"On the news yesterday, they revealed a potential neo-Nazi plot against Barack Obama, and then they gave more details on the racially-motivated Ashley Todd hoax. It made my heart pound. My blood pressure rose precipitously," said anthropologist Wende Marshall, professor of public health sciences, University of Virginia.
Barack Obama's candidacy represents a pivotal moment in history, and many African American women are having a visceral reaction to the final, frantic days of the presidential campaign.
"I'm completely stressed out," said military wife Candy Hayes, a former Detroiter who now lives in Suffolk, Va. Her husband has been in the service for 30 years, and had hoped to retire next year. "We can't plan our future until we know who won the election. If John McCain wins, the retirement is postponed, and we won't get a chance to do the things we were hoping to do," Hayes told OffTheBus.
Belinda Moses is a single parent of two "great students." One is in college, the other is ready to go. "I already owe $23,000 in student loans. I share a car with my elderly father, who is watching his retirement nest egg slip away in the declining stock market. My disabled brother, who depends on me to advocate for his medical needs, has had five surgeries since January."
With so many people depending on her, Moses is furious at the McCain-Palin ticket. "How dare they focus on the frivolity of what somebody's pastor said, when lives like mine are hanging in the balance? What if some day my dad can't pay his portion of our mortgage? What if my brother has to move in so I can take care of him? Then what?" asked the health systems manager from Tacoma, Wa.
When an election gets this personal, it creates anxiety. Last week, Marshall visited her physician, who recommended increasing the dose of her hypertension medicine until after the election. "My doctor said many of her African American patients had higher than normal blood pressure readings this month, mostly due to the election," Marshall told OffTheBus through the Eyes and Ears feature.
Dr. Norm Oliver has observed the same phenomenon in his practice. "Many African Americans have become emotionally involved in Senator Obama's bid for the presidency, and it's creating stress. If he wins, we win. If he loses, it feels like a victory for racism. As you might imagine, this makes the stakes very high and very personal. Watching the polls has become an anxiety-producing activity."
Virginia Moore recently lost her home. To feed her four children, she sells newspapers in Washington D.C. "Food is so expensive now! I think Obama understands this better than McCain does." Moore watched the presidential debates and "got a good feeling about Obama. I think he'll straighten out the housing mess, and I like that he won't let anyone touch Medicaid or Social Security." Moore told OffTheBus she suffers from hypertension, and is having a difficult time controlling her blood pressure these days.
African Americans are at higher risk for hypertension
Hypertension is significantly more prevalent among African Americans than whites (44/28 percent), and the racial disparity is growing. "The stress being felt in this particular instance is the stress of being black in America. It expresses itself through higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, infant mortality, and certain cancers," said Dr. Oliver, a professor of family medicine at the University of Virginia. "A growing body of literature in biomedical science indicates that the stress of racial discrimination has become embodied in African Americans, and in African American women in particular."
Moni Law, a lawyer from Seattle, agrees. She told OffTheBus that African American women have "internalized a lot of stress over the generations. But we are also strong, with a stubborn tenacity. We love to celebrate the joy of endurance and survival."
Dawn Jennings, a former marine from Quantico, Va., told OffTheBus, "Oh, yes, I'm feeling the stress, too! But it's not just me and my female friends. My white friend Buddy and his friends are just as consumed with the election and whether or not it will be stolen from us again."
Tonya Smith told OffTheBus she worries about the entire Obama family, especially the children. "As African Americans, we knew their safety was going to be an issue -- a paralyzing issue at first, one that allowed fear to trump hope. But now, as Election Day grows closer, there is excitement in the air for everyone, of all races. We are on the cusp of something amazing, something that will show the world we're serious about change in the United States."
Stephanie Lipscomb works as a bank vice president in the eclectic Washington D.C. neighborhood nicknamed Borderstan. Of the financial crisis, Lipscomb said she has "never seen anything like it. All those no-documentation loans are proof of the careless way our country was being run." Driving through scenic Annapolis, Md., with her family, Lipscomb couldn't help but notice all the McCain signs in front of big beautiful houses. "Don't they want to keep those homes?" she asked. "Don't they see where we're headed?"
Lipscomb told OffTheBus that her life these days is "practically falling apart," but she's not anxious about the election. In fact, she's excited. "Barack Obama has united all kinds of people. I really believe this man can pull it all together. And I believe he will go line by line through the budget and hold people accountable."
"We'll get through this. Better days are ahead."
Expert advice on how to relax
The high pitch of a presidential election in its final days is enough to rattle anyone's composure. If you have hypertension, please remember to check your blood pressure regularly. Also try to keep the election in perspective: neither candidate is as good or as bad as he seems. Dr. Oliver offers the following relaxation tips:
-- Cut back on watching the news, especially shows that focus on election coverage.
-- Go for a walk, because walking delivers some of the same benefits as anti-depressants.
-- Spend time with family and friends just to have fun, and don't talk about politics.
-- Pray, meditate, or engage in some other relaxing endeavor.
-- Be proactive: volunteer to work on election day.
For more posts on Election Anxiety, click here.