As you prepare to become a journalist, it’s important to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare for the demands of a competitive and relentless field. I never could have predicted the stress I would endure when I became a journalist. Now that I made it through the other side, I want to share some tips to avoid some common problems that could rob you of your passion for this fulfilling industry.
One of the first things you’ll notice as an entry-level journalist is that you will likely be scheduled inconsistent and long hours. Many journalists start on the overnight shift. If you’re lucky, you will consistently work overnights. If you think overnights are horrible, it’s much worse to switch your sleep cycle from nights to days. Just because you can pull all-nighters to study for tests now, doesn’t mean you can survive on a couple hours of sleep for years in a row. Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the effects of sleep deprivation on your body. Not getting enough regular sleep will increase your chances of making errors. Getting written up is nothing compared to shaving years off your life.
Sleep deprivation will also put you at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. That will make it harder for you to deal with a sudden influx of traumatizing experiences you’re about to subject yourself to. Journalism is traumatizing. As a journalist, you will get up-close and personal with death, torture, abuse, and loss. You will see first hand, and read detailed descriptions of horror that you will need to censor for the sake of your audience. One traumatic event is impactful enough, but most journalists live this life every day for years. That can lead to nightmares that could make it even harder to get a healthy amount of sleep.
You need to take care of yourself. Journalists are notoriously fueling themselves with too much coffee and processed food. This can lead to a list of health issues that will directly affect your ability to do your job well. Not to mention, medications to patch these self-inflicted problems will likely cost money and time off work to see a doctor. So, please don’t underestimate the value of eating healthy and getting sleep.
Last but not least, get up and move. Some reporters run around town covering stories. But many journalists like producers, writers, assignment editors, video editors, and managers spend too many hours hunched over a desk. I had to take a medical leave from my first job when I developed debilitating carpal tunnel and tendonitis. I was a fit 22-year-old. One day my hands started going numb. Before I knew it, I couldn’t open doors, turn on a faucet or even button my own pants. I went to dozens of doctors and sat through painful physical therapy. I felt ridiculous. Who knew bad posture and too many hours of typing could be so destructive? I learned about ergonomics and started taking better care of myself. Fortunately, I’m doing great now, but I know many journalists who had to have surgery on their wrists because of poor posture and too much typing.
I also highly suggest using exercise and sunlight to fuel up on endorphins. The American Psychological Association details the benefits in The Exercise Effect.
One of the best forms of exercise you can do for yourself is yoga. The breathing alone will improve blood flow, promote healing, reduce inflammation and lower stress. A study published in Yoga Journal found that “consistent yoga practice improved depression and led to a significant increase in serotonin levels and a decrease in the levels of monoamine oxidase (an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters) and cortisol.” I highly encourage you to read about more health benefits of yoga here:
Denise Austin is my favorite yoga instructor. You can find short yoga videos and reminders to stay healthy by following her on Twitter.
This is one free yoga video I use. It’s only 20-minutes so you can easily fit this in before work.
As part of a massive campaign to improve working conditions, The Poynter Institute launched 40 Better Hours. Check out this video about how journalists can improve their mental health so they can love their jobs and their lives.
5 ways journalists can mitigate stress on the job
Burnout in journalists: A systematic literature review
News Lab: Producer Burnout
Newspaper journalism in crisis: Burnout on the rise, eroding young journalists’ career commitment