Self-care tips for journalists

Self-care tips for journalists

Self-care is as much about learning as it is about practicing. Help our journalism community by sharing how you are getting through this challenging time.

Here are our best strategies for taking care of yourselves during the coronavirus outbreak.


Mute, pause, delete: Edit notifications to gain emotional control

The siren call of notifications cry for your attention nearly 24 hours a day. In the limited scope of our pandemic lives, their volume seems to be getting louder — zapping our emotional energy while adding to stress levels

Whether it’s keeping up with always-breaking news, the fear of missing out on family vacation photos, the desire to correct harmful misinformation, or envy over friends celebrating, well, anything right now — the emotional toll of watching the world from a distance can add up. 

Here’s how you can quiet the noise: 

  • Schedule a social media audit for each platform you use. Mute, pause or delete individuals or organizations that consistently zap your energy. Try using just one platform per day to avoid getting overwhelmed. 
  • Turn off digital notifications for periods of the day — while you exercise, sleep, eat or (when you’re able) work. Not receiving texts or email updates can let you focus on what’s in front of you. 
  • Give yourself permission to disengage and not respond.

How to exhale with purpose

Is your breathing on autopilot? Chances are you’ve gone all day without inhaling or exhaling with purpose.

Focused, deep breathing can help reduce anxiety and is scientifically shown to slow down stress. Here are five techniques to try: 

  • Alternate nostril breathing: Exhale completely, then use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your fingers. Open the right nostril and exhale through that side. Then repeat, switching between nostrils for inhaling and exhaling. Continue for up to five minutes.
  • 4-4-8 Breathing: Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and release for eight seconds. Repeat several times. 
  • Belly breathing: Breathe through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Exhale and repeat several times. 
  • Breath meditation: Focus all attention on your breath, closing your eyes and practicing deep inhalation and exhalation. 
  • Breathing breaks: Take numerous short breaks in the day, raising your arms over your head while you take a deep breath and release it slowly. Or, listen to this playlist that will guide you through breathing.

Is your flame flickering? How to address burnout.

Burnout. It’s real, and chances are you’ve experienced one or more symptoms since the COVID-19 pandemic upended work as we knew it. 

Knowing the signs of burnout is one thing. Recognizing and doing something about yours, though, can take work — a daunting endeavor if you’re already exhausted, on edge or enthusiasm-zapped. 

Here are signs your flame might be flickering — and how to find a spark: 

  • You’re avoiding work. Maybe you’re procrastinating more, avoiding co-workers or ignoring email. It may stem from feeling like you need to be part of every conversation, especially when working from home. Try turning off Slack, email or other notifications when you need to focus your attention, and talk to your team about why you’ve taken a step back. 
  • The quality of your participation has changed. You might be speaking up less or seeing your routine tasks as mundane or unimportant in light of the circumstances. Revisit your job description and workload with your supervisor. They may not know the invisible work you’re doing from home, and you could explore tasks that better suit your talents.
  • You feel increased cynicism or depersonalization, which can appear as anger or irritability toward coworkers, sources or clients. Create boundaries, take  your earned time off, and set a daily out-of-office message when the workday ends. 
  • You feel unappreciated or disconnected. Ask yourself: Are you taking on work because someone asked you to, or did you invent a need? Talk to your supervisor, or suggest your team hold a regular virtual coffee break. Connecting with work friends can help ease burnout.

Get out of your head and use your hands

Crafting isn’t just for summer camp. If stress has you stuck in a rut, try making something with your hands. 

Making things can provide a healthy distraction from other stresses while letting you flex your creative muscles. Studies suggest that creativity improves mental and physical health

How? Making something gives you space to learn something new, focus on a task, break away from screens, and practice mindfulness — all important parts of a self-care routine. 

Ready to get busy? Try:


Push through with pandemic journaling

We get it: When you cover this historic pandemic all day and night, turning your thoughts inward — and writing more — may not be at the top of your self-care checklist. 

But journaling, or other expressive acts, do much to soothe and destress in the moment while providing meaningful reflection. Regardless of form — traditional pen and paper, blogs, photography, video — journaling allows for reflection and trend-spotting while offering a snapshot of the historic present for future generations. 

If you’re stuck getting started, consider this: 

No time for regular journaling exercises? Even a one-time 15- to 30-minute session can be beneficial. Try these pandemic-related prompts

  • What has changed in your day-to-day life since COVID-19 began? 
  • Do you think you’ve changed over the last several weeks and months? If so, how?
  • How are you maintaining connections to people and things that add to your joyfulness during the pandemic?
  • What are you learning about yourself as a result of the coronavirus-related shifts in your life?
  • Has this lockdown clarified anything for you about what you want in the future? Why?

We want to know how you are taking care of yourself. Share your self-care tips (big or small) to be published in this newsletter.  


Yes, you can find a few minutes to reset

“I don’t have time to de-stress!” Sound familiar? Yes, Zoom meetings, interviews, deadlines eat up time like Pac-Man devouring blue ghosts. But groaning about it only compounds the strain.

So here are some short — fewer than 10 minutes — strategies and practices to reduce anxiety that don’t require a “temporarily away” notice on your Slack channel.

  • Breathing. Five minutes of slow, deep, meditative inhaling and exhaling will calm you and help clear your mind. You can use mindfulness apps, an online guide or simply breathe while mentally scanning your body from top to bottom.
  • Music. Even a few minutes of calming music can ease your anxieties. Or, if in a private space, find a favorite sing-along song and belt one out. 
  • Freshen up or cool down. Take a break to brush teeth, wash your face, apply lotion. Or, you can try an extreme face plunge into ice water. They say it activates your diving response and resets you emotionally and physiologically.
  • Short yoga. You don’t need to take a class in the middle of the day to gain some benefit from yoga poses. Step away from your desk and try a child’s pose or downward-facing dog. You might even have time to stretch it into a plank before the phone rings again.
  • A short walk or a long stare. Step away from your desk and take a stroll through your house or apartment or into the backyard. If you’re worried about getting too far from your laptop, sit back and stare into the distance and take in your horizon. Throw in a deep breath or two.

You, pets and the pandemic

Have you become closer to your pets during the pandemic? You’re not alone

Spending time with animals has many positive effects, including improved heart health, lowered stress levels and decreased feelings of loneliness. Studies show that even just looking at a cute animal photo is good for you. 

But if you don’t — or can’t — have a pet at home, there are still ways to bring the joy of animals into your day.

And yes, it’s totally fine if you prefer to be in the company of your pets rather than humans right now.


Play your way through the pandemic

What’s a fun way to pass the time without an internet connection that’s also good for your health?

Board games

Just like with video games or puzzles, unwinding with a board game at the end of a long day has many benefits, from reducing stress and lowering blood pressure to boosting cognitive abilities and even improving your immune system. It’s also a great way to connect with the members of your household and unplug.

Here are some suggestions to get the gaming started:


Feel like you want to break something? Crack open a book

When you need to find some tranquility in your day, lose yourself in the pages of a book.

Books transport you to other places, other times. They make you think differently and redirect your focus from whatever had been preoccupying you. Even a short, 10-minute read is like a long sip of water.
Consider these reasons to keep a book within reach:

When you need to find some tranquility in your day, lose yourself in the pages of a book.

Books transport you to other places, other times. They make you think differently and redirect your focus from whatever had been preoccupying you. Even a short, 10-minute read is like a long sip of water.
Consider these reasons to keep a book within reach:


The labyrinth: An ancient form of self-care

Feeling stressed? Try wandering through an outdoor labyrinth. 

Labyrinths have been around since the Neolithic Age as a form of meditation or spiritual journey. Unlike a maze, labyrinths only have one entrance and exit, so without the worry of getting lost, it’s a great way to practice mindfulness and relax.

So it’s no surprise that labyrinths are gaining popularity this summer. Even without a big budget to spend on commissioning a backyard labyrinth, there are still three ways you can enjoy their benefits during the pandemic:


Your tech devices slowing down? Give them a cleanse

There’s that spinning pinwheel again, right on deadline. And your inbox is piled up with unnecessary mail. And your smart phone just informed you that it has reached its storage limit.

Don’t throw anything. Your devices are simply telling you it’s time for some summer tech cleaning.

Easy steps to declutter your phone:

  • The biggest space eater? Photographs. Those selfies you keep taking, move them to cloud storage. Try this for Android phones and this for iPhones.
  • Delete apps you don’t use or haven’t used in the past year. 
  • Clear up app data. Your music and podcast apps, for example, will save content on your phone for offline listening. But it takes up space, so delete it. You can still access it with wifi.

When your laptop needs the spa treatment, try these various cleanses:

  • First the aesthetics. Clean your mouse, your keyboard, your USB ports and your screen.
  • Get rid of the cord tangle at your feet. Use a good power strip and tuck your wires into a cable sleeve.
  • Don’t keep your equipment constantly plugged in. Charge them to 100%, unplug and don’t begin to charge again until they’re close to 20%. If you are traveling, follow the on-the-road ABC rule: Always Be Charging. You don’t know when you’ll get to another electrical outlet.
  • Shut your computer down every night.
  • Don’t ignore software and/or system updates, or make sure they are installing automatically. They often include protections and added safety features.
  • Clean your email inbox

Yes, it’s OK to use vacation time during the pandemic.

You. Are. Exhausted. So why haven’t you scheduled your paid time off? 

Detaching from work is essential to your well-being and to avoiding burnout. But employees typically don’t take their earned time off for a number of reasons – feelings of guilt, fears they could be perceived as uncommitted to work, or – worse – concern about losing their jobs. In pandemic conditions, those feelings have strengthened — especially for working parents with children at home. 

If a long vacation seems out of reach, consider taking several long weekends or a mid-week day off. 

Here’s how you can break away at your comfort level for traveling now. 

How are you using your time off during the pandemic? Share your trips and tips for getting away during the pandemic. 


How to think creatively about thinking creatively

Thinking creatively is part of any journalist’s work, but working from home — or an empty newsroom — for months may be leaving you feeling less than inspired.

Stoke your creative embers (and improve your mental health) through activities that pull you out of that rut. 

  • Embrace — don’t dread — isolation. Yes, collaboration is critical to creative ventures. But planned time alone can allow for intense thinking and focus.
  • Throw out the rules. Circumstances during the pandemic are challenging, no doubt, but give us a chance to challenge the status quo. Or to fail and try again. 
  • Diversify your peer groups. Studies show that nurturing relationships with people from different countries and cultures influences a person’s creativity. At the very least, reach out to friends you haven’t checked in with lately. 
  • Change your scenery. Working from the same chair with the same view can lead to the same thinking from day to day. Try a park, cafe or other outdoor space, swap out your wall decor, or walk and talk during meetings.

Kickstart your morning habits

Reaching for your phone first thing in the morning may be how you check in to your day. But checking in with yourself first thing should be part of your routine, experts say. How you do that will be specific to you, and consistency is key

Among the health benefits to having a solid morning routine? Less stress. Here are a few tips for focusing inward for a few minutes. 

Want more ideas? Explore this list of 127 ideas as you revamp your morning rituals, or take a peek at the routines of successful authors, entrepreneurs and creatives.


