Another Australian election is over, leaving us reeling. Many people are sitting in shock and confusion because the results are so out of step with predictions. Strategies for the next term of government will need to be revisited. This election is going to have a big impact on communities and the environment and the way we campaign to protect them.
But if you have been working on this federal election campaign you may be experiencing physical exhaustion in addition to all the feelings. This may be the case whether you came on board for the final sprint since the election was called, or if you spent the previous year or more building engagement, training volunteers, running event after event, or spreading the word through social and traditional media.
Many people all around Australia have worked flat out during the election campaign, and long before that, to try to get positive outcomes. Whether that was getting progressive candidates elected or putting issues on the agenda, it all took substantial human effort.
An election, like any major project that involves a significant outlay of activist energy, can take a heavy toll on us. Many people will be experiencing symptoms of burn-out.
Now is a time for looking after ourselves and each other, getting some nurturing before we step back in to battle.
Here’s my suggestions based on election experiences past and present.
Find a win for yourself
Pick out some highlights, whatever the scale, and acknowledge them. The electoral outcomes may not be what you hoped for but some of the positives may include new people getting active, the supportive culture in your group, and the high profile of your issue.
Appreciate yourself and each other
As people working for social change we rarely get rewarded, valued, or affirmed for our work. If you know someone who worked hard, thank them. Take a break from criticism and focus on the positive. What are you pleased with yourself and others for doing during the election campaign?
You’re not a machine. If you spent months living on cigarettes, coffee, chocolate and 4 hours of sleep, now it’s time to catch up on rest and relaxation. Sleep in late. Spend some couch time with a trashy movie. Go to pretty places and breathe a lot! Take time for quiet reflection.
Honour your feelings, whatever they may be, and let them out. Crying, ranting, shaking, feeling angry, yawning etc are all entirely appropriate reactions, so find safe places with others or by yourself to do this. Laughter is a very socially acceptable way to express feelings which also releases fear, stress, anxiety, and embarrassment.
Be irresponsible. Take pleasure. Enjoy yourself. Do stuff that is not about being a good activist.
… but go easy on the substances
Obviously drugs, including alcohol, may intensify the good times but can leave you feeling more crappy afterwards, and can rundown your immune system. The political situation won’t be any prettier with a hangover.
Adrenaline and cortisol that builds up in your body during stressful times needs somewhere to go. Moving is great for your body, but is also likely to result in a clearer head and lighter mood. Orgasms work too!
Nurture your immune system
The crash after a stressful period is a time when your body is vulnerable to illness. Eat well, drink lots of water, dose up on vitamins, or do whatever else works for you to stay healthy.
Debrief and evaluate
Treat the election campaign as a learning opportunity for your group, organisation, or community. What worked well? What needs to be improved in future action? What do you now know, that will inform future action?
Beware of hot takes
Immediately after an election (sometimes on the night before anyone has conceded or claimed the win) people start putting forward theories to explain what happened. These can be very well argued and convincing but they often lack enough information, reflection and analysis to be trustworthy guidance. Stories pop up to explain the situation and get repeated until they are orthodoxy. Take some time to really enquire, learn and form your own opinions.
Take the long view
Social change is bigger than electoral politics. Sometimes progress creeps forwards, sometimes it moves in leaps and bounds, sometimes it goes backwards for a while and sometimes it seems that history repeats. The power we build in social movements can translate into electoral impacts, and electoral campaigns can produce well-trained and motivated activists ready for other struggles.
Hold your horses
You’re probably already gearing up for the next campaign – but now (or soon) could be the ideal time to take a break. Activists need holidays! You’ll be more creative, productive and resilient after a break.