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Stressed Out over the Election? OU Experts Offer Advice on Ways to Cope

Stressed Out over the Election? OU Experts Offer Advice on Ways to Cope

American flag atop a flagpole over OU campus at sunrise

If you’re feeling stressed and anxious about the uncertainty of this year’s election, you can at least take comfort in the fact that you’re in good company.

In a recent study conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association, more than two-thirds of U.S. adults reported that the Nov. 3 election is causing major stress in their lives. And it comes on top of a year already filled with stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, race-based violence and other divisive events.

Scott Miller, director of the University Counseling Center and chair of the Norman campus Behavior Intervention Team, observed: “In many ways, the events of 2020 – COVID, both the virus and how it has upended ‘normal life’; ongoing racial divisions; the presidential election, politics, etc., have generated a great deal of additional stress on top of the ‘everyday’ stressors such as work, school and family life.”

This continual piling on of stress throughout the year is concerning, he said.

“Stress is additive, which means we can feel irritable, tired or sad because of a number of stressful situations that add up to overwhelm our coping skills,” Miller said. “It is completely normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed from time to time, and we need to be patient with ourselves whenever this occurs.”

Miller said there are several things we can all do to help ourselves make it through these difficult times.

“I think the first thing we need to do is identify all the stressful things we are juggling so that we can have empathy for ourselves when we are struggling,” he said. “Right now, we are juggling work/school demands, anxiety related to COVID and stress related to a very important election. If we do not recognize all the factors that are impacting us, we often get upset with ourselves for not being ‘strong enough’ to cope with the one event that we think is impacting us.”

Humans, Miller noted, are biologically designed to deal with short-term, not long-term stress.

“Eight months of a pandemic is a long-term stressor. A 16-week semester is a long-term stressor. Once we know what is making us stressed, we can then take action to deal more effectively with those feelings,” he explained.

Miller offered several healthy ways to take charge of your emotional health:

  1. Focus on the basics that you can control. Get good and consistent sleep; eat healthy, real food; and make sure to set aside time for physical exercise – especially if you can do it outside in the bright sunshine.
  2. Limit exposure to information that contributes to your stress (from social media, print and broadcast news, conversations with others). If you are feeling overwhelmed, turn away from the news for a time and distract yourself with something positive, funny or personally enjoyable. News about the elections and COVID will always be there to access later.
  3. Focus on healthy social relationships. Talk about your feelings with others, check on a friend who you haven’t talked to in a while, or set up a fun activity with friends or family.

“Remember that change and progress take time,” Miller said. “We are all a bit impatient and want things done the way we want them, now. We need to try and take the 60,000-foot view and remember that there is still a great deal of good and kindness in the world.

“We can also reach out to those who are feeling most impacted by recent politics and let them know that we love and support them. We need to reach out to friends and family and talk about our reactions, feelings and fears,” he said.

Counseling Services and Support

Noting that counseling services are available on all three campuses (Norman campus, OU Health Sciences Center, OU-Tulsa), Miller advises members of the university community to “reach out and ask to speak with one of our counselors if you need a safe space to process how you are feeling. All three of our counseling centers can also provide referrals in the community if that is something you would prefer. Counseling does not have to be a long-term commitment. It can be something where you go for a session or two to process a specific event to get some objective feedback.”

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is also available to provide professional and confidential help to faculty and staff.

Other Resources and Events

Of course, a university is a special place where intelligent, civil discourse on topical topics is highly encouraged. A number of post-election programs and supportive resources designed specifically for the OU community will be offered in the coming days.

For more information and to see a complete listing of programs on the Norman campus, visit Please note that some programs require an RSVP due to COVID-19 spacing restrictions. Masking and social distancing will be in place, and virtual options are available for many of these opportunities. For accommodations to any of these events, email

OUHSC and OU-Tulsa Student Affairs will be hosting “Friday Conversations” during the month of November, providing a space for shared community and support around the toughest parts of 2020. Friday Conversations will be guided by a licensed mental health provider.

November 6, 13 and 20

OUHSC: Noon-2 p.m. | HSC Student Union, Room 262

OU-Tulsa: 12:15-1 p.m. | Founders Student Center, Innovation Commons

OU-Tulsa last week hosted a webinar on civil political discourse with Meg Meyers Morgan, Master of Public Administration program coordinator; Brenda Lloyd-Jones, Master of Human Relations associate chair; and Rodger Randle, director of the Center for Studies in Democracy and Culture. Learn ways of effectively communicating during political discourse through this YouTube video:

OU-Tulsa is planning a Zoom and Learn, “Civil Political Discourse 2.0 – After the Election,” open to all faculty, staff and students from noon to 1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16. The Zoom and Learn continues the dialogue begun on Oct. 27 and featured in the YouTube video above. To learn more or to register, click here.

By Jerri Culpepper

Article Published:  Wednesday, November 4, 2020