No time for a workout? Try desk-ercising.

You know exercise can improve your mental health and reduce stress. But making time for regular sweat sessions, especially with erratic work or home circumstances, can be tough. 

Here are some ways to work in workouts you don’t have to schedule. 

  • When appropriate, switch that video call to a walk-and-talk session. Moving during meetings can add to your step count and get you outdoors
  • Try super-short hourly exercises. Micro-workouts vary in time (think three minutes, seven-minutes or 10 minutes) but add up through the workday. Added benefits? Increased circulation and a boost of energy.
  • Can’t leave your desk? Try one of these 33 desk-ercises. With names like “The Grim Reamer” and “The Silent Seat Squeeze,” these moves can be performed without leaving your monitor. 

How are you staying active during the pandemic? Share your tips – you could help a fellow journalist. 


Shifting your desk can shift your attitude

Feeling a bit of WFH burnout setting in? Tired of going to the same spot in your house every morning and logging in? It might be time to change your point of view.

No, not a change in mindset. Just a change in scenery.

Imagine looking out over a new horizon, or the light hitting your desk at a different angle, or turning your back on the siren call of your television. All that can be reinvigorating and help your productivity.

Here are some tips on how to adjust your surroundings — and your mood: 

  • Grab your laptop and work from your balcony or backyard for a few hours, or a day.
  • Follow CDC and local health guidelines and try working at an outdoor cafe with wifi.
  • Too hot or too hot-spot? Get a new perspective by simply placing your laptop on another spot on the dining room table. 
  • Turn your work desk around. Instead of staring at that print all day long, you’ll now be looking out a window or patio door.
  • Change your wall decor
  • Bring a plant into your line of vision, maybe even an indoor blooming plant that you can watch transform from day to day.

Water can make you smarter

Fluid intake is important at all times, and especially during this summer’s heat wave. Indeed, research suggests body water loss of 1 to 2 percent can affect cognitive function.

About to conduct a difficult interview? Deadline approaching way too fast? Trying to make sense of government documents? In every case, reach for a glass of water.

Yes, water cools you down in the heat. But it also helps deliver nutrients in your body. It makes joints glide more easily. It can even help you control your weight.

What to drink: Most times, cool, clear, clean water is best. After a workout, a sports drink can help replace electrolytes. You can add lemon or a cucumber slice to your water for a bit of flavor. Coffee, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are not proper replacements for water as they tend to have a dehydrating effect on the body.

When to drink: Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. By then you are already becoming dehydrated. Drink in small sips; no need to gulp down a 16 oz.glass of water at once. Drink with food, it helps retain H2O in the body.

How much to drink: Americans on average drink about 4 cups of water a day. Some literature suggests drinking more. You can also use a hydration calculator. Or you can check to see how well-hydrated you are by simply going to the bathroom.


Heat and WFH — rise early, pull down shades, hydrate 

Yes, it’s a heat wave. But you don’t have to become a WFH puddle in a poorly air-conditioned work space.

Remember, prolonged exposure to heat is not healthy.

So here are some steps on how to work safely, be comfortable and meet a deadline, even as the heat index hovers in the three digits.

  • Dress down. You’re working remotely. Wear shorts, go barefoot.
  • If you have a ceiling fan, set it to turn counter-clockwise to push cool air down. Don’t bother running a fan in an empty room — fans cool you, not the space.
  • Improvise your air conditioning. Place a bowl of ice in front of a desk fan by your computer.
  • Cool your extremities. Your wrist, your feet, your neck have pulse points. Apply a cool damp cloth on the back of your neck or a ziplock bag of ice at your feet.
  • Hydrate. Increase your water intake, reduce caffeine. Avoid the temptation to over-ice your drink. Aim for 50 to 60 degrees.
  • Draw the shades down. The bright sun can heat up a room. It may be dark and a bit gloomy, but you will be cooler. If you have cross ventilation, open windows.
  • If you can, change your working hours. Get up earlier and hit your workspace before 7 a.m. Take a nap or go for a short (air conditioned) drive during peak heat.
  • Beware of your electronics. Unplug accessories you are not using, including chargers — they generate heat. Set your laptop on a table, not your lap. Turn off lights. 
  • Use a microwave or outdoor grill, not the stove. Or choose no-cook recipes.

Tips for freelancers

Financial security is a piece of any self-care plan. Whether you’re a longtime freelance professional or the economy has thrust you into independent work, entrepreneurship during the pandemic has created stress for the self-employed. 

When finances feel unstable, it’s enticing to focus on improving that area alone. Here are some other things to consider as self-care while freelancing: 

If you’re not currently a freelancer, check in on your friends who do contract or gig work. It’s a challenging time — and your outreach could feel like a lifeline.


Make the most of webinars

The pandemic has opened opportunities for at-home learning, with more free or low-cost courses at your fingertips. From professional development to personal enrichment, learning new skills can be an effective part of a self-care routine

Here’s how you can make the most of online learning opportunities: 

  • Be selective. Zoom fatigue is real, so commit only to sessions you are excited about. (Are you really going to revisit the video?)
  • Research the instructors. Evaluate their expertise in the subject, or feedback on their instruction style.
  • Focus fully. Close out email and other work, and turn off notifications. Multitasking is a myth
  • Prepare and participate. Prior to the webinar, list what you’d like to learn. Use the chat and question functions to chime in. 
  • Recognize marketing ventures. Some free learning available by commercial ventures come with sales pitches for their products throughout. 
  • Schedule time after the webinar to reflect on what you learned and fill in your notes. What can you apply now? Who can you share great information with? 
  • Respond to feedback surveys. In addition to letting organizers know what worked and what didn’t, a survey gives you built-in time to reflect on what you learned.

Ditch the Insta-glam version for more holistic approaches

Sorry, social media. Self-care is not all face masks, big wine glasses, yoga pants or scented candles. 

Sure, those items are great after a tough day. Self-care, though, involves building habits that support holistic reflection and support. Those habits often are more an investment of time than money. 

Here are some no-cost, high-yield methods to improve your self-care. The most important thing? Trying methods for each until you find what works for you. 

  • Set boundaries and articulate them. That can ease stress as it comes to work hours, when you’ll respond to email, or other assumed expectations. 
  • Eliminate toxicity. Step away from conversations – or people – that tap too much of your energy. 
  • Stake out your support group. Having a small, trusted group of colleagues, friends or family to explore and reflect on emotions with can elevate your daily experiences.
  • Listen to your body. When you are tired, rest. When you are hungry, eat. When your muscles are stiff or aching, get moving. And when you need a break, take one. 

How you apply self-care techniques is unique to your needs and comfort. And yes, that may be in yoga pants.


Yes, you should take breaks at work.

Feeling stuck at work? Take a break.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but short breaks throughout the work day can boost productivityimprove focus and creativity, and mitigate burnout. (Even a 30-second “micro-break” can make a difference.)

Here are some ideas to help you step away from the screen and recharge:

  • Take a walk. Short on time? That’s OK, even 5 minutes has a positive impact on your well being.
  • Stand up and stretch. Challenge yourself to get up every hour for a brief stretch break. This can help with stiff muscles and posture. (Setting notifications can help.)
  • Join a plank (or pushup) challenge. Planks are an effective way to strength-train on a busy schedule.
  • Try meditation. Meditation is a great way to alleviate stress. You also can practice it from anywhere — including your desk.
  • Make a healthy snack or lunch. Cooking is a great form of self-care. Not only can it be relaxing, it also sparks creativity. Even if you are in the middle of the day, there are plenty of recipes you can make in under five minutes.
  • Spend time with your pet. There are many benefits to being around a cute animal — lowered blood pressure, decreased loneliness and an excuse to exercise.

Light, water, action — how plants can boost health

A little greenery can go a long way toward self-care. 

Caring for houseplants or an outdoor garden can help you practice mindfulness, provide a sense of accomplishment, and even nourish you with much-needed vitamin D when working outdoors. They can even pump up your productivity when placed in your workspace.

Worried, though, that plant care might be more stressful than soothing? Here are some tips: 

  • Consider your home or outdoor area’s lighting, which should guide your choices. Some plants thrive tucked away in low light, and others demand center stage in your brightest window. Know what you’re working with before you head to the nursery.
  • Plants tell you what they need. Dropped or crispy leaves? “I need a drink.” Yellowing or thin leaves? “Help, I’m drowning!” (Watering isn’t one-size-fits all.) Slowed growth? Might  be time to prune. 
  • Plant care is a skill you learn over time. Learning about the plant’s needs, environmental elements and other factors is part of the joy that comes when a new leaf unfolds. 
  • Plants don’t have to be pricey. Many plant-lovers are open to trading cuttings or sell cuttings via Facebook Marketplace, Etsy or eBay. Investing in one easy-growing plant, like a vining pothos or sansevieria (snake plant), can pay off when you propagate cuttings to make new plants.

Remember: Green thumbs come in all shades.


Got student debt? Here’s some good news.

Student debt is the friend who’s hung around your house since college, long after the party is over. As journalists grapple with the multifaceted (and stressful) economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, a common thread is managing some form of student debt. 

The CARES Act suspended payments and interest on federally-held student loans through Sept. 30, 2020. While the break in payments is a welcome reprieve for borrowers coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, it also provides some opportunity to pay down debt faster. 

Here’s how: 

If you hold private loans as part of your student debt, the CARES Act doesn’t defer payments — so keep making them. If your financial situation is uncertain, consider refinancing to take advantage of lower interest rates or ask your lender about disaster or emergency forbearance

For up-to-date information on student debt during the COVID-19 pandemic, bookmark this page.


It’s just one foot in front of the other

You know that exercise is vital for your physical and mental health. And that being outside is good for you. And that getting a good night’s sleep is important.

Running — or walking — is an easy way to combine these three components of self-care. 

First, it offers countless health benefits. Second, you can get started right outside your front door. Third, it improves your quality of sleep

Here are some tips, for novice and seasoned runners alike, to maintain your running routine safely:

  • Get the right equipment. Running is a low-maintenance sport, but you still need to be prepared. You will need the right type of shoe. A good rule of thumb is to go a half-a-size up from your normal shoes. You may also consider ditching cotton clothing, especially in the warmer (or rainier) months.  
  • Increase your intensity or distance conservatively. Running too many miles or too fast can lead to injury. When upping your weekly mileage, try and stay within the 10 percent range. It’s also a good idea not to increase both speed and distance at the same time.
  • Try a walk/run combination. Intervals are a great way to build fitness. If you are new to running — or feel stuck in your routine — change up the pace. Go for 4:2 intervals, mixing up running with walking. This will help boost endurance while not burning you out.
  • Understand how heat impacts performance. No way around it, hot weather makes running harder. Do not worry about speed during the summer months; take it slow and always stop if you need water. (Here are tips for making summer running more bearable.)    
  • Bring a friend. A running buddy can help you stay motivated, but keep CDC guidance for social distancing in mind. 
  • Consider a different mask for running. If you are running in a crowded area, you may want to wear a mask. Some companies offer better breathable fabrics. You can also try a bandana, or something that you can pull down after passing others.
  • Set monthly goals. Even if there are no races on the calendar, you can still hit new milestones, whether you’re chasing a new personal record or just getting started.

