Tips for Journalists & Bloggers: 9 Ways to Cope With Stress
Writing is a creative pursuit and trying to fit that creative process within rigid boxes of deadlines and word counts can be stressful. Not to mention everything else going on in the media world, from constant Twitter chaos to layoffs to a looming election news cycle and more.
April is Stress Awareness Month, so what better time than now to share some tips for coping with stress for writers.
Here are some tips for keeping the stress at bay when possible and coping with it effectively when it happens.
1. Plan ahead and manage your time
When we are winging it or flying by the seat of our pants, stress builds up because of the precarity and uncertainty of the situation. Planning ahead makes us feel less stressed. I use the ubiquitous and easily accessible Google Calendar to schedule writing times and other activities in the coming weeks and months. This way I know what is coming and it gives me a sense of mental peace.
A calendar is a writer’s best friend. Choose a planner that works for you. You can find a few options here.
2. Use writing hacks
I have recently learned a new hack called mind-mapping which I have found to be helpful in rapid ideation and mapping out the beats of an article.
Mind-mapping is basically drawing a diagram for any particular topic. For example, I put the title of this article in the middle of the page in a circle and thought of all the ways I manage stress. I then created a bubble for each point. For each bubble, I made sub-points which I put in sub-bubbles. This way I was able to map out my article pretty quickly. After that, it was only a matter of filling in the details.
So draw an outline of what you are going to write. Assign approximate word counts and time required for each sub-topic. It can help prevent you from running in all directions and can give you a clear idea of what you want to say.
3. Limit social media usage
Social media has become one of the biggest scourges on our time and mental peace. Mindless scrolling can be endlessly entertaining (sometimes) and highly addictive — which makes it imperative to limit it, especially for creatives.
A few years ago, I was struggling with social media addiction. As soon as I opened my laptop, the urge to check what was happening in my social circle would overpower me before I could start work. One of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to “put first things first” and I was putting first things last and all other unimportant things first. There was no way to write and research without opening the laptop but it also meant opening the gate to my addiction. It ate all my time and focus. When we don’t have time for things we actually want to do, we feel stressed.
So use all the tools in the toolbox, such as installing a phone usage tracker. I have tracking enabled on my phone which sends me a report every Sunday not only of the number of hours I have spent on the phone but also the top three apps on which I spent the most time. It has helped me be more mindful of my phone and social media usage. You can also disable notifications and only check your phone at designated intervals. Or try placing the phone in Do Not Disturb mode during dedicated writing times. Use whichever method helps you get your writing done.
Here are a few other ideas for managing social media burnout.
Apart from the tools above, the practice that has really helped me rein in social media usage is meditation.
Meditation can be a great help in increasing focus and reducing all the noise. Meditation helps calm the mind and allows you to be present with the work at hand. If you are new to meditation, you can start with an app like Headspace. As you become more confident, seek out meditation classes near you or even join an online group. Some companies are beginning to sponsor meditation app subscriptions, so take advantage of that option if it’s available to you.
There are countless studies documenting the benefits of meditation. In fact, there is a technique called MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) which uses meditation to reduce stress. Harness this great resource to become a more balanced writer.
5. Get a mentor
A mentor can help by illuminating the path that they have already trodden before us. A mentor can show us the bigger picture when we are caught up in minutiae.
As a new immigrant more than a year ago, I had a mentor through TRIEC (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council) who helped me build a roadmap for my goals. My mentor helped me avoid wasting time and energy and provided emotional support when things went haywire. My mentor’s support helped me get through that hiccup much more quickly and with much less stress than if I had gone through it on my own.
There are multiple ways of finding a mentor. Reach out to someone you admire on LinkedIn or someone you look up to in your own workplace. Professional associations and even social media platforms can be good places to find a mentor.
Read our post with job and internship resources for journalists, which includes several mentor programs for media workers.
6. Learn constantly
As writers, it is important to keep honing our craft. Being confident and assured in our work can help reduce stress. So take up a writing course — in person or online, whatever your schedule permits. I have been participating in writing courses with GALE since last year and I have found a lot of value in polishing my skills. I even learned about mind-mapping during one such course.
Learning from our own mistakes is also key to boosting our writing skills. Seek out feedback from peers, superiors, or mentors to figure out what you’re doing right and where a change of direction is needed.
Looking for new learning opportunities? Check out these upcoming events for journalists and bloggers.
7. Know your limits
Knowing what steps of your process can trigger stress is key for keeping those feelings of being overwhelmed at bay. Understanding your limits allows you to prevent stress before it happens, rather than just react to it. This may mean taking a minute before starting a potentially stressful project. It could be negotiating a difficult-to-meet deadline.
It is imperative for writers to learn to advocate for themselves and be able to convey their boundaries. We have to take responsibility for our mental health and stress levels.
8. Remember the purpose
Keeping the “why” in mind is very important to keep us going through stressful situations. When we keep the purpose front of mind, the steps we take toward fulfilling that purpose aren’t as stressful as just mindlessly completing the smaller tasks. Remember the end goal to help reduce stress and give you the fuel you need to keep moving ahead.
9. Consult a professional
While knowing your limits is key, it’s also important to know when you’ve exceeded them. If all else fails, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Before stress starts interfering with day-to-day functions, it is good to consider getting help from a trained professional who is not emotionally invested in our story. The process can help us see the bigger picture, develop coping strategies, and more. Many companies offer Employee Assistance Programs as well as benefits that include therapy. There are also myriad resources specifically for journalists dealing with stress, covering traumatic events, coping with layoffs, etc.
Let’s push back against the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues and ask for the assistance we need to be OK.
Apart from these tools, maintaining a full life with good diet, exercise, and a robust social network is an essential ingredient of being happy and stress-free.
Tinker with your routine and see what works for you.
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Mehak Aggarwal is a Content Editor at Cision. In her free time, she can be found hiking, reading, and weaving tales on her personal blog.