election, American University students expressed heightened stress levels as well as difficulty balancing schoolwork with monitoring election results.
“The only time [I] really looked away from The New York Times map and the CNN video [was] just [to] sleep, so I kind of struggled with balancing homework and election stuff,” said School of Public Affairs freshman Lisa Liubovich in an interview during election week. “I think I already have trouble paying attention in class, but this is just like a cherry on the sundae. It’s very difficult to pay attention when everything is happening right now.”
Sophomore Solomon Dubner, who spent much of his time leading up to the election working on Maine Senate Democratic candidate Sara Gideon’s campaign, agreed.
“You have this huge monumental event that is going to shape the lives of millions of people around the world, and you’re just glued to the TV,” Dubner said. “That one-page reflection paper, that stats assignment that you have, is going to seem pretty trivial.”
Jeffrey Volkmann, the executive director of the Counseling Center, explained how easier access to constantly-updated digital news could increase stress and ultimately cause a student to lose focus.
“The way the time period works right now, where we’re all in front of screens, I think for many people, there was some sort of [news] like The New York Times or something up at all times on their screen,” Volkmann said. “So while you’re in class, you’re getting this information, it’s impacting you emotionally, and then you’re also trying to focus on the content, and I think that’s a pretty difficult thing right now.”
Some stress among students was alleviated by some professors’ leniency during election week, including optional attendance, asynchronous activities and extended deadlines for assignments.
The Counseling Center also released resources to help students cope with election-related stress, such as an Election Stress Survival Kit and expanded drop-in hours and intake appointments throughout election week.
In order to de-stress, Volkmann suggested setting boundaries, eating meals regularly, exercising, listening to music and other forms of self-care.
“I think a lot of conversation has been dictated by what’s happening with elections,” he said. “There can be some time made to talk about things other than the election to schedule space for yourself so that you’re not just focusing on what’s taking place in the world [and] taking breaks from the internet for periods of time.”
Dubner echoed this sentiment and emphasized the need for free time in addition to focusing on the election and work.
“At some point, you need just an hour to unwind, watch TV [or] read a book, and I think the main thing was, I didn’t have time to do that. I did have enough time to get my work done to a good enough quality, I’d like to think, and to do my best for the Gideon campaign,” Dubner said. “But I think the biggest problem was after I had time to do that, there was time for nothing else, which was kind of hard to balance [with] work, school and [my] personal life.”