Another benefit? Running/walking does not require a fancy gym membership and allows you to socially distance from other exercisers.


Helping others could give you a boost

When is the last time you checked on your friends and family? Not only the most vulnerable, but those you tend to leave alone because they seem to have it together.

Reaching out can help someone who may be in need of a chat or more, and it comes with great side effects: a sense of self-worth that boosts our own mental health. During this time of collective trauma related to both COVID-19 and addressing systemic racism, it’s important to recognize experiences vary day to day. 

People to check in on: 

  • the person who recently moved to a new city or state 
  • the person who lives alone 
  • the person who is a parent
  • the person who seems to have it all together
  • the person who always “sees the bright side”
  • the person who has pulled away recently

And, if you are the one used to being there for others, it’s OK to be vulnerable or ask for help.


How to safely start (or re-start) exercising

Yes, yes. We know: Exercise is good for you in so many ways, from physical and mental health to stress management to sleep assistance. 

If you’re finding new motivation to get moving during the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some things to keep in mind as you start – or restart – an exercise routine. 

  • Yoga? Running? Weights? What may work for others may not work for you. Select something you think you’ll stick to, and try something different if you find yourself waning. 
  • Start slowly and listen to your body. Pushing yourself to start at levels prior to the pandemic or beyond a beginner level could cause injuries.
  • Pencil in a paced walking workout. Experts recommend 45 minutes daily, which you can break into 10- to 15-minute chunks. 
  • After establishing your workout, increase pace or weight intensity conservatively, about 5 percent at a time.   
  • If heading to a gym, ensure you know local rules for safe reopening and follow safety protocols including masks and social distancing. 

Want more direction? Check out thisWell Summer Workout Challenge from The New York Times. Or share how you are restarting your workouts.


Check-ups vital, even during a pandemic

Making time for routine doctor appointments can be tough for journalists juggling work, family and other home needs. Add in limited appointment availability during the COVID-19 pandemic and instructions to avoid indoor spaces and activities, and medical care seems like a mixed message. 

But medical experts say patients shouldn’t delay wellness check-ins. Re-engaging through telemedicine is one option, but some care, particularly for annual check-ups, chronic illnesses and other critical needs, require face-to-face observations

The CDC recommends 

  • checking by phone or email with your doctors’ offices on the precautions they are taking; 
  • discussing new symptoms, chronic conditions, or important screenings with your physician;  
  • wearing masks and using contactless payment options; and
  • using curbside pickup for prescriptions, or requesting larger medicine supplies to limit pharmacy visits. 

To-do lists taking over? How to regain control.

Lengthy to-do lists can be life-savers or anxiety-inducers, particularly during a pandemic. When WFH interruptions and distractions diminish our productivity and, in turn, affect our sense of self-worth, it’s time to rethink the to-do list. 

  • Consolidate. Having one master list (farewell, Post-its) can minimize the negative feelings that come when something slips through the cracks.
  • End the day with a “done list”: a list of things you completed, instead of what’s left to do. Chances are, you’ve gone off your initial list and gotten done more than you think. 
  • Use your “done list” list to spot trends, and categorize your work. Finding your daily rhythms could be more effective than a to-do list.
  • Rethink your not-so-fun or easy things to do. Sub in “I get to for “I have to” when approaching tasks.
  • Celebrate accomplishments, however small they seem. 
  • Add self-care to your to-do list. Your well-being is important.

Don’t let the virus ruin your Independence Day

Chances are the stubborn coronavirus has canceled your July 4 neighborhood bash or the holiday travel plans you optimistically made more than a month ago. That doesn’t mean you have to forgo Independence Day traditions.

Try these celebratory suggestions:

  • At the table: Use the occasion to try a new holiday recipe. Or show off a patriotic refreshment like this simple lemonade with fresh strawberries and blueberries (and add your own adult kick).
  • In the backyard: Follow CDC social distancing rules — wear face coverings when less than 6 feet apart, have extra face masks available, encourage guests to bring their own food and drink, limit the number of food handlers and keep hand sanitizer nearby.
  • At the fireworks: If your community is holding fireworks, avoid any crowds and watch from a socially distanced space, such as a rooftop or an overlook. But many municipal displays have been canceled, and the American Pyrotechnics Association reports record retail sales, indicating a boom in backyard fireworks. If you plan to fire off some sparklers, cones or roman candles, know your local ordinances and follow safety tips. Important note to pet owners: Loud noises or discarded or spent fireworks can hurt your four-legged friends. So find a quiet place for your pup or follow this ASPCA advice.
  • On your own or with your significant other: Start to read your favorite summer book. Take a run/walk/bike ride for 7.4 miles in honor of the holiday. Watch a film that incorporates Independence Day. Or tune into your local PBS station for the broadcast of A Capitol Fourth.

Haven’t filed your taxes? The deadline is approaching.

Filing copy on deadline may be part of a journalist’s day, but filing important financial paperwork on deadline can cause harmful stress. So here is a friendly reminder: Federal tax filing and payment are due July 15. 

Millions of Americans were relieved when the federal government extended the deadline for filing, originally April 15, to this month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some states also extended their income tax deadlines, not all did — check with your state offices for details

Here are some tips for facing filing, if you haven’t already checked it off your list: 

  • Don’t put off filing any longer; it’s better to know what you owe or, even better, what you’ll be refunded. 
  • Break the job into smaller tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Budget research time, especially if you’ve moved states or transitioned from a newsroom to freelance work.
  • Hire a professional or use a guided software program if your situation is complicated or you want advice you can’t find from a reputable source. 
  • File for an extension — but don’t prolong the stress that could come with it.

No use denying your anger, but you can manage it

That maskless guy in the grocery store who insists on hovering a bit too close — Don’t you want to just clobber him? That tweet from some far end of the political spectrum — Aaargh! No one returning your calls and emails — Gimme a #%@&* break! 

Anger. It’s an emotion. Deal with it.

First, don’t deny your anger. Anger can be emotionally, professionally, even socially and politically useful. It can inform others about your limits or bring about social change; witness the effect of racial justice protests on public policy and behavior.   

But it seems anger is everywhere these days. The public is angry about restrictions related to the pandemic. It is angry about police brutality and racial injustice. And journalists are caught between documenting frustration and feeling it themselves.

Managing feelings of anger can keep them from becoming hostility. Frequent anger is unhealthy and has been associated with heart attacks, high blood pressure and even stomach maladies. And it can ruin relationships.

The Mayo Clinic has some advice on anger management, among them:

  • Count to 10 and collect your thoughts before saying anything.
  • Express your frustration using specific language and “I” phrases.
  • Take a break and do something physical.
  • Think of solutions to what frustrated you.
  • Defuse with humor (not sarcasm).

How to ‘park downhill’ in your personal life

Ed Yong of The Atlantic shared professional advice to the Class of 2020 that got us thinking about how journalists could apply it in their personal lives: Park downhill at the end of the day, leaving a sentence or paragraph or piece unfinished so you don’t wake to an empty screen, he wrote last Wednesday. 

Research shows that uncertainty causes stress, and stress affects sleep patterns and mental and physical health. What can you do today to set yourself up to feel less stressed about the things you can control, however small? 

How you can personally “park downhill” as part of an evening routine: 

  • Food and nutrition: Program the coffee maker. Meal prep tomorrow’s breakfast, snacks or lunch. Set out medication or supplements. 
  • Physical health: Plan your walk/run/bike route. Check the weather forecast. Pick a streaming at-home workout to complete. 
  • Physical space: Load and run the dishwasher. Set out your work clothes (check the calendar for meetings). Declutter for 10 minutes. 
  • Financial health: Check bill due dates. Shred old documents.  
  • Mental health: Meditate with an intention for the day ahead. Schedule a check-in with a friend or family member. Make a to-do list for tomorrow, and an accomplished list for today.

Stop, right now, and clean your screens

When is the last time you wiped down your workspace?

If your pandemic routine is anything like ours, you’re washing your face masks and hands, well, all the time. Cleaning phones, computer screens, your watch face, or other surfaces? Not as frequently. 

Stop, right now, and clean your screens. COVID-19 can remain viable for several days on a variety of surfaces. The CDC advises cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces daily. If you share a workspace with housemates, consider more frequent cleaning.
One tip: Select products based on your end game: Cleaning removes germs; disinfecting kills germs; sanitizing reduces the number of germs.


Journalists and therapists have a lot in common

Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and writer.

“As journalists, we hear a lot of stuff that may be difficult to hear,” says Lori Gottlieb, a  psychotherapist and a writer. “But we want to get the story, and we want to get the real story. And so we’re going to hear it, and we’re going to go there. Same with as a therapist.”

Gottlieb, author of the New York Times best-seller “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” touched on the importance of self-care for journalists during an Institute program on Wednesday

“Self-care is like this word that people toss around. But I think you have to actually practice it. And what that means is making sure that you are doing what you need to do to take care of yourself emotionally. 

“So that might mean you are taking breaks between your interviews. It might mean that you are taking a walk and getting outside. It might mean that you are doing things that you enjoy. You’re making sure that you’re sleeping well — I think a lot of people on deadline don’t sleep when they’re on deadline. …

“We have a lot of habits that we have as journalists because we’re so focused on just like doing the story, meeting the deadline, that we forget that we need to kind of pace things in a way that works for us. And then also take these psychological breaks from what we’re doing. You can’t do this work and do it well without taking psychological breaks.”


Are you overwhelmed or over-caffeinated?

Is your caffeine cycle set to sip, sip more, and repeat?

It might be time to evaluate whether you’re reaping the benefits of your morning coffee or if the daily dependency is amplifying feelings of anxiety. Healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine daily (about four 8-ounce cups of coffee). 

Here’s how to safely reduce your intake: 

  • Track your habits. We’re swimming in caffeine, from energy drinks and soda to coffee and pre-workout supplements — even pain medication. This chart can show you where your habits add up. 
  • Swap in alternatives. Herbal teas or water can help boost brain functions. If it’s carbonation you crave, try a bubbly flavored water instead of soda. 
  • Delay your morning caffeine. (Yes, really!) The body produces natural energy boosters upon waking; try to save the soda until you really need it.
  • Consider your cravings. Is your 3 p.m. double espresso habit because you really need a boost, or is it an excuse to take a break and a change of scenery? (Breaks are good!)
  • Cut back gradually to reduce withdrawal symptoms, which could include headaches, fatigue or trouble sleeping that last several days as the drug leaves your system.

Life after a layoff

There’s no doubt a layoff — whether your first or third — can be professionally traumatizing. They take a personal toll as well. Studies show that losing the stability that comes with working can be hazardous to mental and physical well being. 

As more journalists and communicators face the possibility of layoffs against the backdrop of the pandemic, here are some tactics for what to do when faced with that grim reality. 


Take it where you can

Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Sometimes it can involve taking a walk outside. Other days it can include a nap. Lawyer and entrepreneur Meena Harris describes self-care as action in an interview with Glamour magazine. This is an excerpt:

Glamour’s Macaela MacKenzie: We tend to think of self-care as yoga or meditation or some kind of “break.” But I think it can also be about what makes you feel like you can go to bed at night and actually rest based on how you spent your day. How do you think about that?

