Stress Awareness Month, recognized every April since 1992, aims to educate people on the causes and effects of stress, and how to cope with these feelings in healthy ways.
Journalism is a notoriously stressful profession, and the demands of the job can make it that much more difficult to proactively manage stress levels.
Below are common sources of stress, signs that your body is overwhelmed, and healthy ways to address and diffuse stressful situations.
Sources of Stress
While money, work and the political climate have consistently topped the list of stressors for Americans in recent years, the global COVID-19 pandemic profoundly compounded these factors and continues to affect our day-to-day lives.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), common sources of work stress include:
- Low pay
- Excessive workloads
- Conflicting priorities or demands
- Lack of control over job-related decisions
- Few opportunities for growth
Sound familiar? Journalists are no strangers to pay cuts or short-staffing. They are being asked to write increasingly complex stories amid the challenging backdrop of a pandemic, a war in Europe, upcoming elections and more. And nearly half of journalists told us that they’re covering five or more beats.
Those still working from home may have had a stressful and time-consuming commute eliminated. But what home offices offer in convenience, they may lack in privacy.
Work-from-home environments can be dimly lit, overwhelmed with clutter and reminders of unfinished projects, or makeshift spaces that don’t offer a boundary between “work” and “home.” Further blurring the line between work and play is the potential presence of children, spouses or other family members, resulting in reshuffling a typical workday to accommodate the reality of these living situations.
All these factors combine to create a stressful environment for reporters.
Recognizing Signs of Stress
Temporary or acute stress can be positive. It releases adrenaline and other hormones that lead to the “fight or flight” response and heighten our performance. But when stress persists, it may contribute to long-term health issues, burnout or even PTSD for those reporting on traumatic situations.
The emotional toll of stress can result in sadness, anxiety, irritability or anger, mood swings, other changes in behavior, and insomnia. Physically, stress can present itself in muscle tension, headaches and a lack of energy.
Everyone experiences and handles stress differently. To better understand your own stress triggers and how you respond, try to identify specific events or situations that create stressful feelings. Note what signals your body sends you to communicate that it’s stressed.
Journal any unhealthy habits that you may be using as a coping mechanism. This will help you identify where changes can be made.
Being in tune with your body will help enable you to manage stress instead of letting it become debilitating.
How to Cope with Stress
If you know what your stressors are and how your body responds, you can learn how to manage and diffuse those feelings to hopefully mitigate stress-induced symptoms.
The APA offers specific tips for coping with stress at work, chronic stress and traumatic stress, but the tips below apply to any type of stress you may be experiencing.
- Prepare for stress. A 2019 survey found that most journalists have not received education about crisis reporting, but those that have report higher levels of stress awareness and coping mechanisms. This Trauma & Journalism Guide is a good place to start (or just explore the Dart Center’s website).
- Practice self-care. Yoga and other forms of exercise help boost your endorphins and contribute to your overall well-being. Relaxing activities like meditation or taking a bath can help keep you calm, grounded and balanced. Be sure to make time for things that bring you joy — whether that’s reading, playing video games or cooking. And don't forget to eat well and get a good night’s rest!
Remember: Self-care is just doing what makes you happy. These blogs can help you get started.
- Establish boundaries. If you work from home, try to define your working space with a physical boundary, like a door, divider, or piece of furniture. Set limits, remind yourself to say “no,” and disconnect from social media and even the news when you can.
- Focus on what you can control. Stress and anxiety can quickly become overwhelming and make us feel helpless, but you can combat those feelings with action. Here are a few ideas:
- Add things to your working environment that make you happy, whether that’s a plant, picture frame or collectible toy.
- If your stress is job-specific, try talking to your supervisor or HR department; they can offer guidance, employee resources or help come up with a plan to address your particular stressors.
- At the end of each day, reflect on 3 things you are grateful for to stay in a positive headspace.
Utilize Your Network for Help
Leaning on friends and family for support is difficult when many people are still isolating and dealing with their own stressors. But a strong social network can do wonders for your stress levels. Don’t hesitate to discuss your problems with your partner, a trusted family member or friend to help alleviate tension.