Volunteering on a federal election campaign can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be challenging. The Greens’ National Campaign Manager shares his best tips on how to practise self-care over the coming few weeks – especially in the age of Covid.
By Andrew Beaton
If you’ve decided to get involved with the Greens in what’s our biggest election campaign ever, congratulations – you’re playing a really important role in helping us to safeguard a future for all of us.
Because our party is powered by people, our amazing volunteers are the lifeblood of the party – especially during an election campaign. We genuinely couldn’t do this without you!
The experience of working on an election campaign will likely be transformative, rewarding, possibly addictive and incredibly satisfying.
But it will also be demanding, and challenge you in ways you might not be prepared for – especially in 2022, when we’re dealing with the additional threat of Covid-19.
That’s why it’s really important to take care of yourself over the next few weeks – both during the highs and the inevitable lows:
1. Focus on your motivations and goals
In the midst of a stressful election campaign – especially when you may need to do things that are less fun, frustrating, or feel futile – it can be helpful to think back on what motivated you to get involved with the Greens in the first place. From climate to equality, what’s most important to you about this election?
Getting clear about your personal goals can also help keep you motivated when things get a little tough. What do you want to get out of this campaign? What skills do you want to develop? Refer back to these if you start feeling stressed or feel like you’re questioning why you’re doing this.
2. Be realistic
It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype of an election campaign, so it’s important to keep your expectations in check. It’s a matter of giving it your best, while inwardly protecting yourself. Keep some perspective!
3. Manage your time well
During the campaign, there are likely to be heaps of tasks and decisions flying at you – many of them urgent and important. That means planning and prioritising can make a big difference to what you manage to achieve, as well as your stress levels.
It might sound really obvious but a to-do list can be a really effective way of staying on top of tasks. You can also rank tasks by number in order of priority to help you determine which are more urgent.
Some questions to ask yourself when prioritising tasks:
• How does this task impact on the campaign, or relate to our goals and objectives?
• Who is impacted by this task?
• What will happen if I don’t do this?
• Can someone else do this task? What do they need in order to do this?
4. Keep your stress in check
Though stress is a normal part of life, election campaigns can yield particularly high levels of it. The combination of competing demands and not enough time can trigger the high-adrenaline fight or flight response.
It’s also really easy to neglect our basic self-care needs, which can lead to physical illness, burnout and exhaustion. It might sound basic but eating healthy food, getting regular exercise, making time for relaxation, seeing friends and loved ones, and a good night’s sleep can all help.
And an important thing to remember when things get particularly stressful: the election campaign is finite. This stress won’t last forever!
5. Learn how to handle criticism and conflict
Like all parties, the Greens get attacked during campaigns. As a campaigner or volunteer, you’re representing the Greens – and that means you may be a target.
People who engage in attacks or criticism do so to make competing candidates and parties look better, to make themselves feel better, to cause a fuss or to get a reaction out of you.
It may be easier said than done, but don’t take it personally. Remain calm, polite and know the policies as well as you can. Model how you’d like to be treated and act consistently with Greens values by not retaliating.
6. Rally your support network
Volunteering for a federal election campaign can be an intense experience, so you may need support from the people in your life.
Having your loved ones around you to cook dinner, babysit your children or listen to you at the end of a hard day can make a huge difference. Let them know why you’ve made the decision to volunteer, what it means for you over the campaign period, and what it would mean to you to have their help.
7. Make space for the campaign
Don’t expect yourself to do everything else you normally do on top of your campaign commitments – you’ll run yourself into the ground.
Consider what could be put on hold until after the election, be done by others or simply not get done, so you can prioritise your campaign commitments. Let friends and family know you may be less available at this time, and consider practical time-savers like batch cooking and freezing leftovers.
8. Learn to switch off
After a busy day on the campaign trail, it can be hard to wind down, relax or get a good night’s sleep.
Try building some activities into your day to manage this like:
• Shift gears: Try developing an intentional transition from public campaign time to personal time. This could be a physical journey, like the drive or bike ride home. Have a shower, and imagine the day’s worries washing off you and going down the drain.
• Keep a journal: Write down what happened in the day; make a list of what went well (big or small); note any niggles or worries; write a list of things you need to do tomorrow (so you don’t keep thinking about them). Write about your feelings, your hopes and fears.
• Exercise: This is the most effective way to release adrenaline and shift your mood. A walk around the block, a swim at the local pool, some stretches... whatever works for you.
• Have fun: Take a break from seriousness! Be silly with friends. Watch some trash on TV. Indulge in some shitposts and memes.
• Talk it out: Have a ‘download’ about your day with friends or family, including the struggles and triumphs.
• Meditate: An excellent way to clear your mind and experience deep relaxation. If you’re not a practiced meditator you may find guided relaxations useful.
9. Know the Covid-19 plan
In 2022, the election campaign and polling day will be like no other we’ve ever experienced. Covid-19 has thrown us a huge curveball that’s forced us to pivot to online spaces and rethink traditional methods of campaigning.
When you're out campaigning or attending events, make sure you check in on the Covid-19 safety plans in place in your state or territory.
While campaign teams have developed their Covid-19 plans, it’s also important to consider your personal comfort level when it comes to campaigning. If you’d prefer not to campaign in person, that’s fine – there are so many other meaningful ways you can contribute to the movement!
10. Debrief and wind down
Once the election is over, you’ll (hopefully) be riding a high, but you might also be dealing with disappointment.
Either way, you’ll likely feel a range of emotions. They’re all natural and normal – but the trick is to find appropriate ways to express these feelings.
Take some time to debrief and talk through your experiences. Find someone you trust who is a good listener and ask if they’d be willing to listen to you vent or share your thoughts. Set clear parameters around the conversation, too – flag anything confidential, or let the person know if you’re looking for advice or just to listen.
Andrew Beaton is the Australian Greens’ National Campaign Manager.