Meena Harris: I will rest when I’m able to. I’m going to wake up and be 50 and be like, Oh my God, you still haven’t taken that really good vacation. But the nature of this work is that it is nonstop. It’s easy to be like alright, I got to get to Friday. And then it’s like we’re turning to the next thing, so Okay, I got to get to the end of August. And then you’re like, Okay, now I just have to get to the end of the election. And then before you know it, it’s been 10 years. So I try to remind myself to not let that happen because I’ve seen it happen. We’ve been going, going, going.

“I guess maybe my method is to take self-care where you can—even if it is something sort of small and it’s not a whole routine. It’s this idea of resetting, shutting down, stepping away. I think that it’s about keeping the perspective that you’re doing this for the long game. So therefore when you feel like you’re about to go off the cliff and are totally burned out, take a day, or a nap, or step away from your computer. There are so many times when supportive friends are like, “Just get the f–k off Twitter right now.” Taking a beat is pretty restorative.”


Take a mural walk this weekend

You don’t need to spend an afternoon indoors to appreciate art. All around the worldstreet artists have been at work depicting life amid the pandemic. As you plan your weekend activities, consider an art walk through your town to appreciate new murals. You can also browse Instagram hashtags #streetart or #murals to see paintings from other places. Local websites can also point you in the direction of newly painted murals.


Unplug for your health

In our connected world, it can be hard to unplug. Yet a digital detox is an important component to self-care. 

Too much screen time can cause eye strainweight gainchronic pain and poor sleep. The good news is that even small breaks away from devices can help. 

Here are easy ways to unplug:

Concerned with your daily screen time? Here are ways to track and limit across multiple devices.  


How to disengage when the clock strikes 5

At the end of your workday these days, your commute may amount to no more than a walk from your home office to the couch. But even if you’ve ventured back to your pre-COVID-19 workspace, disengaging when your work is done is key to your well-being.

Here are some tips on how to relax and turn your mind away from the previous eight hours that occupied your day.

  • Take a shower or a warm bath. The water washes away stress and the cleansing refreshes you.
  • Spend time with your immediate family. If you have children, let loose with them. Play, do something simple, goofy and fun. 
  • Cook. Chop vegetables, sautéed garlic, push some onions around in a pan until they have just the right translucence. It’s a creative and a soothing pastime. And you might end up with leftovers.
  • Listen to your favorite music or podcast. It can help you feel more alert or optimistic — or simply help you unwind.
  • As the days stay light longer, join your significant other (or your favorite pup) on a neighborhood walk or a stroll through a nearby park. Greenery will help.
  • Read a chapter of the book on your night table, a short story, or a piece of long-form journalism that has nothing to do with your work. 
  • If it’s Friday, it’s date night. Cook together or order take out. Light candles. Dance or watch a rom com. 

Take your weekend plans outside

No plans this weekend? Head outdoors. 

Scientists agree that spending time outside has many positive benefits to physical and mental health. It can boost immunity, help mitigate risk of chronic illnesses, decrease stress, anxiety and depression, and improve creativity and memory. Sunlight exposure also can provide a daily dose of Vitamin D, which is crucial for bone health and immune function.

Here are some creative tips for taking your plans outside:

  • Get moving. Try going for a walk, run or bike ride in your neighborhood. If you live near water, paddle boarding or kayaking are also an option.
  • Plan a picnic. Prepare your favorite summer recipes and head to a local park with the members of your household. If you are inviting non-members of your household, keep in mind the CDC guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing. 
  • Head to a state park. State parks are wonderful places to explore. Just be sure to check for potential closures or parking restrictions before arrival. 
  • Find a botanical garden. Immerse yourself in nature by visiting a garden and enjoying the fresh air and floral scents.
  • Read a book. Take your favorite book to a nearby green space and soak up some rays.

Feeling uncertain? How to pull yourself out of the spiral

Humans are creatures of habit, which is why establishing good routines is essential to self-care. But feelings of uncertainty can rout the best routines — especially with so many external factors changing daily. 

When the question marks begin to add up, consider the following: 

What routines have you started during the pandemic that you hope to carry forward? Email Beth Francesco to share what has worked for you. 


Wearing and caring for your face mask

Health officials continue to recommend wearing face masks when in public to protect against the spread of COVID-19. As journalists head into the summer heat to cover protests and cities reopening, consider the following tips.

  • Always wash your hands before putting on or taking off your mask. When you can’t, use hand sanitizer.
  • Once on, refrain from touching the mask until you are home — even if you’re walking to or from an assignment. Pro tip: Remove the mask using its ties so that you avoid touching the front.
  • After the mask is off, consider it contaminated and ready to wash. Most reusable cloth masks are fine to stick with the regular laundry. A warm or hot water cycle in addition to the dryer could help kill viruses.
  • Don’t share a mask with a family member or roommate.

With rising temperatures and the friction caused from fabric face coverings, you may notice an increase in acne. Don’t worry — try these three things:


Helping others, virtually

Feeling overwhelmed? Try virtual volunteering

Research reflects that helping others has positive benefits to your physical and mental health, from reducing stress to fighting depression. As we previously discussed, volunteering can provide a sense of purpose, introduce new skills and bring communities together.

Here are additional ways to get involved with volunteering, social distancing style:

  • Lend your social media expertise. The American Cancer Society is seeking volunteers to share information on cancer advocacy, online petitions, and fundraising needs. AlternaCare Foundation is also looking for digital-savvy help to craft messages and create an editorial calendar.
  • Plan virtual events for a cause. I’RAISE Girls & Boys International needs volunteers to help organize online Black Lives Matter events.
  • Be a “hero” to children with chronic illnesses. Sign up with CoachArtto share your writing, art, music or athletic talents with families affected by chronic illness.
  • Create “hygiene kits” for the homeless. The Salvation Army is asking for assistance gathering hygienic supplies for the homeless. Contact your local volunteer department for details.
  • Become a virtual tutor. UPchieve connects low-income high school students to virtual volunteers across the U.S.

Also, visit catchafire.org for more virtual volunteering ideas. And before getting started, be sure to check with your newsroom manager to ensure there is no conflict of interest.  

Short on time? Donating to charity is another easy way to give back. 


How Black writers, journalists, and activists are practicing wellness now

Sharing self-care practices has become omnipresent in 2020. Today, we’re sharing how Black writers, journalists, and activists are practicing wellness now. 


The power of a midday nap

Sleepless nights can lead to daytime fatigue, a combination that can amplify stress and depression. Sleep – even in small bursts – can improve mood and performance

Napping can help. 

  • If you have a long night of coverage ahead, a planned nap can keep you alert. 
  • An emergency nap – when tiredness hits you suddenly and you can’t continue what you were doing – can get you back on track. 
  • Habitual napping involves regular, scheduled naps. (Some companies and colleges have installed nap rooms to help users reap the benefits.)

Tips 


‘It’s not selfish to take time for yourself’

We reached out to the American Psychological Association for self-care guidance as journalists navigate today’s stresses. Dr. C. Vaile Wright, the APA’s senior director of Health Care Innovation, provided tips for managing stress, screen time and taking a break.  

What advice can you share about balancing high-stress, high-stakes work and family life mentally and physically? 

Wright: Give yourself permission to set boundaries around your work, including disconnecting from your devices to spend quality time with family. Breaks are important for our brains to have recovery time and to “reset.” It’s not selfish to take time for yourself. You need to be emotionally healthy in order to do your job effectively – to get important information to your readers, viewers or listeners and to perform your public service.

Some journalists have openly shared their personal frustrations and stress using social media. Why is it important to vocalize such feelings, and what are meaningful ways to do so?

Wright: Knowing that others are experiencing similar stresses helps you to feel less alone and can help you identify new ideas to face your own struggles. Share the joys and the sorrows of work and recognize one another’s successes. Maintaining your relationships … strengthens our sense of self and provides that needed emotional connection with those we care about.

What other advice might you give to journalists and communicators? 
Wright: Human beings have an enduring capacity to be resilient. We can move forward — we have done it before, we can do it in the future.


How to talk to difficult family members

One way to work through challenging times and overwhelming emotions is by talking to others. Research shows that verbalizing your thoughts can help mitigate negative feelings.

But how do you have meaningful conversations online and in person with loved ones when they fundamentally disagree with you?

  • Set boundaries. Start by defining the terms of what topics or language is allowed. If someone strays beyond the limits, stop the discussion immediately and return to it later after parties cool down.
  • Empower empathy. Start by asking why they feel the way they do, then shift the conversation to take them into another person or family’s perspective. Ask them how they would feel if this situation were happening to them.
  • Confront your own biases. Honesty goes a long way during tough conversations. Share your experiences with any personal biases you’ve dealt with as a jumping-off point. 
  • Listen first, speak second. Let them speak freely without interruption. This can be challenging, but it sets the tone for discussion and your response. 
  • Invite family members to engage with outside resources. The National Museum of African American History and Culture offers online videos that cover racial identity and its influence on American society. PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter rates the accuracy of claims by public figures. Try playing a fact-checking trivia game with family members to stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Here are some additional tips to spot fake news.

If you need advice for how to redirect hostile conversations, see our previous advice here and here.


Reminder: Ask your employer about EAPs

As we previously discussed, it’s OK to ask for help. 

One free way to get support is through an Employee Assistance Program. These work-based services are voluntary, confidential and can offer short-term counseling for an employee who may have a personal or work-related problem. 

EAP counselors have experience assisting those affected by grief, stress, psychological disorders, substance abuse, work-life balance, health concerns and more. They also can guide organizations on ways to prevent or cope with workplace trauma and other emergency response situations.

To find out more about how an EAP might help you, contact your Human Resources rep.


Awake at 3 a.m.? So are we. 

Vivid dreams and restless nights have become hallmarks of life during the pandemic. But not getting enough rest can amplify the effects of stress on the body and impact your attitude and ability while you are awake. 

Stabilizing sleep takes experimentation and patience. Expert tips for getting to — then staying — asleep rely on finding a solid routine that works for you: 


Video games can offer escape

Thinking about the price of turnips? You’re not alone. Video games like Animal Crossing (where turnips represent stock market value) have given many a way to turn off the pandemic, at least while they play. 

There is good reason. Research links moderate video game play to flourishing mental well-being, and experts say gaming can promote relaxation and ward off anxiety. Whether on your phone or on the big screen, gaming can have positive impacts

For double the self-care, try The Guardians: Unite the Realms — a free MIT Media Lab mobile game that rewards players for performing real-life self-care “adventures.” Activities like walking for 20 minutes, spending time in nature, drawing, and video chatting with a friend earn in-game rewards while forcing focus on positive practices and reflections on tasks. The game is ad free and contains no in-app purchases. 


Money woes mounting? Invest in financial literacy

Invest your time in something that can pay off: financial literacy. 

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 survey, the economy, work and meeting basic financial needs are top stressors during this pandemic. Understanding your financial situation and making a plan can help provide clarity amid the uncertainty. 

If you find yourself less than confident in your budgeting, investing or other complicated financial skills, consider the array of free courses on the subject that can help you navigate tricky topics. 

