Wellness Tips for Journalists on the Front Lines of 2020
A clinical psychologist’s tips on how journalists can take time for themselves.
Posted December 10, 2020
This year, we experienced some of the most devastating events in recent U.S. history. The global health crisis has brought sickness and death, illuminated inequities in our health care practices, and forced us to make swift and essential lifestyle changes (i.e., masking up, physical distancing, Zoom meetings, etc.). Words like unprecedented, challenging, pandemic, crisis, death toll, and suffering have become part of our daily lexicon.
For many of us Boomers and a few others with greater seniority, we felt a sense of déjà vu as we witnessed age-old racism, accompanied by a new-age Jim Crow. This new Jim Crow features some of the most vicious, heinous acts of hatred imaginable. For instance, we saw blatant misconduct perpetrated by a few bad apples who were sworn to protect and serve, resulting in the loss of innocent lives. Younger generations experienced these events as brand-new. We saw institutions of higher learning, businesses, and other organizations, big and small, denouncing and decrying such atrocities.
We continued to be horrified, mortified, embarrassed, and ashamed by scenes of unaccompanied migrant children cruelly and inhumanely detained in border facilities.
We’ve now stomached a new kind of mean-spirited electioneering for the last few months. And on top of it all, we continued to face the more familiar traumas of war and natural disasters, as well as the everyday traumas of life, such as surviving traffic accidents.
Throughout all of it, we have relied on the brave and relentlessly hardworking journalists who report on the news of the day. Day after day in 2020, so much of that news was heart-wrenching.
At home, when the news becomes too much, we can turn off the TV or close the paper. However, journalists on the front lines don’t usually have that option.
Whether freelancing from behind a desk or reporting live on location, journalists and reporters are at risk of experiencing anxiety, stress, job burnout, sleep disturbance, and PTSD because they frequently cover and/or are among the first dispatched to violent crime scenes or other disturbing events. Viewing such an event even once and interviewing victims and grief-stricken survivors can trigger negative emotional states.
As we approach the holiday season, which for many of us is a time to slow down and restore, many journalists will continue working to ensure each of us is equipped with the knowledge of what’s going on around the world and in our communities.
Here are a clinical psychologist’s tips on how journalists on-the-go can still take time for their well-being:
Breathing properly is the most direct route to physiological well-being. Stressed over deadlines? Try following a 4-7-8 diaphragmatic, deep breathing method to refresh.
Inhale slowly through your nose for 4 seconds, distending the stomach. Hold the breath for 7 seconds. Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Focus on the sound of your breathing. Repeat the process several times and notice how you feel afterward.
A quick, 20-minute workout can immediately elevate your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and give you clarity of thought. Choose the right exercise routine for you. Dance or walk to gain a quick energy boost. Many journalists have reported the useful benefits of yoga. The Dart Center for Journalism offers a short, “made for journalists chair yoga session.”
It may be tough, but try to practice good sleep hygiene.
Journalists and reporters may view disturbing images or digest difficult information throughout the day. Don’t let these images be the last thing you view before bedtime. Create a relaxing routine before going to bed (i.e., brushing teeth, sip a calming cup of chamomile tea while enjoying light reading) and limit caffeine, alcohol, and exercise 4 to 6 hours prior.
For optimal sleeping conditions, adjust the temperature to avoid being too warm or cold. Take care to limit lighting, investing in an eye mask or blackout curtains if necessary. Also, avoid viewing computer, phone, and television screens within 30 minutes of bedtime.
Remind yourself often of the important service you provide to the public.
It may be necessary to reduce the dissonance of subjecting one’s self to the extreme discomfort inherent in this kind of work. When your satisfaction is derived from the quality of your reporting rather than from ratings or page views, you will likely recover faster from the effects of trauma.
Don’t hesitate to seek counseling.
Be aware of the impact of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. Pay attention to your body and other signs that you could benefit from counseling. Have you become desensitized to violent scenes, death and dying, grieving parents, or other disturbing events? Have your eating and sleeping patterns changed dramatically? Many counselors are providing sessions online, making it easier to schedule a time to take care of your mental health.
For the rest of us, research has shown that actively expressing gratitude can lead to positive effects on our physical and mental health. Consider offering a note of thanks and encouragement to journalists in your community for their service this holiday season.