6 Tips for Emotional Well-Being During High-Stress News Events

6 Tips for Emotional Well-Being During High-Stress News Events

two people take a coffee break together

Journalists, reporters, and activists demonstrate particular resilience despite covering high-stress or traumatic events. Even so, the job is stressful and it’s OK—if not critical—to let yourself step away or take a break. Being “on” all the time is part of the job, especially when social media and a public persona are keys to professional success, but it can lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, insomnia, and other damaging effects (including potential online harassment). So, when your work depends on constant engagement, how can you take care of your emotional well-being?

1. Get uninterrupted sleep

It might not be completely realistic to sleep enough during crazy work sprints, but there are ways to sleep better. Don’t be afraid to turn on your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” setting. Try to limit screen time before bed and turn off notifications at night. It’s critical to get good sleep.

Your thoughts and work may keep you up at night, but your notifications don’t need to add to the stress. Removing the constant “on” feeling from your sleep routine can help you take a break, relax, and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to re-engage with work.

2. Distance yourself from negative or aggressive users

The people who make it their mission to harass journalists never rest, but they’re particularly active in highly charged times (by design). Use social media networks’ block, silence and report tools. While these tools are not a solution to online harassment, they can provide a buffer from unwanted contact and a mental break.

If you experience aggressive messages, harassment, or implicit or explicit threats, block, silence or anonymously report users. If you feel unsafe for any reason, consider contacting law enforcement. If you’ve been doxxed, consider taking these steps. To talk to your employer or editor about any online harassment you're experiencing, consider these steps.

3. Reach out to friends

Keep a list of trusted friends or family you can get in touch with. Meet up for coffee or grab a meal together. If you’re traveling, even a quick Skype call can help you get important one-on-one time with someone you care about. Social interactions can literally improve physical and mental wellness. It’s OK to take a break, however short.

4. Leave the news behind

Give yourself permission to read or watch something completely unrelated to the news. Indulge in a new novel or watch a guilty-pleasure TV show. Try a new mindfulness app or meditation practice. If that feels like too much time that you can’t spare, at least give yourself 15 minutes to stare off into space with your phone off or on airplane mode.

5. Get a professional involved

It’s completely normal and OK to seek therapy or counseling. If you cannot attend a counseling session in person, you can reach a therapist or counselor online and set up a virtual session.

Airing your thoughts and concerns to an objective third party can do a lot for stress relief. For more specific information, please refer to The DART Center’s recommendations for seeking professional support.

6. Indulge in creativity, however brief

Try to write for yourself. This might sound challenging at first, especially if writing is your job, but taking time to spill your personal thoughts, ideas, and feelings onto an empty page can help relieve stress.

Whether you journal, write poetry, fiction, or a personal essay, even a small dedicated block of time for uninterrupted flow-of-consciousness writing can work. Specifically, you might try Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” exercise. You write uninterrupted—whatever comes to mind—until you fill three pages. The exercise helps relieve stress, reset your mind, and improve the focus and energy you have for your professional work.

If writing seems like too much to manage, try to sketch, listen to or play music, or engage in another creative interest.

Bonus

When it doubt, do anything that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Think cat videos, outside projects, or a walk in the park. Everyone has a happy place. Sometimes, we just need to go there.

Next Steps

Review and download the OnlineSOS Action Plan for Emotional Well-being. You can use this list proactively—check in with yourself once a month or distribute to your newsroom and colleagues—or reference it when you start to feel particularly anxious or stressed.

If you want even more ideas right from the source, read what these 17 journalists have to say about self-care and political reporting →

We'll leave you with some wise words from Prachi Gupta, a senior reporter for Jezebel: