Theresa May will soon hand over the keys to 10 Downing Street, and so with this in mind Treated.com have considered the demands of the job from a health perspective.
Poor Sleep Hygiene
Needless to say, the job of a world leader or Prime Minister can be quite time consuming. All Prime Ministers have their own individual way of managing and coping with the time demands of the job. However, a typical day may involve rising early, scanning newspapers and social media during breakfast, a morning strategy meeting with the inner team and will normally be followed by phone calls and meetings throughout the day.
This description is of a relatively simple day for a Prime Minister. This doesn’t account for crucial parliamentary votes on manifesto promises, national and international events and crises, diplomatic trips, state visits, overseeing the cabinet and campaigning in upcoming local, national or European elections.
Some Prime Ministers have been said to have survived on as little as 4 hours sleep a night in order to dedicate more time to the job. However, this is a very unhealthy amount. Different people need different amounts of sleep, but 6-8 hours per night minimum spent in bed is recommended for everybody.
Around 1 in 3 people suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, and it can have many negative impacts on health. Mentally, it can contribute towards short temper, drowsiness and cause a lack of focus.
It can also put people at serious risk of physical medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It is also thought to contribute towards shorter life expectancy.
Clinical Lead Dr Daniel Atkinson says that “sleep is essential for human sustainability, just like water oxygen, water and food. I’m sure at some point we’ve all wished we could function without it. The undeniable fact is we can’t, but this is a good thing.
Sleep is an active time for processing, restoration and strengthening. Sleep helps to improve concentration and productivity, and strengthens the immune system. Without it, we would not be able to retain long-term memories in a process known as ‘consolidation’.”
It might be quite easy to imagine Prime Ministers eat very well. In some respects, this isn’t far from the truth. During state visits, diplomatic overseas meetings and lavish dining events - it is very likely they’ll eat rich (but not necessarily healthy) food.
However, linking to time management, Prime Ministers are often busy and on the move and sometimes there will simply be no convenient moment to grab a bite to eat. This might see Prime Ministers eating irregularly, or skipping meals altogether.
This combination of eating well and eating irregularly or not at all could have quite a negative impact on a Prime Minister’s health. Eating a varied and balanced diet is important because it helps to provide your body with all the vitamins and nutrients it needs to function.
Not eating a balanced diet can lead to a number of health problems, sometimes much later in life and can, again, reduce life expectancy.
“Ideally, we should be eating three meals a day with a consistent and fair balance of vitamins and nutrients. Skipping meals, eating irregularly or not eating at all will have a serious impact on physical and mental health”, Daniel comments.
He adds “whatever the reason, try your best not to skip meals. Eating regularly helps your body to function properly.”
Prime Ministers are on the move a lot. It is expected of them to make many international trips.
Travel for leisure may be good for the soul, but too much travel can have a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. According to certain reports, an excess amount of travelling in relation to work can increase risks of depression and anxiety.
This is without considering the negative impacts of overexposure in relation to air travel. Prime Ministers fly quite a lot. Some areas of health concern are deep vein thrombosis and jet lag.
People who have certain medical conditions are also advised against air travel. You can read more about it here.
“Too much travel, particularly in relation to work, where it is not for leisurely purposes, can indeed be detrimental to mental health.” Daniel remarks. “So much so, that it can bring about depression and anxiety. If you feel you’re suffering as a result of travelling too much in relation to your work, speak to your line manager about your schedule and see if you can lighten it."
Prime Ministers will spend a higher than average amount of time working. This involves a lot of reading, looking over briefs and news articles. Campaigning can take up a lot of a Prime Minister’s time too, as can speaking at the Commons, meeting with world leaders and officials.
An excessive workload has been linked with stress and depression. While work is important, it is also important to find time for leisure, exercise and social activities. A good balance of work and free-time will help to maintain wellbeing and good mental health. Speak to a doctor if you’re struggling to find a balance, or if you feel overly stressed or depressed.
Being overworked can also lead to general grogginess, as the body is deprived of the rest it needs. This can have an impact on productivity. So while staying late or working overtime might feel like a productive way to meet deadlines or finish important work - it could actually have a detrimental impact on your productivity the next morning and in the days following.
While it certainly isn’t a strict requirement of the job, keeping a good rapport during state visits might necessitate a glass of alcohol or two on a more than frequent basis.
It is recommended that people consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. Drinking in excess of what is recommended can create risk for health and wellbeing.
A list of just some of the medical conditions it can cause are as follows, but this list is not exhaustive.
- Behavioural changes
- Heart Damage
- Infertility and Sexual Dysfunction
- Lung infection
If you are concerned about alcohol consumption in relation to your health, or believe you drink too much, talk to find time to educate yourself on the matter further or book an appointment with your doctor.
Dr Atkinson says that “the effects of alcohol misuse are well-known. Like smoking, this doesn’t always persuade people to stop. Essentially, alcohol misuse is linked with mental health problems and is something anybody can use as a coping mechanism.
Talking to someone, be it a family member, close friend or your doctor, about the problem, is the first step towards finding a solution.”
Pressure to Remain Popular
An important and difficult role to play for any Prime Minister is maintaining the majority support and affection of their Party and steering public opinion in a way that views their Party, and themselves, favourably. Some Prime Ministers in the past have been known to become ‘politically isolated’, meaning they simply have a lack of allies. This can lead to resignation.
However, feelings of isolation and loneliness can also have a negative effect on mental health, leading to depression. The depression may then have an impact on a person’s sleeping patterns and diet.
Treating depression as a result of loneliness might involve a combination of things, such as changes to lifestyle, seeking therapy and prescription medication.
It all starts with the simple act of telling a friend or loved one, or seeing your doctor. Many people wait a long time before seeking help, or never get it at all, which can lead to a decline in lifestyle and overall mental wellbeing.
“Unfortunately”, Daniel states, “loneliness is a common problem in our society and is something that appears to be becoming more common.
If you feel lonely and it’s having a negative impact on your life or mental health, understand you are not alone in this feeling. Reach out to your doctor, who will make recommendations to help you. In some cases they’ll be able to refer you to a self-help group with others in a similar situation.”
“Lastly,” he concludes, “we could all do more to ensure people don’t feel isolated, vulnerable or left behind. Whether it’s checking in on an elerly neighbour or reaching out to a distant relative - we should all do our best to help each other”.