By: Free Press Editorial Board
For many students, college is a time of high stress. All around campus, we see posters and fliers explaining how students can reduce their stress levels, especially around midterms and finals. Get outside, take deep breaths, drink some water. But what can students do when their stress is not caused by midterms and essays, but by what the future may hold for our country, for our own lives?
Earlier this year, the Free Press published a piece about students and community members who had been triggered by Trump’s words and actions. In that piece, we quoted sophomore student Emma Donnelly as saying, “As a survivor of sexual assault, I find it disturbing and almost personally insulting that people are letting him get away with this and think it’s normal.The fact that someone similar to my perpetrator has the potential to lead this entire country is just absolutely unbelievable, and is honestly my worst nightmare.”
Now, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that more that 57 percent of Americans feel the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress; 49 percent feel the same about the outcome of the election. This report encompasses all sides of the political spectrum. They also report that Americans living in urban areas are are experiencing higher levels of stress. What does this rise in stress levels, which started before the election, mean for students, many of whom have multiple identities that are under attack by the current administration?
Students struggling to cope with the day to day stress of being a college student may find it even harder to function in the current political climate. According to the APA, between August 2016 and January 2017, the average reported stress level of Americans went from 4.8 to 5.1, on a scale where 1 means little or no stress and 10 means a great deal of stress. This is the first significant increase in the ten years since the APA’s Stress in America survey started.
Stress doesn’t just affect mental health. It also affects physical health. The Mayo Clinic reports that stress can cause muscle pain, chest pain, fatigue and sleep problems, among many other things. Stress can cause increase in drug, alcohol and tobacco use. The APA document declares that the number of people reporting at least one health symptom from stress rose from 71 percent to 80 percent over the past five months: “A third of Americans have reported specific symptoms such as headaches, feeling overwhelmed, feeling nervous or anxious, or feeling depressed or sad.”
The USM community, which is composed of students from Maine, the country and around the world, is no stranger to the effects of the current political climate. College students are historically at the forefront of political movements. USM students have been participating in protests and rallies, including the Women’s March on Washington, as well as organizing events on campus. With what feels like constant attacks on our rights and lives, as well as access to terrible news on social media, how can USM students continue to cope for what could be four more years?