  • EdX.org: This collection of university-backed courses includes making smart financial decisions, how to save money and investing basics. 
  • Alison.com: Finances and banking courses cover managing debt and understanding mortgages and home equity, among other topics.
  • Udemy.com: Short courses range from personal finance problem-solving exercises to tools for small business owners. 
  • Skillshare.com: Video programs range from financial literacy to investing to starting a business. 

Keep in mind that online courses are resources, not specific advice. Some things covered may not be applicable to your circumstances.


Try a scavenger hunt to stretch creative muscles

Sunday is National Scavenger Hunt Day

Scavenger hunts — whether you’re designing complex riddles or hunting down items in your home — can help boost your mood and ease stress while socializing with friends and family. 

Some museums and visitors bureaus have designed socially distant or digital scavenger hunts. (Check in your city.) One local business in Denver is trying to break a world record this holiday weekend. And neighbors have started lending their creativity to give little ones something to do. 

For a more personal approach, try creating a straightforward list of items or develop riddle clues for your searchers to solve. Set a timer, share the list with a group, and see who finds the most items in the time limit.  

Themes for hunting items inside your home: 

  • A mix of everyday things (like a fork or a baseball cap) and some unique things (like a yellow flip-flop or potted aloe plant). Here is a list to get you started. 
  • A word-themed search: Participants search for items that represent the word selected, then share with the group. 
  • A monochromatic color item hunt. (All the blue things you can find.)
  • A photo hunt. Participants hunt for items or scenarios in their phone’s photo gallery. 
  • Things that start with the first letter of the person’s name. 

Themes for heading outdoors, safely. Use the ideas above, or try:

  • Historic, cultural or iconic landmarks in your neighborhood or city. (Use Walking Milwaukee’s example as a guide.) 
  • Meaningful locations for your loved one(s). (Especially good for date night!)
  • Buried treasure. Have each part of the hunt lead to the next clue, ending with a fun or valuable find for the first person finished. 

When is the last time you checked your beneficiaries?

Reviewing financial documents is a part of a well-rounded self-care routine. But conversations about finances, particularly around mortality, get complicated and stressful. Help ease concern about your assets by breaking the work into manageable tasks. 

Reviewing beneficiaries can be a way to start and to exercise a sense of control. 

  • List out accounts (checking and savings accounts; retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s; life insurance; HSAs; annuities; and so on). 
  • Review each account to ensure you’ve designated a beneficiary that reflects your current wishes. 
  • Designate a beneficiary where you haven’t. Keep in mind that, even if accounts are included in an overarching will, financial institutions carry a custodian agreement’s default provision that could control who inherits your funds if you do not name a beneficiary.  
  • Ensure the information for any individual named is correct and up to date. Consider suffixes (Sr., Jr. and III), legal name changes and other details. 
  • If you don’t wish to designate an individual, you can designate a nonprofit organization, school, church or other group whose mission you’d like to support. 

Estate planning is complex. Your employer, insurance company or a community agency may provide assistance with estate planning at low or no cost. 


Those PJ pants are affecting your productivity. Here’s why.

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but it might be time to change out of pajama pants. 

For many journalists, the initial comfort of donning sweatpants during WFH meetings has turned from unique to uniform. Others have found their fashion version of a mullet — business from the waist up, who knows what from the waist down — can result in some precarious problems during video calls or on air. 

More importantly, science supports that clothing choices can affect ones mental state and can have a “dramatic psychological impact” on productivity and feelings of self-worth. Why? Fashion connects us to and places us in the world

More to consider: 

  • Whether we like it or not, people form snap judgments based on appearances — something to keep in mind when working with sources, colleagues and supervisors — even over video chats. 
  • Maintaining a routine — including getting up and ready for the day — is critical to mental health. (May, by the way, is Mental Health Awareness Month.) 
  • The simple act of choosing what you’ll wear is a way to control something during an uncontrollable time. It also can signal to your brain that something new is going to happen.
  • You don’t have to change your look or overdo it. Clothing can help you subconsciously cue that you are still at work, just in a different location, the same way your pajama bottoms can signal it’s time to chill.

Feeling trapped inside? Try an outdoor office space.

The days are warming up, gardens are abloom. Time to grab your laptop and go outside to Zoom.

One advantage of WFH is that home is not just your dining room table or cramped closet. It’s also your balcony, deck, front lawn or stoop. Even your local park (with proper social distancing). Use them.

Studies show that open air can make us more productive by clearing the mind and adding new energy and focus to our work. That human appetite for the outdoors even has a name: Biophilia.

Before you abandon your indoor desk, consider these tips:

  • Unless you’re going to work in full shade, you’ll want to have an anti-glare screen.
  • You might need a WiFi booster or to use your phone as a mobile hotspot.
  • If your patio chair is too low, take a pillow with you.
  • If you don’t need to sit, use your gas grill as a stand-up desk.
  • If you don’t have an accessible outdoor power outlet, power your laptop to 100% and have a portable power source for your phone.
  • Have sunscreen, snacks and water nearby.

Finally, you don’t have to spend your entire 8-hour workday outside. Remember, it’s the change of pace and place that provides balance.


Handwritten letters get a stamp of approval

Sending a handwritten letter may seem counterintuitive — or inefficient — to deadline-driven journalists. But taking time to focus on such a task can help alleviate stress and strengthen relationships

During the pandemic, letter-writing campaigns have helped teens connect with the elderly, helped communities thank first-responders, or provided an outside link for those in isolation. The United States Postal Service has started a “show someone you care” letter writing campaign with Scholastic, complete with lesson plans for students. (Yes, it remains safe to send mail.)

Here are some ideas to spur a handwritten note:

  • Send a thank-you note. (Practicing gratitude positively benefits wellness.)
  • Send an update to a family member, friend or former colleague. 
  • Congratulate a recent high school or college graduate — and share some advice. 
  • Be there for a friend suffering a loss. 
  • Share why someone is special to you. 
  • Thank a first-responder, local journalist or other essential worker for their actions. 

Write a letter to yourself to read in a few months.


You’ve cleaned out your closets. Now what?

If your spring cleaning has turned into a May mess, you’re not alone. 

More time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed many to confront the volume of stuff they had around the house. Decluttering your space can help with mood and anxiety, and donating unwanted items can contribute to your happiness — a win-win during challenging times.

But bags of clothing or household goods are stacking up. Nonprofits that assist in turning surpluses into supplies for those in need have shuttered or been operating at limited capacity during the pandemic. Many have shifted to asking for financial contributions rather than physical goods. 

Until stay-at-home restrictions ease, here’s what you can do with your unwanted but still usable items: 

  • If you have the space to store bags or boxes, prepare your goods to donate once restrictions end.
  • Goods like personal care items — even unopened sample sizes — might be needed at local shelters. 
  • Join an online network that allows you to donate items to individuals in need. Freecycle.org or trashnothing.com allow you to post or peruse items available for free. 
  • Consider selling goods through mail-in online consignment shops like Buffalo Exchange, ThredUp or Poshmark, then donating your earnings to a charity of your choice. Some, like ThredUp, make the donation for you
  • Use contactless pickup or drop-off methods to sell goods using tools like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp or letgo, then donate the funds to your charity of choice. This, of course, depends on your comfort level
  • The number of those in need across the U.S. will grow. Stay in contact with local donation centers to ensure your generosity reaches those who need it most.

The pandemic has hijacked your conversations. Take them back.

Conflict happens. When conversations with loved ones during and about the pandemic turn into full-blown disagreements, changing the topic (and returning to it when cooler heads prevail) can be just as important to self-care as it is to preserving the relationship

Here are strategies to redirect conversations: 

  • Arm yourself with topics that can shift the conversation from disagreement to description. Asking what someone’s been watching, cooking, or reading can help focus on questions that people can answer, rather than what they can’t control. 
  • Pose questions that start with “how” or “why”. It’s the J-school adage: Avoid yes or no questions, which could deliver yes or no answers. Invite context from the start. 
  • Ask follow-up questions to dig deeper and discover common interests. Relationships grow stronger as you discover layered common interests.

Some questions to change the conversation: 

  • If you were going to start a podcast, what would it be about and why? 
  • Tell me about a skill or hobby you’ve learned or refined. 
  • Tell me about the funniest thing your child/grandchild/niece/nephew/pet has done today. 

It’s not too late to start a pandemic journal

Journaling to process emotions isn’t new, but as the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on, some writers who rejected the practice in the past are reconsidering. 

Journaling can help manage stress and process emotion

Here are journaling tips from writers in the Journalism Institute’s Writing Through daily writing group

  • Your journal is yours: Release notions of what a journal is or needs to be. As the owner, you’ll define and redefine your journal’s purpose. 
  • Prompts can help: Not sure where to start? Search “writing prompts” online, and you’ll have an array to choose from. 
  • Journaling is simply documentation: Stray notes, lists or other writing counts. Thoughts don’t have to be complete to be valid.
  • Try photography: Tapped out after a day of writing? Document your day through photos, which can evoke memories you can reflect on later.
  • Collect artifacts: Receipts, menus, text messages, emails, birthday cards, Zoom screen grabs — all can reveal telling details about this period of time.

Hold onto positive feedback for bad days

Journalism matters. Chances are, as a journalist, you’ve helped to change someone’s life. That can be difficult to remember amid covering the COVID-19 pandemic, when good news and bad news vie for attention by the hour. 

It’s important to take time to remember the good stuff. Practicing gratitude and receiving gratitude can have a positive impact on physical and mental wellness

Today’s tip: Take 10 or 15 minutes to gather up the nice emails you’ve received from readers, kudos from the boss, or cards from co-workers and file them into a “love me” folder. Whether electronic or physical, visit that folder when you doubt your skills or your impact. Mindfully reading and reflecting on what you’ve done well can build motivation to get through what’s in front of you. 


‘Where I’m writing from’ shows WFH reality for journalists

Emily Spicer had a bad day Tuesday. Three days — and 300 journalists later — she’s in a much different place, literally. 

After starting the “Where I’m writing from” group on Facebook, Spicer and the group’s members connect while getting a glimpse of journalists’ real-life, work-from-home spaces. Members share a photo of their home “offices,” which range from the artfully curated to space carved out in a child’s closet. All show the WFH reality journalists face, and members have found support along the way.

Spicer, features editor for the San Antonio (TX) Express-News, told us how the idea and growing community came about.  

“I started the group because I was having a bad day. I had just hit a kind of wall emotionally with work. I had been looking at the ‘View from my Window’ Facebook page, and it was starting to make me feel bad — like the fashion magazine effect on women.

All these places on the page were starting to look like a travel magazine, and I started thinking, ‘Why don’t I live in a beachside house in Oahu? Why don’t I have a home overlooking a UNESCO World Heritage fjord in whatever country it was instead of a small 1950s rock ranch house overlooking a lawn?’ I started to feel bad about my house, and I love my house and my little office. 

So, at some point that morning, I just decided, ‘You know, what I really want is a Facebook group where I can see the reality of where journalists are working now.’ I wanted to see something real and have people share positivity about that. I want to create a space, a community, where stressed-out, hardworking journalists of all stripes could safely share photos and stories of their spaces as a way to illustrate and remind others that they’re not alone, that everyone in journalism is struggling and trying.

