Maintain your wellbeing during the election

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

Depending on your circumstances, a general election may feel exciting, boring or stressful. Thinking carefully about how you engage with the election and taking some simple, deliberate steps can help you to maintain your wellbeing during the campaign.

General election campaigns can impact very differently on different people, particularly during periods of political polarisation. Elections can dominate traditional and social media and conversations among family and friends. As a result, we can often drift into engaging with the twists and turns of the campaign, without exercising control or being aware of how this is impacting on our wellbeing.

For some people, elections can be exciting periods of time and they may get pleasure and purpose from closely following the news and tracking any changes. If this is true for you, then the experience may be a positive one overall – but do remember to maintain some balance during the campaign. Sleep, diet, exercise, studying and staying in contact with the rest of the world is still important.

If you find elections difficult or are particularly concerned about the 2024 election, then being aware of why the experience may have negative impacts on your wellbeing and planning your engagement deliberately, can really help you to maintain your wellbeing.

Healthy habits can help your mental health

The horse race

Much of election campaign reporting focuses on tracking changes in popular support and trying to predict the election outcome. There is an inbuilt drive for those covering the campaign to find new twists and turns to report on each day. In fact, the 24 hour news cycle means journalists are seeking new stories to report hour by hour.

Following this closely can result in you bouncing between hope and despair – when your mood is constantly going through ups and downs, it has a cumulative negative effect on your wellbeing. As a result, you can feel exhausted, overwhelmed and anxious.

Tip: Instead of closely following the race, space out your engagement, so you avoid the hour-by-hour ups and downs. Identify some reliable sources of information and analysis and engage with them deliberately – you may find it helps to do this no more than once a day or even several days apart.

Ideally, you should focus on sources who take time to analyse developments carefully, rather than those rushing to report the latest breaking news. If you’d rather avoid the campaign entirely, this is also ok – by the time the actual campaign starts, it will already be clear what each party stands for and for what you’ll be voting.

If you or someone you care about feel targeted by the campaign

Some students have expressed concern about the 2024 election because they fear they or those they care about may be targeted in campaigns in ways that are hostile to them and their wellbeing. This can, of course, be upsetting and painful.

Tip: Again, deciding how much to engage with the campaign might help you control the impact this has on you. It is also important to remember that in election campaigns everything is heightened and often parties’ or politicians' views are unrepresentative of people’s views.

Political parties often exaggerate their positions to appeal to particular parts of the electorate who are crucial to their success. Research repeatedly shows that the majority of people in this country are tolerant and open and this is the country that will remain after the election. It may also help to bear in mind that once elections finish, campaign issues that target specific people often drift away as the world moves on.

Be a part of that fight – campaign for better services, email your MP, protest, share, question things. But most of all, talk to people. It’s the people that send you a message because you looked a little stressed in the corner of that big event, those that call you to check whether you made it to the lecture and if you need the notes, that person you barely knew before that opens up to you that they get it too – it’s those people that get you through.

Social media

Research has shown that social media can have particularly negative impacts during times of political tension. Algorithms can drive us towards news and opinions that are likely to make us angry and upset, as this tends to keep us engaged for longer. These surges of emotion and frustration tend not to lead to anything helpful and leave us emotionally drained and on edge.

Tip: Be very deliberate with your social media use during the election. Set times for how long you will engage and choose who you will follow and engage with.

Remind yourself that your social media feeds are likely to be unrepresentative of the real world and the content you are seeing may have been created by bots, so being critical of the media you consume is important rather than taking everything at face value.

Five steps to healthy digital habits

General tips

Alongside the tips above there are some additional steps you can take to maintain your wellbeing.

  1. Stay in contact with people you care about and who care about you. Whenever possible, meet up in person and talk about things other than the election.

  2. Focus on the parts of life unaffected by the election campaign itself – stream old TV programmes and films you like, read books, listen to music etc.

  3. Participate in ways that work for you – if you are very concerned about the election outcome then doing something to contribute may help you feel more in control and connected to others who share your views. Political parties are always keen for volunteers – especially at election time.

  4. Look after the basics – maintaining healthy habits can help you manage any challenges you face during the campaign.

Page last reviewed: May 2024