In the fourth and last part of this series on mental and emotional health, Dr. Khaled Nasser suggests that the malaise journlaists may feel for failing to make a change in people's life is normal, and we should accepted it in order to be able to look for solutions to reduce it.
Nora, a young journalist, comes home angry, anxious and frustrated. She’s been trying to get an interview with a minister but her request has been denied yet again. Meanwhile, there are reports that more journalists have been arrested, and the atmosphere at work is very tense.
Unable to create real change, journalists feel demoralised and hopeless.
She hears news that demonstrations in Lebanon are turning violent, with protestors getting beaten, and some are in critical condition. Nora is exasperated: “what’s the point of all my efforts? of putting my life at risk?” she wonders. “Nothing works in this hopeless region.”
Since 2011, what started as an “Arab Spring” slowly turned into an “Arab Winter”. After decades of corruption and oppression, 2011 came bearing news of deliverance. For the first time, people were not afraid. They protested, chanted, and started organising themselves for change. But slowly, one by one, countries that witnessed regime change succumbed to chaos, a return to oppression and, in some cases, war.
There is a general feeling of malaise in the region. It is, in fact, close to a state of collective depression. But journalists, who see themselves as agents of change are even more vulnerable to this malaise. Many of them tend to internalise these emotions, and eventually this leads to job burnout. Unable to create real change, journalists feel demoralised and hopeless.
Take a look at these symptoms and see if you and your colleagues suffer from them:
A feeling of powerlessness: you feel stuck, as if caught in quick sands.
A bleak forecast for the future: you feel there is no solution for the problems of the Arab World.
Losing the compass: you feel that you don’t know what you’re doing, or why you went into journalism in the first place.
Seeing the world as dangerous: you no longer feel safe as a journalist.
You may think of leaving your job, but this is not an optimal solution as it may lead to more feelings of failure
But why do journalists project political disappointments into their work, while other professionals, such as architects or bankers, don’t? The reason is quite simple. Journalism as a discipline often attracts people who want to create change and promote a better society. Women, such as yourselves, choose to become journalists because you embrace the call of the protestors for a fairer leadership and more dignified life. So when protests fail, you feel that you failed too.
You may think of leaving your job, but this is not an optimal solution as it may lead to more feelings of failure. Instead, let the change you seek be a cognitive change.
Look at the current situation as a phase: If you feel we’re at the bottom, do remember that history comes in cycles and that every decline is followed by an ascent. Even if we do not experience it during our lifetime, it is coming. This thought should help you keep going.
Stop dwelling over what happened and validate your pain: After any kind of crisis, adaptation takes place in three phases; denial, acceptance and solutions. When we are confronted with something that we don’t like, it’s very natural to deny it, either consciously or unconsciously. But the reality of the matter is that the disaster did happen, and we need to accept our negative emotions towards it to move to the last phase, which is finding solutions.
Narrow down the scope of the change you want to create. Instead of changing the history of the region, aim at changing the situation of one person, or helping one institution
Acceptance does not mean approval of political failures: “acceptance” here is a state of mind where we stop denying our emotions and we accept the pain we are feeling. This allows us to finally move on and to find constructive solutions for a better future. An emotional denial could last a lifetime if we do not try to overcome it.
Share and communicate: Share your emotions with people you trust. If need be, choose one confidante and tell them how you feel. Social interaction is always recommended as an antidote against depression.
- Set minimal goals to see greater change: I am reiterating this point from my previous article on avoiding self-blame. Narrow down the scope of the change you want to create. Instead of changing the history of the region, aim at changing the situation of one person, or helping one institution, and realise that even this small change may not happen with just one article, but over the course of your entire career.
Find pleasure in writing human-interest stories. Meet new people. Delve into their experiences and hear what they have to tell you. Find pleasure in writing, video and photography. Let every word and every frame be a work of art. Feel the power of storytelling. This will give you new interest and pleasure in your own work.
Photo: Journalist and boy take cover from stones in Tahrir Square, Egypt, December 2011. by Alisdare Hickson.