On taking a break...again

By Katy Mersmann

From Flickr user Jason Howie
We have talked about it before: the need to take a break and a breather from the newsroom to maintain some semblance of sanity. At Mizzou, we've taken to calling it #MyPersonal45, encouraging student journalists to take a 45 minute break, everyday, from work and stress and do something they really care about. (And then tweet and tell us what they do!)

So, it was kind of fitting when I was perusing the national ONA Twitter account and saw a link to a Poynter story about the mental exhaustion social media managers and reporters face when following graphic, disturbing stories. The problem is especially pervasive right now, with images of horrific executions of journalists coming out of Syria. Poynter quotes Bruce Shapiro, executive director of The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, who mentions that the images and stories can be especially challenging because so many of the social media managers following them are young and inexperienced, and not used to viewing extreme suffering.

And these social media managers are likely surrounded by the graphic images, because the social media news cycle never stops and the jobs of many social media journalists involves verifying these pictures. Even as student journalists, we face a similar problem. We may not be required to look at graphic and horrific images for pay, but our lives and grades depend on staying informed, on knowing what's happening in the world, and unfortunately, that often means exposing ourselves to some very upsetting images and stories.

I've seen friends and peers start to burn out from keeping a constant eye on social media, and being exposed to a firehose of depressing and graphic imagery. It's something all journalists in the social media age have to be wary of.

So what can we do to avoid this mental burnout, or at the very least, to help deal with it?

The Dart Center has some recommendations for reporting on tragedies, which can apply for both physically being there and reporting via social media:

1. "Know your limits."
This one is really important. You know your needs and you have to be honest with yourself and your editors about how much you can look at before you need to step away. Stand up for yourself.

2. "Take breaks."
I've already mentioned Mizzou's experiments with #MyPersonal45, which calls for physically stepping away from the news for a little while and focusing on doing something you really enjoy. For me, that means being a running coach for elementary school girls and watching shows I enjoy on Netflix. It's important to step away from the suffering every so often, before you get overwhelmed.

3. "Find someone who is a sensitive listener."
Your listener can be almost anyone. A friend, a therapist, an editor, your mom (unless you don't want to worry her). Just find someone to talk to about how you're feeling.

4." Learn how to deal with stress."
As journalists, this is important no matter what you're reporting on. Learn how to identify when you're feeling overwhelmed and what you can do to ease it. Eat something, step away for a minute, have a good cry if it helps.

5. "Understand that your problems may become overwhelming."
It's important to remember that your feelings are real and they matter. If you need some space, take it.

So, what do you think? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the suffering you're reporting on, or what you see on social media? Comment here or tweet @ONAMizzou and tell us how you deal with emotional stress.

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