Journalists experience work-related stress in the time of COVID-19 pandemic

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Citing medical studies, psychiatrist Dr. Reggie Pamugas said that work related stress, especially among journalists, is common. Around 86 to 100 percent of journalists are actually exposed to “potentially traumatic events over the course of their careers.”

By RITCHE T. SALGADO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Drastic changes and extreme challenges in one’s work and personal life brought about by the pandemic are causing work-related stress especially among journalists.

If left unmanaged this could cause problems that would not only affect the journalist, but their family and the news organization they serve.

In an article by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalists (PCIJ) (URL for link back: https://pcij.org/article/4043/journalists-struggle-to-cover-the-pandemic-as-space-for-media-freedom-shrinks), Nonoy Espina, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) pointed out some of the challenges that journalists face in their job.

Safety issues, economic difficulties, and government restrictions that affect the gathering and delivering of news especially with media outfits critical to the government, are some of these challenges.

And then there is the danger posed by the vilification and red-tagging of journalists and alternative outfits by government agents and the continuing killings of colleagues in the provinces.

Psychiatrists Dr. Reginald Pamugas and Dr. Eunice Sermonia shared with media practitioners in an online webinar hosted by NUJP that stressors such as these would indeed take its toll on journalists, and with the added lifestyle changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that many journalists are in extreme stress.

Pamugas said that research shows that “pressures of a crisis can trigger physical reactions” that could distort one’s perceptions and decision making.

The amygdala is the structure in the brain that would be affected. This is the fear and anger center and activates the “fight, flight and freeze” reactions.

Pamugas shared that if a person could no longer handle the stress that they are experiencing, they might go through the amygdala hijack, where the person becomes emotionally charged.

“The brain could no longer assess and plan how to react,” he said. The amygdala would block “slow” thinking and an “unthinking response,” which is sometimes violent, would be elicited.

Four levels of reaction to stress

He shared that when a person experiences stress and trauma, the body and the mind would react on four levels: physical, thinking, emotion, and behavior.

“When a person is stressed the body would release stress hormones to all parts of the body,” he said. This hormone, called cortisol, when excessive could cause various conditions to the body including palpitations, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Stress also distorts the decision making of the person as he starts to think negatively and pessimistically like thinking that he would go hungry or that he could not finish the story that he needs to submit.

Emotionally, stressed individuals may experience extreme fear, sadness and anxiety, while behaviorally, Pamugas shared that a stressed person may cope negatively isolating herself, fearing she might get the disease or be the cause of spreading the disease to the family.

Citing medical studies, Pamugas said that work related stress, especially among journalists, is common. Around 86 to 100 percent of journalists are actually exposed to “potentially traumatic events over the course of their careers” causing post traumatic stress disorder, depression and even substance abuse in many instances.

However, he is optimistic because, quoting Bruce Shapiro of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, “journalists are a resilient tribe.”

Pamugas said that journalists have a strong peer support system, which is very important because, as Shapiro pointed out, “Resilience is highly associated with connectedness and peer support. Isolation is highly associated with risk.”

Collective grief and stress

Sermonia explained that the stress suffered by people in this time of pandemic is a collective experience of grieving as the world goes through drastic changes that literally transformed the way people behave and interact.

“There is a loss of normalcy,” she explained.

People fear the economic consequences that these changes bring, explained Sermonia emphasizing on those who are on a “No Work, No Pay” scheme. Add to that is the fear on the loss of safety and security of one’s health.

There is also a loss of connection, where we are no longer able to interact with friends and family or we could no longer do what we used to do outside.

Healthy coping

In order to cope healthily, Sermonia advises that we keep ourself safe and healthy by taking necessary precautions especially when one has to go out and interact with other people, and by finding meaning in what we do.

“This is a great opportunity for us to make our contribution,” she said.

Empathy and compassion towards others is also important. As an example she said that some people may be highly irritable at this time. If this is not their usual behavior that it could be brought about by stress, and so we should learn to tolerate and understand them.

Sermonia believes that positive self talk is important for us to cope with the situation, as well as taking small breaks from our routines.

She reminded everyone that we should be able to know how to disconnect not just from social media, but also from work.

“At this time the boundary between work and home is blurred,” she said.

“It is important not to mistake work and work from home,” she reiterated, adding that it does not mean that working from home doesn’t mean that one has to answer work-related calls after working hours.

Manage your stress

With this she suggested several ways of managing stress including progressive muscle relaxations, mindfulness, and breath counting meditation which starts with abdominal breathing exercises, and talking with friends and loved ones is also a way of managing stress.

Lastly, she advised that “if you feel sad, take time to feel sad; and if you feel angry, take time to be angry.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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