Building Resilience: How to Bend, Not Break

Building Resilience: How to Bend, Not Break

By Lili Siri Spira - Lili Siri Spira is an open-source investigator, the founder of The Rights Stuff, and a co-founder of Rated R(esilient), a platform dedicated to providing resilience-building resources for digital activists. She recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies. See more of her work at lilisirispira.info and follow her on Twitter @lilisirispira.

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It’s the night of a U.S. presidential debate and you don’t even know if your fact-checks matter.

Your cheek sinks into the palm of your hand.

COVID-19 case numbers rise across the globe.

Your neck gives out and your nose bangs onto your keyboard.

Will the election be rigged? Your thoughts race as you continue to doom scroll through Twitter: More Black people shot by the police, Uyghur camps swell, Yemenis starve, tides rise and temperatures soar. Nothing you write seems to change a single thing.

I don’t know if I can do this anymore, you think.

Everyone has a breaking point, driven by their own trauma and even other people’s. We’re social, empathetic creatures by nature, especially those of us committed to telling the stories of others. The key is to build resilience, to learn how to bend instead of break.

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Stop Being Too Good for Self-Care

Many people are intimidated by the concept of self-care (or maybe they’re just sick of the Gwyneth Paltrow of it all). Like the bank account relies on meeting deadlines, your well-being relies on self-care. Self-care helps you live a healthy lifestyle that allows you to work and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Now I’m as much of a proponent of wine and face mask nights as the next gal, but on a more basic level, self-care really just means taking care of yourself: food, water, sleep, and some basic hygiene. Journalists are notorious for neglecting a solid amount of this list—especially during election season.

So I’m going to make self-care easy for you: every time you even begin to feel like complete and utter shit, use this interactive guide as your impromptu helicopter parent. Bookmark it. This guide by Philome makes you answer whether you’re actually taking care of yourself.

However old to the world or to journalism you are, we all need a little help in taking care of ourselves sometimes.

Develop Self-Awareness

Know yourself like you know the daily headlines by becoming acquainted with mindfulness. Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them, fully present in the moment.

By practicing mindfulness, you can catch yourselfas you start to slide down that slippery slope and intervene. Also: know what subjects are difficult for you to cover. Recognize it. Accept it. Take a break when it gets to be too much.

This doesn’t mean you have to stop writing on these subjects, period. So many of us became journalists for personal reasons. However, accepting the outer corners of your limits will help you get through minimally unscathed and more able to develop an amazing piece.

Maybe Don’t Read All About It

If you don’t have to be reading or watching something, don’t do it. We all have the tendency to fall down the rabbit hole when chasing a story, but that hole doesn’t always lead to Wonderland—especially on Twitter. Draw these boundaries for yourself as you go using your newfound powers of self-awareness.

Consider drawing these boundaries between your work and the rest of your life too. Have a Twitter for work to follow all the latest news and a separate account for all the latest memes and mental health tips. Set a limit on how much time you spend on both.

When you do need to crack into some potentially overwhelming work, be intentional about it:

  • Turn off or reduce the sound on videos: you’re trying to seek out information, not a jump scare
  • Do not look at the news at night: this helps reduce late-night anxiety so that you can sleep
  • Do not do work in bed: when you do this you begin to associate the stress with the space, turning your place of R&R into a sleepless den of anxiety
  • Take breaks: even 30 minutes can do wonders for your brain and stress levels

Make An Emergency Plan

There are going to be times when you don’t catch yourself or when a Cliff bar isn’t quite enough to keep you from going over the edge. Truthfully, the last three tips are more about how to not hit your breaking point at all, rather than how to stick the landing afterwards.

Next time you’re in a good place, make a list of things that calm you down, sort of like your own personal “You feel like shit” guide. Maybe put it in a little kit with some chocolate and an adult coloring book.

Write down people in your networks—fellow journalists, family members, friends—so that when you most need help, you’re more likely to pick up the phone and ask for help. When they answer, tell them what you need. If they can’t help, try to not take it personally and simply have a plan B in place.

For example, you might call another friend or keep a list of organizations, peer groups or professional networks you can look to for support. For more long-term support, look into therapy and other mental health resources.

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Most importantly, it’s okay to feel like you can’t do this anymore. It doesn’t feel okay, but it is okay. It will be okay. Journalists know more than anybody that everything is temporary. Another day. Another near-miss coffee spill on your laptop after stumbling track-pad first into a tweet. Another story for the world and you. But now you’re prepared.

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