Project Wonderful

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ask an Election Nerd: Post-Campaign Anxiety

I have been getting a lot of questions about campaignsickness, job search anxiety and unemployment depression, although this is one of the more extreme examples. I hope my advice below helps!
Hey Nancy. I'm currently an unemployed organizer and I've been having a really hard time dealing with the malaise and, to be honest, depression that comes with being out of work. And unemployment coupled with the fact that organizing jobs are so limited this year has left me in a perpetual state of anxiety. I've had a hard time sleeping, my skin is constantly breaking out, and I just generally feel pretty horrible all the time. Do you have any advice for dealing with this phase of campaign life?
Let me start by saying that you do not need to feel this way! That's not to say I am unsympathetic. You are not alone. I will share with you that from 2008 to early 2010 I worked on five campaigns and during that period I suffered from almost crippling inter-campaign anxiety. However, I want to make clear that while some level of job insecurity and campaignsickness are inherit to the campaign lifestyle, depression and panic attacks are not a necessary condition of campaign work and you should not accept them. If you are like me, advice is hard to take when you're depressed or upset. Please know that the following comes with all the (tough) love in my heart.

1) What else is going on? Campaigns can be a great escape from many of life's crisies from breakups to health problems to job loss. Unfortunately, these issues are still waiting for you when the campaign ends. Is it possible that your anxiety is misplaced? The same way that you can be at a stressful job and take it out on your boyfriend, you can be in a stressful relationship and it can manifest itself as career anxiety. Maybe you told yourself you would start a new diet, become more financially responsible or make another big lifestyle change after the cycle ended. Now it has and you're forced to confront the same issues and insecurities that plagued you before. Be honest with yourself about what's really bothering you and use this time to face your problems head on.

2) Idle hands are the devil's play things. On campaigns, time is your most precious resource and you can't get enough of it. Now, time is practically all you've got. Nothing breeds anxiety like having tons of time to mull things over...and over...and your head. After the inevitable post- campaign crash it can be hard get yourself motivated again. After a couple of weeks, try to get on a regular (ish) sleep schedule (I am the biggest violator of this one) and back to a normal diet. Maybe use this time to exercise, visit friends, learn a new skill or...make like I did and write a blog. Do not sit around and stew in your anxiety.

3) Give yourself some agency. One of my favorite things about campaigns is that they are so empowering. Even a first time field organizer can find herself responsible for 200 people spread throughout 4 locations in a swing county on election day. It's tough to go from that to sleeping on a friend's couch or at your parents' house without income or a means of contributing to society. It can be really soul-crushing, especially for campaign people, to feel like you're not being useful or productive. Make sure you are making progress toward your goals. Set a number of resumes or networking emails you will send out each day and stick to it. Find a way to feel like you're in control and doing something meaningful while you search for jobs. You could get a temp job to make some money between campaigns. You could even volunteer your stellar recruitment, persuasion and communications skills for a cause you would not have time to support on the campaign trail.

4) Campaigns are like relationships. When you're single, you want to be in a relationship. When you're in a relationship, as great as it may be, you can't help but chastise yourself for the things you didn't appreciate when you were single (more free time, getting to make out with a cute boy for the first time, not having to take another person's plans into consideration.) On my first campaign I used to fantasize about eating a big bowl of cereal and watching Star Trek in my pajamas the way I imagine a 15 year old boy fantasizes about sex. (Yes, I know, I am a giant nerd. Surprised?) I am sure when you were on a campaign you thought about what you would do with your free time when the campaign ended, so go out and do it! See the people whose birthdays you missed, do some yoga, travel, bake cookies. If you plan to do this job long term, you need to find a way to integrate some life balancing techniques now. Do whatever it is you said you would do with this time because before you know it you will be back to work and kicking yourself that you wasted your free time worrying over when that would be.

5) Get some help. I'm not a mental health professional (insert a joke about campaign managing here), but if you are feeling depressed or anxious in the long term, it might not be a bad idea to talk to one. As I said above, campaignsickness is a real phenomenon but it shouldn't be ruling your life. I don't mean that in a "your feelings are bad and you should feel bad" way, I'm saying that in a "you are too awesome to accept that as simply part of your profession" way. When I look back on the amount of time I wasted not dealing with my panic attacks, I could slap myself. Don't let the same happen to you.

I am very behind on answering these, so I hope your depression has been resolved long before reading this! Thank you for your question. I promise you are not the only one asking. I have no doubt you are wonderful and deserving of not just jobs, but more importantly happiness. Hang in there and feel free to reach out again with an update!

Campaign Love and Mine,



  1. Hey Nancy,

    I haven't ever commented on your blog before, but I've been following (lurking on) it for about a year now. Just finished my first real partisan campaign (had been doing non-partisan campaigns for a year before that) in November, and I've been feeling a little pathetic for not finding a job or doing more with myself.

    This blog post brought me to tears. For the first time in a while, I can say I feel like someone gets where I am. This is all exactly how I'm feeling = I feel freaked out, depressed, frustrated, horribly guilty for mooching off my parents (when I supposedly moved out and was on a "career track"), and just generally pretty horrible about life. I've already been doing some of the things on your list (yay for therapy!), but this just makes it feel like there are OTHER PEOPLE out there who understand what it's like to come down from a campaign to doing virtually nothing.

    Sorry for the feelings vomit - I'm sending you infinite good vibes and thank-yous for all you do, including the reaction GIFs that make me smile.


  2. Aww, thank YOU, Em! I am sure the original asker is glad to know she has a kindred spirit out there too. The shock of ending a campaign can be like speeding down a highway at 100 mph to suddenly stopping...and can produce a similar feeling in the pit of your stomach. Glad to hear you are taking care of yourself! Best of Luck!

  3. Seriously. Thank you for this. I am feeling everything on this list, including jealousy and/or rage at former co-FOs who have already secured jobs post-campaign when it feels like I am doing everything RIGHT. It's hard to stay positive when you are such an independent person and then all of a sudden you're wondering how you're going to pay rent. Thanks for the reassurance.

  4. This is all great advice, especially the part about volunteering as an organizer! Some people don't realize that solid volunteer work in your chosen field is often the next best thing to a job, and it prevents having a gap on your resume. Its hard to find good volunteers to canvass, petition, or the like, and progressive causes are always looking for them! Good luck!