Have you noticed how resilient, how unflappable, how remarkably at ease the Republican candidates seem to be with the ups and downs of the primaries? I see good public stress management in this. There appears to be an ability to maintain one’s composure in the face of the many gyrations brought on by polls, speculations and actual results, which have made these primaries particularly stressful and also particularly interesting.
Unless one has direct experience of it, it is objectively hard to appreciate the rigors of a national political campaign. The lack of sleep, poor nutrition, constant travel are hard on the body. The need to be constantly on, to never let one’s guard down more than so much, to come across as competent and well prepared on anything the candidate may be asked to speak on are hard on the mind. The relentless demands of the news cycle, the unflinching stare of the media and of the public in general, and the near-constant re-examination of one’s principles, conviction and history are hard on the soul. There is probably no better image of what stressful circumstances really are about than a candidate for political office on a bus or airplane, exhausted, traveling toward yet another rally, another interview, another stump speech, another event. And it goes on like this for months and months.
The aging that takes place in office is a well known phenomenon. In our modern era, we have photographs of presidents taken at all points of their campaign, at inauguration, at midterm, and after they leave office. It is plain to see the toll that the job takes on the individual’s physical appearance. Less obvious is the toll that it takes on the mind and on the soul. The fact that we have presidents and ex-presidents who not only do what they are supposed to do, but do it well, and continue to be in good health and function well into their late adulthood is certainly a testament to their resilience and excellent stress management skills.
And so for the candidates, the test begins upon declaring their intention to run for the highest office. The highly public management of their stress levels begins at that moment and never lets up. If their bid is unsuccessful and their campaign ends, they can return to normality and what they may have to work through is the fallout from having lost their campaign. Not easy, to be sure, but at least it can be relatively private. For those who succeed and win primary after primary, or win enough to be a player and stay in the race, the rigors of the campaign will either hone their skills or bring out the lack thereof.
When the last man is finally left standing and he’s elected president of the United States, another even more demanding phase of public stress management begins, never to let up again until the very end of life. It is remarkable and an object lesson that it can even be done as well as it is by these truly exceptional individuals we call our presidents.