Counseling Center, student groups collaborate to ease student stress around election season


TPN file photo

Pitt’s Counseling Center has partnered with PittVotes to co-host events for the Pitt community during election season.

By Rashi Ranjan, Staff Writer

To all of the people nervously “doomscrolling” social media and news feeds for minute-to-minute updates on the 2020 election, Graham Dore said to stop wasting that energy.

“Don’t burden yourself by being constantly informed,” Dore, the president of Meditation Club and Pitt’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health, said. “Protect your boundaries with yourself, your time and your attention. It’s a very overwhelming situation.”

To alleviate stress and anxiety that students may be feeling during election season, the University Counseling Center has partnered with PittVotes to co-host events for the Pitt community. These events are focused around self-care, as well as Election & Reflection supportive drop-in spaces for students to talk about election-related concerns, according to Student Affairs spokesperson Janine Fisher.

Bernadette Smith and Ahmed Ghuman of the UCC hosted the self-care event “Your Vote Matters… And So Do You!” over Zoom last Tuesday. Smith, assistant director of outreach for the UCC, said while it’s important to vote, taking care of oneself is also just as important.

“A lot of us are emotionally and mentally invested in a certain outcome for the election, but the truth is really, only one candidate can win,” Smith said. “Just like it’s important that you have a plan on when, where and how you’re going to vote, it’s also really important you have a plan on how to take care of yourself on election day regardless of what the results may be.”

Ghuman, associate director of strategic programs and services for the UCC, gave students tips to combat the neverending inundation of information from social media.

“We’re being saturated everywhere … even if you open YouTube to watch a video to take a break, you see campaign ads before the video even starts,” Ghuman said. “If you ever start to feel overwhelmed or anxious or stressed and you start to notice yourself escalating, it can be helpful to ground yourself.”

Smith and Ghuman highlighted five key steps to reduce the stress that the election may be causing — unplug, be present, refuel, connect and do something. Smith said learning about ourselves and setting boundaries can help calm overwhelming feelings.

“The first thing is to really know what your limits are by monitoring how you feel after watching or reading news,” Smith said. “Recognizing that sometimes feeling occupied by national events consistently makes you upset can be an indicator or sign that you may need to cut back on some of your news intake.”

Along with creating a self-care plan for election season and election day, Danielle Floyd, the wellness committee chair for Student Government Board, reminded students about the resources on campus they can utilize. With Mental Health Awareness Month wrapping up last week, Floyd said one of the most prevalent themes was the need for all cultural organizations to have spaces where members feel comfortable opening up about their mental health.

“There are many student groups here on campus that care about our community and that students can turn to when seeking support,” Floyd, a sophomore economics major, said. “It’s important to support yourself and remember we are in this together.”

The outcome of the election will affect certain communities more than others, and Floyd said creating these spaces of support for students will be significant in dealing with pre- and post-election anxieties. 

“Pitt is comprised of students, faculty and staff of diverse cultural backgrounds, belief systems and political views,” Floyd said. “The main reason for the creation of these support areas were to provide a space where the community can deal with any emotions, such as anxiety, negative social interaction and anger, associated with the election.”

Floyd said she was happy to see how receptive students were to talking about mental health and implementing self-care in their daily lives. Students like Dore, a senior neuroscience major, are also working to elevate the conversation and dialogue around mental health in a more accurate and less stigmatized way. After the results of the election come out, Dore said PittVotes will collaborate with the Meditation Club for an event.

“We’re going to be doing a presentation on how to take care of yourself and how mindfulness and meditation can play a role in that,” Dore said. “We want to help people learn different ways to cope with the stress of this kind of time.”

Dore said tensions will continue to remain high also because the results of the election are unlikely to be known until days, if not weeks, after polls close Tuesday. He said not to spend time and energy on politics beyond the productive ways you can contribute to the election, like voting or volunteering at the polls.

“Taking all the politics out of COVID — just the fact that it exists — you have very little to no predictability about or control of the situation.” Dore said. “Though you certainly need to vote, at the end of the day, you don’t have much control or predictability about this situation, either.”

But for students who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, Dore said he understands and it is unwise to judge yourself for feeling that way.

“Remind yourself that it’s not a bad thing inherently for you to be stressed. It’s normal for you to want to make change and be fearful that might not happen,” Dore said. “Just don’t allow yourself to slip into a mindset that you can’t be feeling that way.”

Fisher said the University-hosted events are intended for students to create a self-care plan, decompress and foster a sense of unity to move forward as one Pitt community after the results are announced.

“Understanding the heaviness and the opportunity during these unprecedented times, we partnered with other departments for pre- and post-election events, support spaces and other UCC services to let students know you’re not alone in experiencing a wide range of emotions, that support is available through the UCC and other campus partners and to manifest Pitt’s Core Values,” Fisher said.

Dore said he wants to emphasize that the next few weeks are about trying your best to be kind, to be human and to see unity before seeing division. 

“I know it sounds really spiritual, but it’s a good idea to protect your mental health by seeing people as people before you see them as a political party or what they voted for,” Dore said. “Buckle down, get through it and just don’t add to the problem.”

For individual drop-in support Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or for urgent and crisis concerns, contact the UCC at 412-648-7930.