It’s so hard reporting on things because stress or something!
January 2021 brought a significant change to America. A new year, a new administration, and hopefully, a new commitment to finding common ground. Appreciating our common humanity and working together are themes echoing all around us. This sense of promise comes just a few weeks after a frightening insurrection at the Capitol and in the midst of a divided nation, with gaping wounds that remain.
As a Black woman, mother, psychiatrist and mental health policy expert, the emotional shifts and psychological impact of world events are commonly the focus of my clinical work with others. For years, the news of the day has entered the consulting room, demonstrating the very real impact of events, such as the police killing of unarmed Black men, have on the lives of those seeking mental health care.
Journalists occupy a unique position at the intersection of news, mental health, and societal norms. Those called to the profession of journalism likely have intuitive listening gifts and can easily put themself in the shoes of another — a capacity for empathy. At times, journalists have led entire nations to endure moments of collective trauma and adversity. I’m thinking here of the reporting on 9/11 and in the immediate aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In that sense, journalists are not unlike mental health professionals in that they help us process emotional trauma and transform chaos into “meaning-making,” which allows others to heal.
But journalists are not likely to be trained mental health professionals, requiring each to rely on their own experiences and skills to navigate the flood of emotions that come with the work. Luckily, there are many positive coping skills that journalists can use to process difficult experiences and emotions. These can include processing difficult situations with colleagues, journaling or other self-reflective practices, attending to the body with regular exercise and a healthy diet, and investing in individual psychotherapy, which can provide a protected space to check in with your feelings and process difficult emotions with a professional.
Boundaries are a defining aspect of maintaining mental health. Setting clear boundaries with oneself and others helps to demarcate work from home life, for example. In contrast, the blurring of boundaries can make one feel that a “good journalist” will do “whatever it takes” to get the story, or that the saliency of today’s crisis eclipses the importance of other needs and relationships in our lives. When boundaries are blurred, we make choices that do not serve us well and do not honor our true priorities. To keep those boundaries firmly intact, one might consider protecting time outside of work. Although this can be difficult to carve out initially, setting aside completely work-free time daily, monthly and annually, could be a first step.