After this election, journalists must take care of themselves
Good morning journalists, and welcome to the rest of your life.
You may have spent the past year following one of the candidates day in and day out and only eating when a campaign break allowed you to get a quick bite. You may have spent most of your time in arenas, getting booed by protesters (and coping with how to stay safe on the campaign trail).
You may have been producing coverage in a newsroom and unable to take a break from the 24-hour-news cycle (like the American Psychological Association recommended earlier this year for the people overwhelmed by the election).
You’re likely stressed, tired and full of adrenaline after months and months of covering one of the most vitriolic and polarizing campaigns in history.
What do you do now? How do you de-campaign?
It might take a few months to recover, said Jill Shannahan, a psychiatrist who practices in Santa Cruz, California.
“Have you changed?” she asked. “When you finally walk in the front door, and have showered and slept and eaten and seen those who matter...is anything different? Who knows? It may take a while to know."
There are ways that you can and should be good to yourself over the next several weeks as you transition away from round-the-clock election coverage, Shannahan said. Here are her tips:
Do what feels good for you. If you’re unsure what that is, try watching videos that will make you feel good: “It might not be a bad idea to replay the Cubs winning — they’re all jumping in the air like children,” Shannahan said. “Unless you’re from Cleveland — then maybe stick with the NBA finals.”
Better yet, watch videos where journalists are the good guys: “Start with "The West Wing" and 'All the President’s Men,'” she said. “Those are movies where the journalists are the good guys, and you want to start to see yourself as the good guy again, particularly if you’ve been yelled at for several months.”
You might feel like this for a while: “The important thing to remember here is that your feelings aren’t going to change overnight,” Shannahan said. “This is chronic. Something doesn’t have to be life-threatening for it to affect you negatively. There may be things you looked so forward to doing after the campaign that are not commanding your full attention yet. Or you may be missing the buzz. That’s okay.”
Be around people you like: “Journalists are like military generals who have had many tours of duty — they know what they have to do,” Shannahan said. “But things might pop up. You might feel angry. And if stuff comes up, it’s not weird. It’s just that you’re coughing it back up again as you come back to yourself. Be good to yourself. Be around who you like. Some people may want to cook gourmet meals. Others may want to go to Hawaii, or veg on the couch. They should definitely try to take some time off. It largely depends on the person how they might need to recover from this.”
Find someone you love and really hug it out: “I’m thinking of after some of the really traumatic incidents that journalists and first responders cover. After Virginia Tech, the school said to first responders ‘Go back to your families and hug them and be around people you love.’ That’s what these journalists need — they need to go home and be around people they love. They’ve spent all of this time hearing the candidates and trying to analyze what they’re say — but if you’ve been following someone around who doesn’t necessarily respect you, then you’ve been spending the past several months figuring out what to write and how to write it, and that can be really stressful. It sucks your soul. You need to relax.”
Have intelligent conversations that aren’t about your beat: “It’d be nice for them if they could just be around intelligent, polite people," she said. "And I’m stressing polite. I’d like them to be in situations over the next few weeks where they can have polite discourses about nice topics. Things that don’t cause any stress levels to elevate.”
Take a trip: It’s not a bad idea to get out of your normal routine for a week or two, Shannahan said. “Go to a beach, drink some mai tais, decompress, talk to strangers. The nice thing is, the election’s over, so you can talk about something else — surfing, maybe, or the best place to have a quiet meal. You know the sweet spot where you should be when you can get away.”
Don’t be surprised if you still feel different: “If you’ve been on the campaign trail for months and you’re not sleeping and you’re not eating well, and you’re been staying with one candidate for a very long time, it might change you. When you’re with a wildly rude person, how do you get back to normal? You might feel changed or unlike yourself for a while. It’s important to know that it’s okay to feel how you feel.”
Take back control: If you’ve been on the trail for a while, you might not have had much control over basic needs, like eating properly or sleeping well. “They’ll need to regain their sense of control,” Shannahan said. “I’d recommend saying ‘Cook when you want, eat when you want.’ You no longer have someone telling you what to do and when — you have your own schedule back, but it may take some time to ease back into it.”
Talk it out with non-journalists who are good listeners: “Most people, when they’ve undergone a stressful situation, they want to be seen and heard. Journalists can be seen and heard professionally, of course, but I recommend that they talk about their time on the campaign trail with someone who will listen and hear you. Not just once, but as often as you can.”
Be kind to yourself, and talk it out with journalists who are good listeners: “Like all things in life, it’s important to be kind to yourself. This campaign has affected everyone. People get fearful. But if you’ve been on the campaign trail, you’ve been taking in that fear. And you might also be bored or tired a lot of time. The environment and circumstances can change you. I once read a book on bullying, and it collected all of these writers that wanted to write about their experiences with bullying. It might be helpful for reporters to do that — talk to each other, or write about their feelings with each other over the next several months.”
It’s okay to question your feelings: “If you’ve been covering a candidate and the candidate is saying to audiences, ‘It’s okay to be hostile to the press,’ then you may have internalized that. If you think of yourself as someone who wants to get out the truth, that may change you. It’s okay to find yourself saying, ‘Was that okay? How do I feel about that?’
Don’t blame yourself: If you’ve been following a candidate around for more than a year, you may have subconsciously picked up mannerisms or strategies that the candidate employs. Shannahan mentions parents yell more at their kids if they grew up in households where someone yelled at them. “The important thing here is to realize it’s happening and not blame yourself,” she said. “Apologize and laugh it off. Do things that help you exfoliate the ‘ominous and emotional feelings’ that may have created an emotional callous.”