Managing Mental Health on the Campaign Trail

| Mishon Montgomery

(illustration by Brittany England)

Deciding to run for public office can bring about a wave of emotions, beginning with excitement and joy.

Picture this: You tell your friends and family that you have figured out how to give back to your community by running for (go ahead, envision the seat you will be running for). Can you feel it? Your brain is releasing serotonin and dopamine, and you are feeling joy, happiness, and fulfillment. THEN, you realize that you have “decided to run for office.” Cue increased heart rate, adrenaline, and cortisol, all taking their rightful place on life’s stage – front and center! Excitement, joy, and happiness are replaced with nervousness, anxiety, pressure, and stress. Sound about right? 

The World Health Organization defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which the individual realizes their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life; work productively and fruitfully, and can make a contribution to their community.” Learning how to manage your mental health on the campaign trail is an integral part of your journey to public office. Consider this: When you want to manage your finances better, you create a financial plan. When you want to get in shape, you follow a fitness plan. When you decide to run for office, you initiate a campaign plan. When you want to protect your mental health and take care of yourself, you develop a…SELF-CARE PLAN! That’s right, taking care of yourself requires the same strategic planning as all of the other parts of your life that you flawlessly manage. YOU GOT THIS!

“A lawmaker’s mental health is just as important as the mental health of a pilot, or a surgeon. Stress affects decision-making, and that, in turn, affects not just the politicians, but those they serve.” Effectively managing your emotions and remaining calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. Now that you know, here’s the good news – your brain can mold and change as you practice new behaviors (the fancy word for this concept is neuroplasticity). Because of neuroplasticity, you can train your brain to manage your mental health and subsequent stressors that may show up on the campaign trail. Let’s start training your brain today by learning healthy stress-relieving techniques that can help shape your self-care plan. 

Tip #1: Craft your plan with activities that you enjoy

You should design your self-care plan specifically for YOU, and it should include activities that you enjoy. As you grow and change, your plan should grow and change. Be open to adding new activities and removing those that no longer bring you joy. Start small and consider simple things that you can implement easily, like a five-minute yoga/meditation, taking a coffee break, adding a morning or evening walk to your daily routine, or listening to your favorite songs and dancing along to the music. These short activities are just as powerful for relieving stress. Whatever activities you add to your self-care plan, ensure that you have fun participating in them and that they do not bring you additional stress or burnout.  

Tip #2: Learn to: Put It In Perspective (PIIP)

Worrying and catastrophizing often stem from our skewed perspective of events. Practicing PIIP helps to build optimism by lowering anxiety so that you can accurately assess the situation/event and deal with it. Use PIIP when your anxiety is not proportional to the stressor. Here’s how you do it:

Think of a situation or event that may cause you stress, anxiety and challenge your mental health.

Example: A negative post was made about you on social media. Let’s PIIP

Step 1. Capture the worst-case outcomes: Be sure to spiral all the way down. (People won’t like me; My ratings will drop; I won’t get elected; I won’t be able to find a job; I will never speak to another human being because everyone saw the post.)

Step 2. Capture the best case outcomes: Now, spiral all the way up. (A lot of people saw the post; it created traction for my campaign; a significant media outlet covered the story; I gained free publicity; I won the election.)

Step 3. Capture the most likely outcomes: Ground yourself. (It is just a post, and it was deleted quickly. I’m still running for public office. I am still qualified and believe in my purpose. This post will be old news tomorrow.)

Step 4. Create your plan: After addressing your anxieties, you can create a plan for dealing with the “most likely” scenarios from step 3. (My campaign team will have the post removed and the person blocked. I will write a statement and be prepared to answer any associated questions, should they arise.)

Putting things in perspective does not mean you need to “pretend all is well” or deny real problems. However, it is a way to correct unproductive thought patterns so that you can maintain your cool, manage your stress, and lower anxiety.  

Tip #3: Practice Mindfulness

During the How to Bounce Back from Criticism and Rejection webinar, we discussed the importance of incorporating mindfulness practice on the road to running. We learned that mindfulness is an essential human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you. It is paying attention, in the present, on purpose. Practicing mindfulness through meditation, breathwork, yoga, walking, or choosing to be intentionally present will help you control your thoughts and behaviors. Incorporating regular mindfulness practice into your self-care plan will help you stay present and engaged, improve your focus and ability to concentrate, and improve your sleep and physical health.

The core tenet of managing your mental health and self-care is YOU! You have decided to make an impact in your community by taking a seat at the table. You will feel overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed at some points. Extend yourself grace when these feelings present themselves and reference your self-care plan. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, take a break or crank up the music and just dance. Self-care and mental health management are a P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E, meaning it is ongoing, and the more you do it, the better you will become. 

Remember: In order to be the best help to others, you must put on your oxygen mask first.  

Want more information on crafting your self-care plan? Check out our resources guide for addressing mental health as a woman in leadership. 

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