Take a deep breath

The Cohort is Poynter's bi-monthly newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

Last week, I was in an Iowa hotel room having a mild anxiety attack. I was scheduled to give two hour-long presentations the following day and still needed to finalize some slides and practice my delivery. I didn’t have much time to get it all done and, despite the fact that I knew the material well, I allowed fear to take hold and freaked out about how unprepared I was.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Out of all the work I do and projects that I juggle, putting the finishing touches on presentations is something that’s often pushed to the last minute. It’s not necessarily a matter of procrastination. I worked through my connecting flights to the Midwest, writing articles and coordinating logistics for an upcoming event. I got plenty of work done, but I did it in the wrong order.

The presentations turned out well — as is the case with most talks prepared up to the wire — but it wasn’t worth the panic that I put myself through again and again.

When I returned home, I stumbled upon a blog post about the work systems and habits we fall into. It couldn’t have been better timed. “The big goal is to be a person who creates without undue anxiety, who knows how to stop working and play without guilt, who knows how to buckle down and do the hard work of making things without (always) feeling somehow inadequate or unworthy,” writes Jessica Abel. “The big goal is to create a practice that takes care of not just your work, but your entire self.”

It can be easy to bury yourself in work — to move from one email to the next, one tweet to another, one completed task to a new item on your to-do list. But it’s important to stop every so often and check in with yourself: How am I doing? Is this sustainable?

A lot of us are covering the aftermath of this week’s horrific shooting in Orlando. We’ll work long hours, read heartbreaking stories, ask tough questions of grieving people and push our emotions aside in the process. It can be easy to forget about yourself right now. Don’t. Take some time to break away from it all, starting with these ways to mitigate stress on the job. If you see a coworker who may need help, offer support. Remember that it’s important for journalists to focus on their own mental health.

Taking care of yourself might seem pointless when there are so many others in need. But focusing on your own well-being allows you to tell the strongest stories, be a more supportive coworker and best serve your community.

I’ll be traveling and presenting a lot over the next few months. Given my current work habits, I’m taking time now to try some new productivity approaches in hopes of figuring out how to break the pattern of last-minute anxiety. And when I’m on the road, I’m going to make time to exercise, explore the places I visit (even for a few minutes), and allow myself some much-needed moments to unplug.

We all have parts of our jobs that we deem less important than others, things that we tend to de-prioritize or put off. But when we get into habits that negatively impact us, in addition to the work we’re producing, it’s a problem we have to address.

If you have any tips for getting into healthy work/travel habits, I’d love to hear from you. And if you are looking for support during this trying time, please reach out to me. I’m here to listen.


Mark your calendars! We’ve announced the dates and details for our 2017 Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. And ONA is hosting their own women’s accelerator program next year. Hooray for more training opportunities!

As if that wasn’t enough to celebrate: Elana Zak and Rubina Fillion recently created a Facebook group for women journalists, which is rapidly becoming a wonderful and inspiring resource. You can request access here. Ladies, unite!

Things worth reading
Jessica Valenti explores the question: what does a lifetime of leers do to us? Cheers to journalism.co.uk for their excellent list of women speakers to include in your next journalism event. Down with all-male panels! Craig Newmark, who’s been a big supporter of our women’s leadership academy, argues that it’s time for men to advocate for women in tech. And here’s why Google expects different answers from women and men for the same interview question.

Meet Caira
Caira Conner was one of the first people to reach out to me after I started The Cohort. Her email marked one of the first times I felt like this newsletter was on the right track.

Caira heads up BuzzFeed’s development in new countries. She has Graves’ Disease, an immune system disorder, and was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac Disease. She writes about her experience on her blog, Graves are for Dead People.

“I started [the blog] because there was nothing else on the internet I could find about living with an autoimmune disease that didn't have terrible pictures of butterflies or inspirational quotes,” Caira joked.

“The best benefit of the whole thing is when other people find it relatable, even/especially people who don't have an autoimmune disease,” she wrote. “What started as a blog on a specific condition became a specific perspective through which to tell stories. It forced my hand on something I'd wanted to do — write — and had wallowed around avoiding for a long time.”

Working when you’re not at 100% is tough — even tougher when there’s no clear end in sight to the suffering. Caira allows herself to be open and honest about it all, which I admire greatly.

I asked Caira if she had advice for people looking to open up about a disease they’re facing or a personal situation they’re dealing with. I love her answer:

“Do it. Just do it. You will feel weird, and vulnerable, and wonder why anyone would want to read something so specific to what's going on with you and a thousand other doubts. But all of them will evaporate the moment you connect with one other person on your shared experience. Because someone (probably someones!) out there will benefit from knowing they're not alone. Your words will resonate with them. Your words will soothe them. Getting it out of your head and in front of an audience, if that's what you feel compelled to do, is worth doing. It will help you, too. There's not enough to read on what it's like to feel sick and manage life at the same time. It seems there's a pressure to be either/or. Either you're OK, or you're Fighting Against the Odds. I'd love to see a bigger space for people with chronic illness who do all the things they'd do anyway, in addition to managing this very wily, uncertain beast.”

Thank you, Caira, for doing it.

If you have a project to share, email katie@poynter.org or brag on Twitter with #digitalwomenleaders.

The Cohort is part of the Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to the inspiring Kristen Hare for her newsletter edits and insight.

  • Profile picture for user katiehawk

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar is the organizer of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. She was previously Poynter’s digital innovation faculty member, and taught journalists how to make the most of social media, understand audience engagement, rethink workflows and foster creativity.


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