The 2016 general election was an especially brutal one.
Americans on both ends of the political spectrum felt the divide between them grow larger, especially as the race tightened. Name-calling between opponents became a common ordeal. Friendships were ended. Alongside the cheers from Trump supporters, protests broke out in response to the results of the election.
According to the American Psychological Association, 52 percent of American adults said the 2016 presidential election was a very or somewhat significant source of their stress. The same report stated that 56 percent of millennials felt their stress was a consequence of the election.
Dr. Hannah Roberts, assistant director of community prevention and intervention services at Cal Poly, said that college students are prone to what she calls “election stress.” Many college students, she said, are already in a state of confusion and uncertainty regarding their futures. This uncertainty is exacerbated by political unrest.
“For college students, the question of ‘What’s going to happen to me now?’ is always an issue,” Roberts said. “For a lot of people who already had anxiety, now there’s an additional stressor.”
Graphic communications senior Morgan Grace said she felt the effects of election stress weighing down on her.
“[The stress] kind of magnified after the results came out,” Grace said. “It definitely sent me downward. There were a couple of days where I needed to just take a breath and take a break from everything that’s happening.”
Architecture senior Rodrigo Robles-Gonzalez said he’s felt confusion and doubt since the outcome of the election.
“The first week, I didn’t know what to think. I bounced around between being OK with it and being kind of angry and not knowing what to think or do,” he said. “As a whole, I’m doing OK, but I’m uneasy.”
While stress- and anxiety-related responses are common on campus, a much stronger response has also surfaced in some people — grief.
“We see [this response] a lot in trauma, where something has happened in your life that you didn’t want to have happen or where you couldn’t control happening,” Roberts said.
These strong emotional responses are not limited to students who voted against Donald Trump. Some students who voted for him are suffering the same psychological consequences, grappling with post-election sadness, anger and anxiety. Business administration senior Elizabeth Hammer said that even though the election results turned out in her favor, damaged relationships with her best friends have impacted her well-being.
“After this election, I had such an emotional response. I felt very dark,” Hammer said. “I was really upset that all of a sudden because of this person being elected, I no longer had my very close friends.”
Hammer said she believes most millennials hold the same views, but the refusal to listen to differing viewpoints has led to overflowing anger and animosity that leaves everyone in pain.
“To those people that are hurting right now, I don’t want them to think that because we’re on the opposite side, that we’re not listening,” Hammer said. “I just want people to know we stand with them; we’re not trying to work against them.”
Roberts suggested a few ways to keep the election stress at bay, including doing things that feel productive and staying off social media, especially right before going to sleep and right after waking up.
“Don’t stay stuck up in your head,” Roberts said. “Do something that feels meaningful.”