But you’re still working, you’re still writing or editing or photographing or whatever you do and that’s important and that’s necessary. And that’s awesome. I just love, love, love how people have responded and how the group is growing.” 

Visit Where I’m writing from


Reset your pandemic routine

Whether you planned to or not, you’ve built a pandemic routine.

It’s natural: Humans crave the comfort of routines, which can promote physical, mental and emotional well being. Think consistent meal timessleep patterns, or exercise routines

As journalists’ work to cover the pandemic wears on, now is a good time to take stock of the routine you’re in and correct course as you’d like. 

Use this checklist and note whether you are getting too much, just enough, or too little of the activities. Based on your responses, make changes where you see fit: 

  • Professional screen time 
  • Personal screen time 
  • Consecutive sleeping 
  • Naps
  • Exercise
  • Focused eating 
  • Snacking 
  • Alcohol or drug consumption 
  • Time with children/family
  • Time with friends 
  • Reading 
  • Creative activities
  • Unplanned time
  • Other activities you participate in

EAPs offer short-term support

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is ask for help. 

Now is a good time to review your employee benefits package for information on any Employee Assistance Programs your employer provides. EAPs offer a variety of services — assessments, referrals, and follow-up — to support an employee’s mental, emotional and financial well-being. 

Employee participation is voluntary, and information is kept confidential. Services can help with personal, family and work issues. Some employers offset the cost of services — for example, by funding the first three to six counseling sessions or a consultation with a financial planner. Contact your HR rep for more information. 


Support news organizations (and yourself) on #GivingTuesdayNow

Today is #GivingTuesdayNow, an emergency response by the organizers of December’s traditional #GivingTuesday to the unprecedented need caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Giving may seem out of reach during this uncertain time. But evidence links generosity to positive feelings — something we all could use right now. Consider how you might support your colleagues during this time: 

  • Subscribe to a local newspaper or magazine. 
  • The next time you hit a paywall, pay for the content or daylong access to a site. 
  • Join a journalism organization that supports your interest, or renew your membership dues.  
  • Share your times and skills with a journalism student. Contact us to find out how
  • If you enjoy this newsletter, support our work with a donation today. 

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Photography Challenge

If you’re hitting a creative wall, try getting behind a lens.

Dallas-area journalism educator Daniel Rodrigue, like many instructors around the country, has reinvented end-of-semester instruction and assignments in the wake of COVID-19 campus closures. Rodrigue, who also supervises student media at Brookhaven College in North Texas, shared his “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Photography Challenge” with the Journalism Institute. 

Whether you’re a photographer — or simply want to change your perspective — try one of the challenges Rodrigue issues to unlock creativity. Hint: You do not need a professional camera to try this — your phone camera will do just fine! 

Waffle Challenge: Use your imagination and ingredients on hand to style a plate of fresh or frozen waffles. Shoot in good light. Pro-tip: If possible, have an out-of-frame assistant pour syrup while you shoot. 

Forced Perspective Challenge: Insert yourself into a scene using miniatures, ranging from toys to cars to dolls to action figures. 

Monochromatic Challenge: In good light, photographers must use five to 15 objects of the same color to shoot either self-portraits, portraits (if possible safely) or still life arrangements.


How to create boundaries with your WFH space

By now, most of you have set up your WFH stations. You may be fortunate enough to have an office in your house. Or a desk in your bedroom. Or maybe you just set yourself up at the dining room table and toil away. (Moving placemats, shoving salt shakers aside is not new to COVID-19). 

Wherever it is that you set up to work each morning, organizing that space has as much to do with order as it does with boundaries. 

So here are some tips if you work in a space where you can isolate yourself:

  • Have a regular start time and a regular end time.
  • Get non-essential paperwork off your desk and store it away. You don’t want desk clutter to start encroaching on your work space like the trash compactor in Star Wars.
  • Place a sign on the door to indicate when you can and cannot be interrupted.
  • Take regular short breaks.
  • At the end of your workday, tidy up your desk and write tomorrow’s to-do list. It will make your morning happier.
  • Step away and close the door. Imagine you just finished your commute home.

Here are some tips specific to the dining room or kitchen:

  • Keep your laptop, power cables and essential papers in a box or in a wheeled cart or caddy you can hide in a corner when not in use.
  • If you have family in the house, make sure you have ground rules for use of common space that limit interruptions and distractions while working.
  • Sit near an outlet. You don’t want your power chords to become the family obstacle course.
  • Make sure you have a Wi-Fi printer and keep the printer in a closet or in another room where it belongs.
  • Get headphones. You can’t close the door to distractions, but you can close your ears. Play soothing instrumental music.
  • At the end of your work day, write tomorrow’s to-do list and pack everything back up in your box or filing cabinet and hide it away.
  • Set the table for your evening meal. Make sure you didn’t leave your mouse next to the pepper.

Caring for your cloth face mask 

As some states begin to ease up on stay-at-home orders and allow businesses to reopen, journalists and communicators should take stock of their personal protection. That includes how they maintain cloth masks, which the CDC has recommended be worn in public at all times

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t share a mask, even with a family member. 
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on and after taking off a mask. Avoid touching the mask once it’s on. 
  • Once used, consider masks contaminated. A recent lab study showed COVID-19 can survive on a face mask up to seven days. 
  • Experts say masks should be washed immediately after being around someone who is symptomatic, or after one or two uses. 
  • The CDC says it’s OK to toss masks in your regular laundry, using the warmest water setting and completely drying items. (Tumble-drying a mask without washing likely doesn’t kill the virus.)
  • Be mindful of how detergent could affect sensitive skin on the face, which already could be suffering.
  • Consider making or buying multiple masks, which will show signs of wear over time. Having multiple for use throughout the week. 

If you’ve found a face covering with the perfect fit for your work, please share where you found it


Remember to breathe

When she needs a reminder to breathe while writing, Pulitzer-winning columnist and author Connie Schultz turns to photos on social media, she told participants Wednesday in an Institute program on writing, resilience and community.  

“I found on social media that, one of things I’m doing now is, I’m using different photos to try to bring a light touch to topics and to remind people to breathe. Because breathing is actually … we know that it can be helpful. We know it can help with stress. And it’s struck me how many people have been responding to me and telling me that they didn’t even realize how often they were holding their breath, or breathing in a shallow way, until they see the reminder to breathe. I’m doing that as much for me as for anyone else, because it helps me stay upbeat.” 


Sip away stress

When you’re stressed, reach for a bottle … of water, that is. 

Dehydration can lead to headaches and digestion issues, as well as affect your mood — adding to physical and mental anxiety caused by COVID-19. Staying hydrated can help flush toxins from your system and help you feel full.

WFH journalists with more access to their daytime beverages of choice — coffee and sodas, which are diuretics — should consider substituting some good ol’ H2O. 

Try this quiz to see if you are showing signs of dehydration, then test out some of these tips:

  • Set hourly reminders on your phone or laptop to sip some water. This also will force you to stand and walk for a few minutes while you get your drink. 
  • Download one of the numerous apps to track your water intake. 
  • Know how much you need: A basic equation is to divide your body weight in half, then drink that number of ounces. (For example, if someone weighs 160 pounds, he or she would need 80 ounces of water, or about 10 cups.)
  • Eat whole fruits and vegetables, which contain a lot of water. 

Are you struggling with self-care? Let us know what topics interest you most, and we’ll find ways to help. 


 When tempted to multitask, don’t!

When feeling overwhelmed, the advice usually goes: Take one thing at a time. 

But it’s really tempting to use listening time on a video call to type up a quick email you’ve been meaning to send, or to fold the laundry while on a webinar. 

The myth of multitasking has a long history coupled with the push for constant productivity. Now that WFH is spurring back-to-back meetings and forcing more communication than before, it’s not a surprise that we’re trying to double up on tasks and create time. (Hint: You cannot create time.)

Here are some reasons you should take things one at a time:

How have you modified your daily routine to avoid multitasking? Share your advice — it could help a fellow journalist. 


Smiling Shoulders, Happy Hips — videos aim to help journalists

“As journalists and camera operators and photographers, our shoulders are doing a lot of work,” says Kimina Lyall, the deputy director for the Dart Center for Journalism, Asia Pacific. That can leave journalists carrying a lot of tension and stress in the shoulders, she explains in a new yoga video put out by the center.  

Lyall has taught yoga in three 10-minute videos for journalists, part of a series of resources she and the Dart Center team have created to help ease the strain of covering the COVID-19 pandemic.

We featured her first video April 13; she since has released “smiling shoulders” and “happy hips” for journalists.

“One of the traps of anyone that works in a kind of deadline-based environment is that we forget to take those kind of quick little breaks to kind of, you know, loosen ourselves up,” she says.


Try these tips to ease eye strain

If your eyelids are drooping by 8 p.m. each day, you’re not alone. Screen fatigue brought on by nonstop video conferencing for work or during personal time is real, and the eye strain it causes can lead to headaches, tiredness and reduced productivity. Reports this week show things like your instinct to look at the speaker’s eyes and your conferencing settings also impact eye strain. 

Here are some eye-opening tips we’re trying: 

  • The “20-20-20” rule: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away. 
  • Schedule gaps between work meetings. Five to 15 minutes gives you time to change location, take a walk, or process your last discussion. 
  • Switch from gallery view to speaker view. Doing so more closely mimics a conference room meeting, where you direct attention to the speaker. 
  • Eye yoga: Look to the left and hold, then do the same to the right. Look up, hold the position, and repeat while looking down. Close your eyes, then repeat several times. 
  • Allow time between work and your virtual happy hour or family gathering. 
  • Ask: Do we really need to meet? Will an old school phone call or note suffice? 

Leadership coach Jill Geisler shares more tips to keep teams tuned in when you’re Zoom’d out.


Finding peace one piece at a time

Are you bored yet? Spending too much time on Zoom? Try putting the screens away and digging into a jigsaw puzzle. 

Solving puzzles is a creative and safe way to pass the time in quarantine, and there are also a number of health benefits:

Need a new puzzle? How about The New York Times Jigsaw Puzzle Of Your Birth DateThe Life Cover CollectionKen Keeley’s Great Magazine Covers, or The Washington Post Jigsaw Puzzle.


The sky’s the limit

Things seem a little out of this world right now. So why not connect to the universe? 

Tonight is prime viewing for the Lyrid meteor shower, which began Sunday and will peak just before dawn Wednesday. The Lyrids have been observed for 2,700 years. The show will peak very early Wednesday. Set your alarms to step out and look up. Paired with a new moon, the meteor shower is expected to be particularly vibrant

Image Credit: NASA

Go green during quarantine

Feeling listless? Set down some roots.

Whether your ideal garden is a professionally designed refuge or a succulent on your apartment’s windowsill, a little green goes a long way: 

You don’t have to leave home to find your green thumb. Many gardening centers have converted to online sales and contactless delivery. You can also find plants ready to be adopted on sites like Facebook marketplace, OfferUp and LetGo. 


If your walls feel as if they are closing in on you, it might be time to rethink how you’re looking at them. 

