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MASS DISASTERS: What Reporters Can Do To Take
Care of Themselves
Victims and the Media Program offers e-mail support for journalists
who want to share feelings with their peers. If you would like to
be paired with someone who has been there, click
here to e-mail Bonnie Bucqueroux - please put "PEER SUPPORT"
in the subject line.
shock and horror os 9/11. The devastation and frustration of Hurricane
Katrina. Reporters often find themselves on the front lines of mass
disasters alongside other first responders, seeing things that most
of us will never see. What can reporters do to take
themselves in such difficult times?
following is a list of short- and longer-term coping strategies based
on suggestions from the mental health professionals at the National
Center for PTSD and distilled advice from reporters and
other professionals who have witnessed extraordinary violence or suffered
the heat of the moment
time horizons - To get through the immediate assignment, recognize
that it may be necessary to go on "auto-pilot." Focus on
what to do next. But remember that this strategy only works short-term.
promise to yourself
- You can delay dealing with trauma, but promise yourself that you
will deal with your feelings later -- and then live up to that promise.
- Take a few minutes for a walk outside to breathe in fresh air or
call someone you care about. Circumstances may not allow you to leave
the assignment for long, but make the most of the small opportunities
to gain perspective and experience much-needed relief.
your competence - Reporting on violence is the toughest assignment.
Remember that you may uncharacteristically show emotion. You may make
mistakes. But you are a professional in a challenging assignment helping
others to assimilate terrible news. Never beat yourself up for doing
to supportive peers - You are not the only journalist who finds
that these assignments take a significant toll. Of course, there are
still some reporters and editors who deny the impact of trauma. Do
not let their ignorance or cynicism wound you or undermine your self-confidence.
Turn instead to empathetic peers who understand. You can e-mail
us (please put PEER SUPPORT in the subject line), if you would
like to be paired with a supportive reporter who knows how difficult
these assignments can be.
about trauma and PTSD
- You will find resources to help you understand PTSD through our
links page. As the experts from the National Center for PTSD say,
you will find that you are "not alone, not weak and not 'crazy.'"
on your personal support systems
- Talk with family, friends and co-workers, at your own pace. Follow
your own inclinations, but do not hesitate to call upon others for
help. There are times when we all need a shoulder to lean on - and
to cry on - and the good people in our lives take pride in our willingness
to trust them.
relaxation techniques - The National Center for PTSD recommends:
muscular relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, meditation, swimming,
stretching, yoga, prayer, listening to quiet music and spending time
in nature. Be aware, however, that disturbing physical sensations
can become more apparent when you are relaxed, so experiment to find
what is tolerable for you. (You may want to intersperse different
positive, creative activities
- Many people find that artistic expression helps them cope with stress
and trauma. Take a painting class. Take action on an issue that matters.
Volunteer to help others. Do things that make you laugh. Keep a journal.
Visit a museum. Play with children. Distraction alone cannot re-build
a life, but it is a positive force in the right direction.
an exercise program
- After getting your doctor's OK, begin a moderate but regular exercise
program. In addition to improving your overall health and fitness,
the brain chemicals exercise generates can help boost your spirits.
care of your physical self - Eat regularly and eat healthy foods.
Take time to sleep. Get a massage. Make time away from the telephone.
to adding new responsibilities (if you can).
help sooner rather than later
- Don't buy into the argument that you should tough it out as long
as possible before seeking help. Talk with your physician about the
trauma you have experienced. Seek references to counselors with whom
you can talk about what you have been through. There is no shame in
taking good care of yourself.
SIGNS FROM THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR PTSD:
You should be sure to seek help if:
you are experiencing any symptoms that are causing distress,
are causing significant changes in your relationships or are
impairing your functioning at work,
are self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs or
you are unable to find relief with the strategies listed above.
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