I’ve spent the past year training, speaking, and coaching political operatives on self-care. My message is simple: that it’s not only possible to take care of yourself—it’s essential. And that we can still take care of ourselves while running and winning competitive elections.
I believe in practicing what I preach, so I’ve been practicing self-care during campaigns since 2010. But this year, I spent the last 30 days of the 2018 election cycle living on the road like many of you. Here are five lessons that I (re)learned about taking care of your badass self while working on a campaign:
You always need a ‘why'
If you ask a campaigner why they started working in politics, they’ll usually have a compelling answer: they were inspired by a candidate, passionate about an issue, or optimistic about changing the nation. If you develop a list of compelling reasons why you need to take care of yourself on the campaign trail, it will help you stick to your plan regardless of the chaos around you. In the words of Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
And an adaptable plan
Campaign plans are living documents that change over the course of the cycle. Treat your self-care plan the same way. Your self-care plan during the height of GOTV isn’t going to be the same as your self-care plan during the months following the election. But you still need to have a self-care plan in October, even if it’s as simple as stocking your desk with healthy snacks or spending five minutes meditating in the morning.
Make it a team effort
Campaign teams are short-term families. You can’t always pick your family and you can’t always pick your team. But you can choose how you work with your team. If you’re willing to lead on self-care by communicating how you plan to incorporate self-care into your daily routines, others will follow your example.
Ignore the old dogmas
As Bradley Cooper’s character sings in A Star Is Born, “Maybe it's time to let the old ways die.” This is what I mean: When you lead on self-care, you may encounter opponents saying things like, “this is what campaigns are like,” “you can sleep when you’re dead,” “everyone is making sacrifices.” I could go on.
These approaches to campaigns are as outdated as thinking that the only way to reach a voter is by calling them at home on their landline. And these mantras are literally killing us. Forget them.
Buy into HALTS
It’s important to understand your current state when trying to make a decision, brainstorm an idea, or respond to a crisis. If your team is trying to brainstorm at 8 p.m., and no one has eaten dinner, the probability that you’re going to do your best work is pretty close to zero. Every campaigner should write the acronym HALTS on an index card and tape it to their desk.
- Hungry: When is the last time you ate? It’s also possible to be hungry for an emotion or a connection. Do you need a long hug or a belly laugh?
- Angry: What is the source of your anger? What can you do about it? Remind yourself that your anger will pass.
- Lonely: A common foe on campaigns. When is the last time you saw or spoke with someone close? Can you text a friend for encouragement?
- Tired: Do you need a short break? Could you take a five-minute walk or 20-minute power nap to reset your brain?
- Stressed: Campaign work is stressful. What’s your current level of stress? What self-care tools could you use to reduce your stress? Can you ask a family member or colleague for help?
Did I execute my self-care plan perfectly during the final 30 days leading up to November 6th? Of course not! But my body, my team, and my work were considerably better thanks to my short morning runs, yoga routine and my bag of healthy snacks. Take the time to reflect on where you fell short in 2018 and start making a self-plan for 2019 and 2020.
Jayson Sime managed congressional races, worked for state parties and ran state-level programs for groups before founding Right to Shine, a wellness consultancy.