You’re on your way to an interview when a source asks to switch times. The printer runs out of paper halfway through a job. On Twitter, there’s a backed up pile of hateful direct messages in your inbox.
Does reading this stress you out?
For those working in journalism, it comes as no surprise to learn that news reporting is listed as the seventh most stressful job, according to a survey by CareerCast. Many speakers at Excellence in Journalism 2019 spoke on the stress and mental health impact of journalism, all offering advice and a safe space to talk.
Mental health is a growing concern globally, and journalists are at a high risk of traumatic stress due to the nature of their work. In the session “Managing Newsroom Stress and Trauma,” Poynter Senior Faculty for Broadcast and Online Al Tompkins and his licensed psychotherapist wife, Rev. Sidney Tompkins, gave the audience a list of questions to ask themselves to help understand their level of stress or trauma. These questions included: Are you isolating yourself instead of connecting with friends or family? Is it hard to concentrate? What is your body telling you?
The pair also highlighted the fact that “feeling stressed” is normal, and encouraged those in attendance to speak about it in their newsrooms.
“When you talk about how normal mental stress is, you make it more normal for others to recognize their own stress,” Al said.
Talking about stress was one of three main pieces of advice given by the Tompkins. They also explained the importance of knowing your triggers so you can avoid stress or prepare yourself mentally before being exposed, as well as having some way to “reset to normal.” One way to do that is by having a picture on your phone of loved ones or pets to remind yourself that your normal life outside of the events you cover is still real.
VitaActiva: Here to help journalists
Also present at EIJ 19 was a group called VitaActiva, led by Luisa Ortiz Pérez (above). Previously a producer for NPR, WNYC and BBC, she co-founded the group to help journalists and other groups deal with stress, burnout and harassment.
“Journalists are extremely good at talking about other people’s emotions, but not themselves,” Pérez said.
Pérez emphasized the importance of allowing yourself to feel emotions and feel stress. She explained that being open and admitting when something is effecting you is the best defense you have.
“Putting the human quality in front… of a situation is the best possible guard,” Pérez said. “Being vulnerable is the best possible guard you have to go through the ring of fire, because when you’re vulnerable, you’re able to say ‘I can definitely not deal with this.’”
Pausing to breathe and align yourself is one way Pérez recommended to de-stressing daily. Check in with yourself—how you’re feeling, have you eaten, have you slept—is another way to realize whether you are under stress.
VitaActiva was available throughout the conference to meet one-on-one with attendees that wanted to speak about their experiences. The group had a suite where journalists could come and talk, have some tea and decompress.
The organization also offers ongoing advice and contact information on their website.