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Campaign season is picking up. Political teams are assembling. Fundraising deadlines are approaching. The intensity of campaign life will only increase in events, fire drills, phone banks and canvasses, endorsement meetings, forums and Twittersations.
Simultaneously, what will decrease are feelings of time, rest and spontaneous fun. This is an equation for stress and burnout. You know it’s true; we’ve all been there.
Though often dismissed as secondary, vital to staff’s effectiveness during a campaign is an ongoing commitment to health. Wellness practices are accessible mental, physical and emotional pauses from the daily demands of campaign life. They’re tools by which we can perform at our best, and cultivate the needed resilience to win.
Having a hard time finding a moment to breathe amid the intensity? Not to worry. Here are some science-based solutions beyond the usual drink more water, move your body and prioritize sleep (which I also highly recommend).
Even a few minutes of focused wellness practice can significantly reduce stress, and increase your performance and happiness. Go ahead, try these five stress reducers on for size.
1. Take a 60-Second Breather Break
Set a timer for one minute. Before you press "start,” begin breathing normally in and out. After two-to-three cycles, start the timer and count each breath on the exhale. When the timer goes off, how many breaths did you take? In any moment when you feel yourself revving up, pause and breathe that number of times. After all, who doesn't have just 60 seconds? Rather than sending that reactionary text, take a minute-long breather. Re-center between engagements rather than grabbing that fourth cup of coffee. You’ll feel the difference.
Why it works: Our bodies and minds ramp up on adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) in campaigns often when we’d benefit from ramping down. This makes us stressed, anxious and angry. This fight-or-flight mode can impair judgment, interpersonal skills and health. Slowing down equalizes anxiety levels, sharpens focus and builds resilience.
2. Write Down Three Good Things
Grab a pen and piece of paper or start an Evernote specifically for capturing daily goodies. Reflect on your day. What went well? What are you proud of? Who made you smile? What challenges did you overcome? How did your team work together? Write them down – at least three. Reread and enjoy.
Why it works: With campaign’s volatility, it’s easy to focus on what went wrong and dismiss what went right. Writing down three good things directs attention on life’s positives, which changes your emotional state from negative to appreciative, and energizes. Research attributes positive emotions to increasing happiness immediately after and up to six months later with regular practice.
Who do you need around you to keep you happy, healthy and grounded? Make a list of the people you need to be full tilt. Ensure that you’re connecting with at least one of those people each day in a reciprocal way: Face time, grabbing a bite, active listening, hugs and such.
Why it works: Campaign life can be insidiously isolating. We’re social creatures built to connect. Asking for and accepting support reduces feelings of loneliness. Genuine connection increases oxytocin (the “feel good” or “trust” hormone). This shifts us into a place of psychological safety, where we thrive.
4. Go Tech-Free
Don't freak. If you do, you may be addicted to your smartphone, which is another issue. Go bit by bit. Establish rooms in your house or office as tech-free zones like the bathroom, giving you a few moments of quiet and saving you the embarrassment of calling for yet another phone.
Institute a device-free team huddle once a week. Take lunch — and just eat. Drive to work in silence. Go tech-free 30 minutes before bed. Importantly, however you choose to unplug, communicate it to others so they know when you’ll be offline and can respect it. This manages expectations and frees you from that dreaded feeling of needing to respond to something.
Why it works: Excess screen time and compulsively checking phones and emails increase anxiety and create a sense of urgency. The constant connectivity also creates boundary creep, making us feel like we have less time than we actually have.
A study published in the book “Sleeping with Your Smartphone” cites roughly a 20 percent increase in feelings of work-life balance, productivity and collaboration among Boston Consulting Group employees after establishing “Predictable Time Off” periods.
If these are all just too much for you and the thought of pausing for 60 seconds, being grateful for three things and not bringing your iPhone to the bathroom spike your stress meter, just do this: play for 10 to 15 minutes. Each day. No cheating.
The work-related kind of play does not count. Genuinely take a recess.. Laugh out loud. Listen to music. Toss a ball with friends. See a movie. Lie on the grass and look at the sky. Do nothing. Seriously.
Keep in mind to start small. Set realistic and achievable goals and expand upon what works. Strength and impact build with practice and over time. There’s no right or wrong way other than not taking action at all — so just do it.
Frieda K. Edgette is principal of Novos Consulting, a civic-minded organizational strategy and coaching consultancy.