November 16, 2020

This is a hard time for all journalists. It’s a time when we are more journalist than any other role we hold. It’s a time when our attempts at escaping this work, this role, are halted by even the slightest news consumers in our lives. Still, this is not a time that we should forget that, yes, we are more than journalists.

We are people — mothers and fathers, sons, daughters, friends and coaches and caregivers. We have families and lives outside this work and beyond these screens.

So when it comes to us — to you caring for you — start with knowing that the work of being a journalist is an occupational hazard.  As I teach in Poynter’s trauma and resilience course, it is impossible to see what you’ve seen, share the stories you’ve shared and not pick up a residue of stress and trauma.

The two manifest in all of us differently. (If you haven’t already, read Hannah Storm’s PTSD story to see what I mean.) But what I’ve seen through delivering this training to newsrooms is that often we discount or downgrade how we’re feeling. Sometimes, it’s because, well, we’re journalists. We’ve got thick skin, no tears and a mission. And sometimes, this is because we’re not on the frontlines of the election story or the pandemic story or the racial equity story or … the list goes on.

Indirect trauma can be just as detrimental to our work, our bodies and our relationships as direct trauma can be.

RELATED STORY: 5 tips for journalists who cover trauma

You may be noticing headaches, constant fatigue, excessive fear or catastrophizing, forgetfulness, clinginess or loss of purpose — all impacts of trauma. And they’re likely compounded by the invisible labor you cannot escape because you are as much a part of the story as you are the storyteller or story distributor.

Please don’t dismiss what your body, mind and emotions are telling you.  As any trauma therapist will say, “The body keeps the score.”

And for Black and Brown bodies, especially, this score is not just from your own game. We learn through trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem that it can be traced to the games of the generations that came before us. (Listen to Menakem’s “On Being” episode ‘Notice the rage, notice the silence’.)

RELATED STORY: Dear newsroom managers, journalists of color can’t do all the work

So what are some ways to manage the impacts of the trauma and stress you’re experiencing this week — and this year?

  1. Set realistic expectations.
  2. Foster boredom.
  3. Create good sleep hygiene.

But what about the fact that you’re more connected and more online than ever before? As journalists covering the most intense news year of our lifetimes, if anyone is going to burn out, it’ll be us — the ones who have likely embraced, not refused, this always-on culture that has defined our recent years. This is why self-care has to go beyond your body and mind and into your digital spaces.

A study from Virginia Tech found that the presence of a cell phone (even if it’s turned off) can decrease your focus. Even having a phone (on or off) within sight or reach reduces your ability to perform tasks, it said.

The challenge is doing the work of a journalist without a phone. This is a tall order while you’re on the clock, but challenge yourself to exist off the clock without your phone in sight or reach. If this is too much to ask — too much to risk — start small with phone-free meals. Start today.

Coming to grips with the connection (ahem, dependency) we have with our phones and intentionally parting ways, large or small, is the first step to a more positive state of digital wellness. Another way? Doing digital laundry.

I know we journalists crack jokes about how many browser tabs we have open, and for the most part, we’ve gotten over the embarrassment of showing our cluttered desktops (digital and physical). Working from home during a global pandemic, a historic election and a racial reckoning will do that to a person. But doing a brief but focused load of digital laundry tonight can mean a smoother, less anxiety-filled day tomorrow.

The digital clutter has to go. Before you close down, check your computer’s desktop.  How many files are there? How many will you truly need when you clock back in?

Step 1: Declutter this space by creating a new folder, call it “Nov2020” or “Fall2020” and move everything from your desktop into that folder.

Step 2: At a later date, preferably still this month or season, go into this folder and organize it in subfolders, deleting what’s no longer needed.

Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 at regular intervals (monthly, seasonally or quarterly).

Do something similar with your phone by updating your home screen, removing badge notifications from apps or setting up your do not disturb. Or challenge yourself to go the weekend without your wearable tech. Start small, and again, start today.

RELATED TRAINING: Leadership Academy for Women in Media (application deadline Nov. 20)

Listen, journalists, you have been going non-stop for months, and if you’re feeling tired or easily annoyed or quickly distracted, you aren’t alone. In fact, this response is completely normal. Surge capacity is real — and you will eventually run empty.

Today, I hope you consider refilling yourself. I hope you start small.

Maybe that’s with the realization that you don’t have to be on the frontlines of 2020 to experience trauma, stress and burnout. Maybe you start with taking back some of your time, as former CEO of LinkedIn Jeff Weiner shares in his article “The importance of scheduling nothing.” There’s no shame in setting a meeting for yourself to take a walk or answer email or just breathe. Maybe you delete all those unread emails from months past — or archive them, at least. A quick load of digital laundry can do your brain some good.

Whatever you decide, decide now and start today.

Related reading:

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.

More News

Back to News