We’re off and racing; an election is booked for July 2. For most of us this means a little extra news to digest each day, a few extra likes to click on Facebook, and a chance to voice our treasured opinions.
But for those in the business of politics it’s a marathon like no other. Eight weeks of deadlines, debates, press releases, public appearances and handshaking. Motives will be questioned and personalities will be judged.
What should politicians and their teams do to stay healthy and sane? Here are ten tips – nine for the politicians, and one for the rest of us.
1. Build resilience
Elections seem to change the rules on public discourse; it’s open season on personal abuse. Perhaps it’s because the public rate politicians just above car salesmen in surveys of ethical professions. Whatever the reason, politicians, especially newcomers, need to think about how they handle the personal attacks.
Try to ignore the personal element and focus on the agenda driving the attack. Use the support of friends and family. And limit the amount of negative media you read and watch.
Try not to fall for the same trap and attack the person in return. Stick to arguing ideas – it’s far less stressful and ultimately more productive.
2. Avoid infections
Most infections are passed on by touch – shaking hands and kissing (babies included). This is an occupational hazard for politicians.
There are two essential things you can do. First, get your flu vaccination. It’s a safe and protects against four flu strains this year.
Second, use a hand sanitiser frequently, or wash your hands often. This protects you and others.
3. Get enough sleep
The average adult needs about eight hours, but it varies. You can miss out on a little sleep for short periods like a week or two, but beyond that you will suffer. Your concentration will drop off and your moods will become more irritable and depressed.
If you stay awake for more than 24 hours, your co-ordination is equivalent to having a blood alcohol of 0.1% (twice the legal driving limit). If you stay awake for more than 48 hours, you are likely to hallucinate.
Good sleep hygiene is essential: set aside the right amount of time, use daytime naps if you need them, sleep in comfortable places, and avoid stimulants in the evening.
4. Watch your alcohol and coffee intake
Nightly functions and early starts can make booze and coffee part of the daily routine, but a two-month campaign is enough to begin a decent addiction.
The first step on the path to addiction is tolerance, meaning you need more of the substance to get the same effect. If you find you need more than two drinks to relax or three coffees a day to keep alert, you have the beginning of a problem. Time to cut back.
5. Make time for healthy eating and exercise
The key to endurance is good nutrition and regular exercise. Both will improve your concentration, mood and memory – all of which you’ll need for the political battle.
Exercise is easy – you can either schedule 30 minutes three times a week, or go for the high-intensity approach of three to ten minutes per week, which research suggests is just as good.
Nutrition takes slightly more effort, especially if you are eating on the run. Check out these time-saving and cooking tips for busy people.
6. Schedule downtime
Politics is exciting and demanding. You’ll be on edge, at times feel agitated, and at times feel unable to wind down and relax. Social media alone can be a 24-hour obsession if left unchecked.
You can’t be on the go for the whole campaign. You need at least some time off, even if it’s just one day per week. Remember, it’s a marathon; you can’t sprint the whole time.
7. Maintain your relationships
Trusted relationships, especially family and friends, are essential when facing the scrutiny of a campaign. You need people you trust to keep your feet on the ground. They’ll pick you up when you are down and give you a reality check when you’re getting ahead of yourself.
Don’t neglect them – make time every day, even if it’s only by phone.
8. Keep your stress levels in check
Everyone experiences stress in different ways. Try to make a list of your personal signs of stress – headaches and other pains, rashes, panicky feelings, anger outbursts, changes in appetite, forgetfulness, and so on.
Whatever your symptoms are, use them as a psychological thermometer to keep track of yourself. If the toll rises, get some help or rethink your survival strategy.
9. Maintain your voice
Politicians talk, a lot. It’s easy to take vocal health for granted. Think like a singer - keep your vocal chords well hydrated with plenty of water, try not to scream or shout too much, do warm up exercises before public speaking, and take a few “vocal naps” each day.
10. For the rest of us: enjoy the show
Think of elections as if they are a Hollywood dramatisation of democracy. Truth is exaggerated, emotions are manipulated, promises are made and lies are told – all in the pursuit of a good story.
We, the public, have two options. We can enjoy it for what it is – follow the narrative, debate and argue, and use the election to test our own views. Or we can simply switch off until the day before voting and read a good summary of the key policies.