This weekend, consider hosting a virtual “gallery night” with a friend or family member: Change up your video chat by walking through your home, showing off artwork, photos, keepsakes, or other items you have displayed and sharing why they are important to you. 

Art is in the eye of the beholder, and you can learn a lot about yourself or a friend (and catch some inspiration) by perusing a collection. Whether your favorite pieces are carefully curated from art shows or proudly displayed masterpieces by your kids, everything has a story. Share them as a way to connect, even in isolation. 

Some things to think about:

  • Where did you find the piece? What drew you to it? 
  • What memory do you connect to a photo or keepsake? Why do you display it where it is? 
  • What themes come up in your collection? 

Thanks to Meda Kessler, editor of 360 West magazine in Fort Worth, Texas, for the inspiration for virtual gallery nights. 


Full-body stretches

We aren’t yet in the home stretch of the pandemic, but stretching — especially full body practices — can help us as we work from home. Dr. Karen Erickson, spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, says she prefers a full-body approach, like yoga, rather than stretching an isolated body part. 

She shared these three exercises by email: 

  1. Stand or sit and put your thumbs under your armpits, and pull your elbows back while looking straight ahead floating the crown of your head to the ceiling. This opens the chest, shoulders and neck flexors. 
  2. Put both hands behind your head with your elbows pointing out to the sides the whole time. Now slowly bend your neck forward, center, backwards, center, right bending, center, left bending, center, rotation to the right, and rotation to the left. No need to stretch into pain; stay within the range that is comfortable. 
  3. Lie on your back and gently bring both knees to your chest, holding behind your knees to pull them toward you. Do not lift your head. Then cross the right ankle over the left knee and pull the left knee to the chest. This will open your hips. Do the other side. End with both knees to the chest, rolling slightly from side to side. This sequence helps undo the stress of sitting. 

When to say no to notifications

Chances are you’ve received at least one alert while reading this newsletter. If you made it this far without one, consider yourself lucky: Research in 2014 showed people dealt with an average of 60 notifications a day — and that didn’t include Slack. Or apps. 

Or a pandemic. 

Carving out space for yourself, especially amid covering an ongoing global crisis, can feel selfish or, worse, create a fear of missing out on a story or opportunity. FOMO is real, and it can add stress and distraction to an already anxious time. But media professionals and first-responders could benefit from a break from notifications. Doing so can improve focus and productivity when you are back online.

Where to start: 

  • Set boundaries and share them. It’s OK to tell people that your phone is off for a couple of hours each night.  
  • Review your work expectations with your boss. If news does break, what is your responsibility? 
  • Turn off push notifications on your phone and computer. If you feel as if you can’t, select at least a handful that you can turn off. 

Give a little, get a lot

Call it the helper’s high. 

Whether volunteering is a regular activity on your schedule, or you find time when you can, you might be missing that positive feeling you get when you give your time and talent to someone in need. 

Research shows volunteering can lower stress and depression, help people learn to build relationships, and increase your lifespan. (And, our staff points out — it feels good to contribute in a chaotic time.)

Here are ways you can help others from home: 

  • Become a “senior angel.” Write letters to residents of nursing homes in your area. (Here’s one example.)
  • Buy meals for or send thank-you emails to first-responder agencies, grocery store managers and government agencies still in operation. Hint: Remember to ask them to share your note with their employees.
  • Sew face masks for your neighbors, or prepare a meal for a neighbor in need. 
  • Have a special skill? From copywriting to mobile app prototyping or performing social media audits, Catchafire.org matches you with an organization in need. 
  • Points of Light has created a clearinghouse for virtual volunteer opportunities.

10-minute chair yoga for journalists

Kimina Lyall knows journalists can get locked in — mentally and physically — when working on major stories. As the deputy director for the Dart Center for Journalism, Asia Pacific, she and the Dart Center team have created resources to help journalists cope with and better cover the pandemic. 

But Lyall wanted to give something more, and combined a longtime passion — yoga — with her longtime profession in an 11-minute video called “Chair yoga for journalists, reporters, editors, managers and all media practitioners.” It’s part of a series she has planned.  “Next up will be ‘smiling shoulders,’ which is designed to help those of us who are hunched over computers, or carrying heavy camera gear and the like, loosen up our shoulders,” she said. 

We reached out to Lyall, who works out of Australia, to learn more.

What inspired you to make and share this video specific to journalists? 

I’m very passionate about yoga. It was part of my long journey back from post-traumatic stress disorder, which I experienced as a result of my work as a journalist. But I also am a teacher trainer, and I figured it would give me an opportunity to practice teaching in a safe environment. … I know how easy it is as a journalist to get “locked into position” while focused on deadline, so I wanted to say, “Hey, you! I’ve got something you can do from your chair.”

Aside from your yoga practice, how are you practicing self-care? 

I am in lock down in Australia, like most other people around the world. In addition to yoga each day, I meditate, walk my dog (luckily I live near the beach so I have a lovely walk) and connect with friends and family daily. I also turn off all screens after the evening news bulletin and read a book! 


Reset your sleep routine

One thing is certain: COVID-19 is impacting our days and our nights. 

Whether you’ve lost or gained ZZZs during the pandemic, sticking to a sleep routine that includes 7 to 9 hours a day is important to your physical and mental health. Anxiety — and the new no-commute, WFH norm — may have disrupted that routine. Add in more screen time and routinely sleeping in while on lockdown, and you’ll find yourself irritable or unfocused during the day

Here’s how you can reset your sleep routine: 

  • Bed times aren’t just for kids. Wake up and go to sleep at similar times each day (yes, even on weekends). Don’t forget to give yourself time to wind down. 
  • Give your body time clues: Shower, eat and exercise at similar times each day. 
  • Lighting matters: Softer or dimmer lighting — and avoiding screens — helps signal that it’s time for sleep. Soak up some sun outdoors during the day. Adjust your computer screen to limit blue light.
  • Don’t work or watch TV from your bed. 
  • Try a guided meditation or body scan (learn how here) to lull you.
  • Avoid the news before bed. 

Need another reason to get good sleep during the pandemic? Quality sleep can help boost your immune system


 It’s OK to not talk about the pandemic

The pandemic is dominating parts of our lives we thought impenetrable: how we work, how we eat, how we live — and how we talk to each other.

It’s OK (and healthy) to talk about something other than coronavirus. Studies show that people connect through shared experiences. But the research also shows that consistently focusing on and talking about negative experiences can make you more stressed. 

Here are some things to help: 

  • Ask about hobbies, family and interests (avoid work, if you can). Relationships grow stronger as you discover layered common interests. 
  • Be observant during video calls. Ask about an interesting painting, the unexpected pet sighting, or the unfinished puzzle on the counter.  
  • Spread heavy conversations out: Keep updates short and focus on the good stuff. 
  • Connect friend groups that normally don’t interact on group chats.   
  • Play games remotely. Pictionary, trivia and word games can spark creativity (and conversations). 
  • Find a list of conversation-starter questions (there are many). Things to ask about: 
    • New recipes they have tried 
    • What creative projects they are working on 
    • Life skills they are sharing with their kids
    • What they are binge-watching

Remember, it’s OK to say you need a break from coronavirus conversation.


Avoid the “Quarantine 15”

Weeks into WFH, you might be feeling it around your midsection. 

Headlines and memes about the “Quarantine 15” make us pause to consider the potential weight gain in store as overall stress increases, WFH stretches office hours, we’re less mobile, and social distancing brings us closer to food than to our friends. One site has created a calculator to predict weight gain. 

Stress makes us crave sugar, fat and carbs, which are prevalent in many shelf-stable staples stocked in pantries during lockdown. Bloomberg reports that sales of comfort foods have increased (potato chip sales are up 30 percent). 

Some tips: 


What to swap in when you don’t have gym equipment

Marangeli Lopez says two things are essential to a successful workout at home: music and plenty of space to move and jump around. “Make sure you have a decent playlist that’s going to keep you going,” said the WTEN digital producer, who has converted her usual bootcamp workout at the gym for one at home. 

She shared equipment swaps to consider: 

No weights? Grab laundry detergent (they have handles and are usually heavy), heavy water bottles, or a large pot to use for squats, lunges, curls and more. 

No medicine ball? Use a pillow and slam it as hard as you can. “It’ll help because you’ll still be able to perform the move with correct form,” she said. And, bonus: “Slamming an object — that usually helps with stress relief.” 

Other swaps we’ve found: a filled backpack as a weight vestyour living room rug as a yoga mat, or a broom as a mobility tool


Avoid chronic wrist pain

A key to your WFH comfort: Your keyboard and mouse placement. Dr. Karen Erickson, American Chiropractic Association spokesperson, advises placing a keyboard or keyboard tray at elbow height to keep wrists from flexing. Wrists should be straight, and wrist supports can help prevent flexing. 

Dr. Erickson suggests the following gentle stretches to help prevent wrist pain: 

  • Hands in prayer position and open fingers apart, and gently push palms together, and heels of hands down. 
  • Shake your hands gently in different directions both when down by your sides, and again overhead. 
  • Place one arm in front of you with the elbow straight, palm down, and wrist flexed so fingers are pointing to the floor. Spread your fingers slightly and with the other hand gently press on the downward facing hand. Don’t force here. Hold for about 20 seconds.

Posture makes a difference

No bones about it: Posture plays a role in pain management. “Good posture means the bones carry the weight of your body,” said Dr. Karen Erickson, spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, in an email interview with the Institute. “Aligning your posture lets your bones do the work, not your muscles.” This prevents muscle spasm, pain and inflammation — even headaches, she said. Here’s Dr. Erickson’s cheat sheet: 

  • Sit in a good chair (even a wooden one) on your sit bones, with a little arch in your lower back. Avoid the slouch — that half-sitting, half-lying position so many of us use to lounge on the sofa or in bed. 
  • When sitting, put both feet on the floor with a right angle at your knees. Avoid crossing legs or tucking in feet. 
  • To avoid neck pain, keep your sc​reen a​t eye level, whether you use a laptop or monitor. Use books or a stand, if necessary.
  • Keep your head erect, in line with your torso. “For every inch your head is forward it increases the weight by 10 pounds,” Dr. Erickson said.
  • Shoulders should be dropped and relaxed, with elbows hanging down, centered at the seam line of your shirt. 
  • Keep your sternum or breastbone lifted. This keeps your torso, head and shoulders erect. 

Don’t be surprised if you frequently catch yourself with poor posture. “As your habits change, you’ll be able to spot any trouble right away and fix it,” Erickson said. “If you catch yourself slumping, just chuckle and think, ‘I can fix this.’ And fix it. Done!”


Practice gratitude

You can say it: Things stink. While it’s tough to focus on the good stuff right now, experts say expressing gratitude contributes to physical and mental health , and so does documenting it.

 Write a note. In a “thank you” letter or card, be specific about how you feel, and why , while thanking a person for something he or she did. According to the CDC and WHO, it’s still safe to send and receive mail . Or you can bring the letter to life by reading it during a phone or video chat.

Thank a colleague by sharing one of the cards above.


Showing grace while grieving

Savannah Bullard, Editor-in-Chief, The Crimson White, The University of Alabama 

Savannah Bullard is editor in chief of The Crimson White, the student-run publication of the University of Alabama. In an email Q&A with the Institute, Bullard shared where she’s finding strength.

