Searching through four of the UK’s primary job sites*, I found that one in five adverts used the word “pressure”, with phrases like “calm under pressure”, “unflappable under pressure”, and “ability to work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment” commonly sprinkled throughout the pages.
But what does all that mean? Can people with anxiety cope well under pressure? Can they even enjoy working in a sector like journalism? If you’ve ever questioned your life choices while sitting in a newsroom at 3am with gigantic butterflies in your stomach, or felt your breath catch when you see an email from an editor, then this article is for you.
The Importance Of Getting To Know You
“I think learning how you work as a writer will help a lot with your anxiety, because it’s almost like you’re hacking yourself, you understand how you work,” explains Yasmina Floyer, a London-based freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian, Cosmopolitan UK, and more. “Having that understanding will really, really help you when you do have those moments of anxiety and those pressure points.”
To put it another way, think about every good line manager you’ve ever had. What did they all have in common? They most likely understood you, embraced your individuality, and let you work in your own way. We rarely afford ourselves the same privilege, but embracing your natural working style can make all the difference in anxiety management.
Charlie† is a freelance financial journalist with experience in broadcast media and print. They often use similar techniques when working, in particular, having back-up plans to reduce anxiety around their work outputs. The key is to recognise your triggers before anxiety develops.
“When I’m close to a deadline and I haven’t got the thing I need, I can feel it creeping up. For me, doing as much as I possibly can to get it over the line, whatever it is, reduces the anxiety,” Charlie reflects. “So if I’m starting to worry, I’ll just pick up the phone to get more leads. I need to identify why I’m panicking, and what will make me not panic anymore”.
Other journalists recommended preparing interview questions in advance as much as possible, as well as easing into interviews by asking people about their day first.
Yasmina Floyer (L, Credit: Jill Mead) and Dr Maurice Duffy (R)
Getting to know your natural working style can also help you choose a job where you truly thrive. Isabelle, an associate producer for television news, says, “Different roles will have different requirements and one role might not be so suited to you. That doesn’t mean the industry isn’t for you. There will be a role for you.
“Don’t be deterred if the first role that you get isn’t the one that you want, that’s fine. Just note down the things that you do like and maybe things that you don’t like, and then try and find a role somewhere within that.”
Finding what works for you will be a gradual process. For instance, some people with anxiety might feel like a busy newsroom is a perfect environment where they can get out of their own head and throw themselves into their work, while others can’t think of anything worse.
Equally, if you really enjoy something and find an aspect of it triggers anxiety, you shouldn’t necessarily cast it aside altogether. An instant fit is rare — if you haven’t found it yet, it doesn’t mean you’re failing, or that you shouldn’t be a journalist.
Turning To Others For Help
Reflecting on her own experiences, Floyer adds: “Honestly, it’s what held me back from even getting into journalism in the first place. The thought of having the expectation of an editor or a publication on me was just so crushing that it took my desire to be a published journalist to outweigh that anxiety.”
Sometimes we need other people to help us work out if our anxiety is rational. Floyer found social media was very helpful for this. “Some writers and editors are very, very generous about sharing their editorial process. Getting a peek behind the curtain goes a long way towards dispelling that anxiety, because then you suddenly see that what you’re experiencing is normal.”
For Charlie, online communities and networks have been vital for receiving help. She explains: “There is more pressure on you [as a freelancer] — you don’t have colleagues to sound ideas off. Sometimes you need your virtual colleagues so you can ask, ‘Can I run this by you?’”
“Learning how you work as a writer will help a lot with your anxiety, because it’s almost like you’re hacking yourself. Having that understanding will really help when you do have those moments of anxiety.”
Yasmina Floyer, freelance journalist
Developing Tools And Mechanism To Cope
Whatever the work environment, it’s likely you’ll encounter stress and anxiety at some point. Thankfully, according to Dr Maurice Duffy, a mindset coach with 30 years of experience, there’s plenty you can do to help manage it.
He explains that stress frequently causes anxiety, but stress rarely allows us to understand the situations we’re facing. “It believes that everything is an emergency. Whilst you may not control all the events that happen to you, you can decide if you are controlled by them.”
He adds: “Anxiety is 10 percent what you experience and 90 percent how you respond to it. Nothing diminishes stress and anxiety faster than action.”
As a first response, he recommends a combination of breathing and movement. Simple techniques such as box breathing, can help you slow your breathing, distract your mind, and calm the nervous system.
Similarly, movement works with your body. “When faced with stress, the body responds with the fight, flight, or freeze response,” he explains. “Exercise can help your body complete the stress response cycle, allowing you to come back into balance when you finish.”
Dr Duffy also echoes Floyer’s advice about talking to others, as well as highlighting the importance of prevention. “I always say if you cannot find 10 minutes a day for meditation then you really need to find an hour. Learning to clear your mind through meditation can be a great tool to alleviate anxiety and stay present.”
Organisations Supporting Journalists' Mental Health
• Film + TV Charity: Resources and support for those working behind the scenes in film, TV, and cinema.
• Mind: National mental health charity offering practical support and resources.
While these techniques can be useful in managing symptoms, Dr Duffy emphasises that if you find stress and anxiety are affecting your day to day life, it’s vital to see a professional. While asking for help might feel anxiety-inducing in itself, it’s important to push past this.
“Stressing about it makes it worse,” says Isabelle. “Take a breather and have a glass of water. At the end of the day, there’s not really much else you can do other than just try your hardest. I’d say try to stay as calm as possible, be realistic with your expectations, and just communicate as much as you can.”
Another common aspect of journalism that can also cause distress is regularly reporting on upsetting topics. “The first thing is not to feel guilty about it. It’s a very normal feeling. And I think most people do feel the same way, even if they don’t express it outwardly,” Isabelle muses.
“There are always people you can talk to like your colleagues or your managers. Book time off if you need to, schedule in those days where you can just kind of switch off and do things that you enjoy. There are also news sites where it’s just positive news. I feel like that always does help and makes you realise that the world isn’t just all doom and gloom.”
* Data collected from Journo Resources, Journalism.co.uk, Cision UK Jobs, and Hold The Front Page on October 13, 2022. † Name changed at the request of interviewee.
Header image courtesy of Tonik via Unsplash
Part of the Journo Resourcers fellowship class of 2022, Alicia Mills is a writer, researcher, and project manager based in between North Wales and London.
She has four years of experience working in the cultural industry, including for the National Theatre and the Almeida Theatre. Alicia is currently undertaking a master’s in research, and was recently shortlisted for the Guardian Foundation’s Hugo Young Award.