stress ball
Credit: Image by bottled_void on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

It's no secret that journalism can be one of the most stressful jobs around.

With competition in the newsroom growing in the digital age, the pressures of tight deadlines, covering breaking news and adapting to new technology are increasing all the time – along with our stress levels.

Although stress can be inevitable, it can also be managed, which helps people be happier at work and feel more fulfilled in their role.

Going for long walks, taking a five minute breather or even colouring in are ways to calm your mind and relieve the often overwhelming pressures of the newsroom.

Katie Hawkins-Gaar, digital innovation faculty member at The Poynter Institute, and Ren LaForme, journalist and interactive learning producer at The Poynter News University, are currently working towards helping journalists make their work lives less stressful through their 40 Better Hours programme.

"We realised while working with journalists at Poynter that there is a lot of demand for this topic and a lot of people are looking for ways to make their work lives better," Hawkins-Gaar told in a recent podcast.

We also have to take care of ourselves in order to be able to do our jobs wellKatie Hawkins-Gaar

Through teaching and workshops, the 40 Better Hours project helps journalists manage their stress levels in the newsroom and leave feeling more energised.

"Journalism, by its nature, is a very stressful job and that is okay, but we also have to take care of ourselves in order to be able to do our jobs well," said Hawkins-Gaar.

Too many meetings, tight deadlines and copious amounts of emails are common sources of stress for journalists, along with the constant need to adapt to the evolving digital media industry.

"We have people [at Poynter] who have been reporting on local governments for 30 years, doing it in exactly the same way, and suddenly they are being asked to tweet their stories and post to Facebook," said LaForme.

"They don't necessarily understand why they need to be doing this or how they should be doing it."

Forty Better Hours is aiming to help journalists adapt to new ways of working and find the use of social media an exciting way to help them connect with readers.

"Everybody is trying to figure out how to keep up with those changes in a way that doesn't lead to burnout and can be instead met with excitement, enthusiasm and a wonderful attitude towards experimentation," Hawkins-Gaar said.

The pair highlighted the importance of reducing the level of stress in the newsroom by managing it in small parts.

"The most important thing that we teach people is you don't have to tackle it all at once – you can do it bit by bit, change one little thing every day and improve things slowly," said LaForme.

"You don't have to do it on your own – you've got a bunch of people who you're working with who also want to have a successful work day. By relying on people like that, you can make it a better experience for everybody."

You also don't have to be in a leadership position at work to help improve your work environment as well as that of your colleagues.

Doctor Sharon Melnick, stress resilience expert and author of 'Success Under Stress', believes that simple exercises done at your desk can make a dramatic difference to your day and overall health.

"It is our nervous system that responds to the demands of the day," she said.

"We have an 'on' button and an 'off' button for our nervous system, in which the on button gives us energy to focus solve problems and fulfil tasks under deadline.

"Our 'off' button gives us access to calm, rejuvenation, seeing the bigger picture and our most objective, clear and systematic thinking to form ideas."

Melnick noted that although access to our 'on' button is needed for our working days, we tend to stay on without giving our mind the rest it needs to function to its optimum level.

"In the moment of feeling overwhelmed, breathing is the fastest way to calm your mind," she said.

"When you find yourself getting heated up and reactive to situations, you want to stay cool, calm and collected."

Melnick suggested trying the 'cooling breath' technique which can be done at your desk.

"Cooling breath is a reverse breath where you slightly open your mouth and breath in, as if you are sipping through a straw, creating a wind tunnel over the top of your tongue," she said.

"You then breathe out a normal and slow deep breath through your nose – it helps to take you out of the moment of hijack and put you back in the part of your brain that can see the big picture and think things through."

She also recommended using aromatic oils and maximising productivity by having intense periods of concentration followed by brief periods of recovery.

For more tips and advice, listen to the full podcast with Hawkins-Gaaar, LaForme and Melnick below.

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