“Many essential people in this time (reporters, first responders, medical professionals, service workers, etc.) are trying to toughen up and muscle through all the new (WILDLY lofty) expectations in light of this global tragedy …  

“I had to learn that as a leader of a staff that’s really, really hurting right now, I need to make sure that my folks are given the time to grieve the loss of their senior years, the loss of formals and honors day ceremonies and end-of-year banquets and walking across the stage in Coleman Coliseum in May. … I’m a first-generation college student who will never see my graduation stage, and that is painful. 

“I, along with my staff and school community, need a hefty dose of grace. That’s the biggest lesson we’ve learned since COVID-19 wrecked our lives: We’ve got a job to do for our school and community, and what we do is so important. But most of all, we are so imperfectly human. We need to allow ourselves to process this extremely emotional time and grieve in whatever way is appropriate for us individually. Without grace and love – for each other and for ourselves – we will not survive this.”  

“And, of course, all those meetings definitely COULD have been emails.”


Tips from Beijing

Peter Martin, political reporter for Bloomberg News in Beijing, has been in China for the last two months.

In a 12-tweet thread this week, he shared his thoughts on how to live during lockdown . 


Don’t let suds turn your hands to duds

Skincare is Narda Perez’s jam. (Her words, not ours.)

So with the global message that frequent, thorough hand-washing can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the journalist on the Dallas Morning News audience engagement team wants to remind people that moisturizing is important, too. 

“I have hand creams all over my house,” she shared. “I make sure to moisturize morning and night, and always put lotion on my hands after washing them.”

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, dry skin can flake, crack or worse, “ making consumers more susceptible to germs and other bacteria.”

Some advice: 


Remember to breathe

Right now, It’s time to come up for some air — literally. 

Deep breathing is scientifically shown to reduce anxiety and stress. Many of us, especially in chaotic times, let our breathing go on autopilot, resulting in shallow breathing that leads to increased stress . 

But not everyone has a watch that will remind them when they need to inhale and exhale. So, stop what you are doing and try these techniques: 

  • 4-4-8 Breathing: Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and release for eight seconds. Repeat several times. 
  • Belly breathing: Breathe through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Exhale and repeat several times. 
  • Breath meditation: Focus all attention on your breath, closing your eyes and practicing deep inhalation and exhalation. 
  • Breathing breaks: Take numerous short breaks in the day, raising your arms over your head while you take a deep breath and release it slowly. Or, listen to this playlist that will guide you through breathing.

Your work-from-home setup doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck (or back)

Wondering where that pain in your neck came from? Look at your workspace. 

Most suddenly-at-home employees don’t think to design spaces that support a full workday of sitting at a computer — or a smaller screen laptop.

Natalie Webster , a copy editor for the Houston Chronicle (Texas), shared her advice: 

  • don’t underestimate the utility of an actual mouse and external keyboard for a laptop if you can get one; 
  • remember you can turn your tv into a giant screen if you need to and have an HDMI cable;  
  • avoid sitting on your couch (bad for your back); and 
  • keep the room well-lit.

“Correct chair height, adequate equipment spacing and good desk posture” add up to a workstation that supports — and doesn’t strain — the neck, back and joints, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some of its tips : 

  • Keep your keyboard and mouse at the same level;
  • Use your phone’s speaker or headphone input instead of cradling your phone; and 
  • Place your monitor in front of you, about an arm’s length away. 

That means you — well, all of us — need to rethink how we’re setting up for those conference calls and video chats.


Adjust your workout routine (or start one!)

“I usually go for a run and do Boot Camp, but as of [March 16] my gym was shut down due to precautionary measures being taken by the state. So, I had to adjust my routine. 

The good thing about the social distance situation is that I can still access my backyard and neighborhood for outdoor workouts. I also have access to my wonderful fitness community online that keeps me accountable. If you are looking for workout motivation or tips, feel free to follow me on instagram @maralopez01. I post and share tons of body weight workouts that can be easily done from home. I also encourage running/walking outdoors as long as you are being safe and practicing the 6-feet social distance rule and are not touching unknown surfaces.

Exercising, properly fueling your body, and getting an adequate amount of sleep are paramount to productivity. So while practicing “Social Distancing” from others, remember to also distance yourself from the madness at work to keep your mental stability in check.” 


The ABCs of self-care: Awareness, balance, and connection

Journalists rush in when other people are running out, putting them on the frontline during times of crisis.

That first responder-level stress can accumulate during a regular work week for journalists. But here we are. The CDC reports there are more than 15,200 cases and counting of coronavirus in the U.S., and 201 deaths. Our colleagues are falling ill. One has died from the virus . 

We’re working in isolation. Schools are closed. Social outings are off.  

It’s all hitting home. And this time, it’s different. 

Dr. Kevin Becker, a Boston-area trauma psychologist with more than 30 years experience and a keen interest in journalism-related trauma, says being aware of your feelings is the first step. Becker is hosting a weekly chat for journalists — shared in the Journalists Covering Trauma Facebook group —  to discuss challenges and coping mechanisms as they continue to cover coronavirus. 

Becker offered these ABCs of self care in an interview on Friday. 

Awareness

“There’s that whole level of awareness about what your job is exposing you to,” Becker said. Once journalists are aware of signs of compassion fatigue and vicarious stress , they can do something about it. Assess your stress : 

  • Are you sleeping as much as you should be? 
  • Has your eating changed?
  • Has your ability to get things done shifted?
  • Are your relationships with loved ones suffering?

Balance

“Once you are aware how your work is affecting you, seek balance,” Becker said.

  • Take breaks.
  • Find creative outlets. 
  • Consider training activities. “Upping your level of professional development can balance out constant exposure to things that are draining you,” Becker said.
  • Create a healthy routine: exercise, regular sleep, healthy eating. ”They all have a part in bringing balance into your life,” Becker said. 

Connection  

“Nobody recovers in isolation,” Becker said. “And here we are in a pandemic, and we’re being told to be isolated.” 

  • Figure out how you can stay connected during this time. Digital tools make it easier than before. 
  • It’s especially important, Becker said, to stay connected with the people we care about and who we know care about us. 
  • Avoid staying connected to talk about work. 

“It’s really the connectedness with others that helps us best cope with trauma, with crisis,” Becker said.

Connect with others: 


Let people share concerns — and listen to them

A lot of us lead on autopilot. We focus on ideas, execution, process, and results. We are programmed to prioritize production over everything, especially during times of crisis. But let’s not forget about the people. 

Start with them first. Schedule phone or video check-ins with staff, individually or collectively, to ask about their well-being. Conversation starters like “how are you feeling?” and “how can I support you?” are underrated when the world feels heavy. These questions offer a moment for people to feel their feelings; to exhale a bit—and gives them a chance to open up and share their needs. Listen. It’s one of our primary skills as journalists. Use it in your newsroom (which is now, perhaps, virtual), with the intention to acknowledge and validate staff concerns.

Make sure you extend that same care to yourself. Block out time on your calendar for self-check-ins and do something for you. Get moving and go for a walk or run, if you can. Get lost in your favorite album or playlist. Get quiet and journal. And get clear on the leader your team needs right now.


Entertain yourself with new offers on social media

Consider it a tinier tiny desk concert: Musicians who have had to cancel shows — or who are holed up themselves — are doing their part to #flattenthecurve by shifting performances to social media. Check out fan favorites like John Legend (who performed this afternoon on Instagram) as part of the new #TogetherAtHome series of online concerts. NPR has started a list of artists’ pop-up performances, and local publishers like austin360.com are rounding up local and regional artists you may be interested in. Venues may be shuttered, but the music keeps playing.


Put down the phone (Really, it’s OK!)

Tony Lin, Quartz video journalist

Tony Lin couldn’t stop hitting refresh on his phone. The Quartz video journalist needed updates on COVID-19, which Lin started reporting on in December when it began spreading through China.

After the first couple of days of absorbing nonstop information, he couldn’t sleep. “It just came to me,” Lin said Monday in an interview with the Institute. “It’s not sustainable.”

With the coronavirus impacting life in the U.S., he’s been sharing lessons from his early coverage . One thing he notes: It’s very hard for anyone — not just journalists — to put down their phones.
“Checking our phone is something to do to make us feel like we are in control,” he said. “That’s actually somewhat addictive – to keep absorbing more trauma.”

Lin shared his perspective in the Quartz newsletter on Friday :

  • Find something to make you happy at home. For Lin, it’s music and cooking.
  • Practice social distancing.
  • Don’t let fear get the best of you.
  • It’s OK to put down your phone.

Taking a break from the news cycle is not selfish, Lin says. “It’s a necessity to keep us alive, to allow us to keep reporting on this issue. Otherwise, we are going to get desensitized.”


To best inform the public, the first line of care is your own

Flight attendants tell passengers during preflight safety briefings, make sure that your own oxygen mask is on first before helping others. It’s advice that applies to journalists covering the coronavirus outbreak. If reporters want to report, they have to stay healthy. Below are pieces of advice from journalists who are covering the story on how to self-care in the midst of a pandemic.

Natalia Contreras, Indianapolis Star: “I work from home most of the week. After about a year or so, I’ve learned how important it is to take breaks and go outside to get some sun. Go for a walk or set a few minutes aside to exercise, do yoga or whatever works for you. Especially for those who live in places where the winter blues are very real — staying active and taking breaks is important to beat depression.”

Tony Lin, Quartz video journalist: Find something to make you happy at home, such as music or cooking. Practice social distancing. Don’t let fear get the best of you. It’s OK to put down your phone.Taking a break from the news cycle is not selfish, Lin says. “It’s a necessity to keep us alive, to allow us to keep reporting on this issue. Otherwise, we are going to get desensitized.”

 Mary Ann Cavazos Beckett, Editor in Chief, Corpus Christi Caller-Times: “The best thing we’ve found so far is to stick to a routine. That includes breaks. We know the work we do is critical to our community but no one should put themselves in harm’s way or think they can constantly be ‘on.’ If one person needs to tap out for a while, someone else can jump in. We’re still a newsroom after all. We have to keep in mind that, while it may all feel like breaking news, this is a marathon of coverage — not a sprint.”

 Christina M. Tapper, Deputy Editor, ZORA, a Medium publication: “A lot of us lead on autopilot. We focus on ideas, execution, process, and results. We are programmed to prioritize production over everything, especially during times of crisis. But let’s not forget about the people. Start with them first. Schedule phone or video check-ins with staff, individually or collectively, to ask about their well-being. Conversation starters like “how are you feeling?” and “how can I support you?” are underrated when the world feels heavy.

“These questions offer a moment for people to feel their feelings; to exhale a bit—and gives them a chance to open up and share their needs. Listen. It’s one of our primary skills as journalists. Use it in your newsroom (which is now, perhaps, virtual), with the intention to acknowledge and validate staff concerns.

“Make sure you extend that same care to yourself. Block out time on your calendar for self-check-ins and do something for you. Get moving and go for a walk or run, if you can. Get lost in your favorite album or playlist. Get quiet and journal. And get clear on the leader your team needs right now.”

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