Politics Team Writer and Podcast Host: Zaina Padda
As we arguably enter the most important election of American history, it’s rare to meet someone who has not become heavily involved or interested with the current status of our nation. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (and, more recently, Capitol Hill’s latest outbreak), the series of Black Lives Matter (or counter BLM) protests, the wildfires, or any combination of the aforementioned are significant contributors to the worsening mental health of the general American public. The winner of the upcoming election will decide the future of COVID-19 in this country, the reaction to irreversible effects of climate change, our broken healthcare system, and human rights.
I’ve often heard “it’s a privilege to be able to focus on your mental health with all that’s happening in the world.” This perpetuates the idea that mental health isn’t as important as physical health, which is far from true. While yes, it is a privilege to be able to focus on health in the current state of our nation where issues surrounding health care are rampant, it’s important to place as much value on mental and physical health as you do all other aspects of life. Mental health heavily affects our physical health, shapes how we react to stress, and shapes how we make decisions. It’s important to remember that if our mental health isn’t in good shape, then we won’t be creating the best environment to enact change.
The CDC found that the prevalence of anxiety and depression have virtually tripled and quadrupled, respectively, when comparing 2020 mental health statistics to those of the second quarter in 2019. These numbers only get worse for people of color and essential workers, not to mention these two populations largely are intersectional with one another. With the election coming up, it’s recognized that the need for mental health care will likely continue to increase.
The rise of mental health issues isn’t particular to 2020. With the rise of technology, social media has increased symptoms of anxiety and depression in teens. Social media has always been a place to show off going to lunch with friends, to show how productive someone has been on a particular day, or just to post a picture for fun. In the past, posts on social media have been known to make some people feel left out of their friends plans, and more certainly causes people to compare their lives to someone else’s, all through a screen filled with edited and/or posed photos. But, now, with the rising issues related to politics, social media has now become a place of seeing how “woke” someone is compared to someone else, all due to what they are posting about. It’s hard to escape.
Performative activism is at it’s all time high- while some people are posting on their social media to spread information to those who may not have access to it, others are posting solely to seem “enlightened”, for lack of a better term. Yes, if you are staying silent, you are siding with the oppressor (in most situations- this is an extremely nuanced topic that we struggle to understand). But, not posting on social media is not equivalent to silence. Activism appears in thousands of ways- and it looks different for everyone, and we must remind ourselves that social media is not a mirror of someone’s real life. Teens and millennials are facing an external pressure to post graphics and other medias on their pages so that they seem like one of the “good” ones (another nuanced topic- you can’t deem yourself a good person, we all have to constantly work at bettering ourselves for the community around us). Activism has quickly become a game of who’s beating who- creating a toxic competitive cycle that seems to be never-ending.
What I’ve been facing- as I’m sure millions of other teens or millennials are facing as well- is learning when to dissociate from social media, or my phone altogether; especially after quarantine when it felt like it was me and my phone against the world (like, seriously, I was on my phone an unhealthy amount). I often find myself wanting to solve every humanitarian crisis that I see people posting about, and social media makes it seem like that’s expected. And while this is natural and well-intentioned, I am of no asset to my community if I’m not taking care of my mental health first.
It’s important to set physical and mental boundaries, something I’m just starting to learn. There is no health without mental health. But, how do we set these boundaries and where do we start? Below is a compiled list of *recommendations* (I don’t even do all of these) to focus on ourselves while also being aids to our community, if we are in a position to do so.
1.Get. Off. Your. Phone. At least for the first hour of your day. While it is natural to check up on what you have to do for the day ahead, I often find myself reading the latest news which puts me in a sort of “existential crisis” mode. Let yourself be before becoming a sponge that absorbs everything. It isn’t natural to know everything about everything happening. There is such a thing as healthy exposure!
Things you can do on your phone to help during the election cycle: phone bank, text bank, send emails to local officials.
2. Turn off your news notifications!- Okay… this one might be controversial but hear me out. I know we can’t “choose” when something crazy is going to happen and if we want to check the news a few times a day, thats normal. But, I don’t need to know what Trump's diet consists of and why that’s detrimental to how he rules our nation, and I definitely don’t need to be getting a notification about that. Again, we really don’t need to know everything about everything (I especially don’t need to know Trump has 12 diet cokes a day!).
Good places for “quick” news: NPR News Now, Need2Know, Vox Sentences
3.Have the conversations no one else is willing to have. But, remember there are certain people who are so stubborn that you just shouldn’t engage in any conversation about politics with them- and we all know who those people are in our lives.
Understand that not all people are ready to have these conversations, and it isn’t your duty to educate them. Everyone is on their own timeline.
4.TAKE CARE OF YOUR PHYSICAL NEEDS FIRST- I cannot stress this one enough because this is what I struggle from the most. Wake up from your full EIGHT hours of sleep and drink a full glass of water, have three hearty meals, take a nap if you need, limit your screen time, eat that junk food if you’re craving it. Do whatever you feel like (that’s safe for you and others).
Recommendations: Daily Water Tracker Reminder App, Sleep Cycle App, or if you’re not an avid phone user then use a marked water bottle and a physical alarm clock!
5.Take some time to yourself- whether that be working out, yoga, meditating, reading a book, sitting outside, going for a walk, making a phone call to a loved one, learning a new hobby, or literally anything else. Be your own person outside of the political world and election season!
No recommendations here because self care looks different for everybody. Remember not to compare how you focus on yourself to others.
6.Set some time aside for a social media break- take a week from social media, or set a few hours a day to not go on social media. Social media has become a high stress environment that only heightens feelings of anxiety and distress. What we see on social media is not something we can control, but taking time off is something we can.
7.And last but not least, vote (if you can)- This is the most important of them all. Exercise your right to vote. Vote for the people who can’t. Beyond voting, there isn’t a lot of other influence you, personally, can hold over the election. Voting will put your mind at ease because you did everything you can. Make a plan for how you’re voting- is it in person or through mail? When and where are you sending your ballot? Remember to send ballots in well before your state’s deadline.
Check if you’re registered!: https://www.nass.org/can-I-vote