One of the single most effective things family members and friends can do to ease the stress on a correspondent is to care for themselves emotionally.
Worry and guilt over loved ones left behind is a constant stress for journalists who face danger far from home.
Hannah Allam says that she struggled with her isolation from family members and friends while she was in Baghdad. “I wish I had known up front more about the changes to expect in myself,” she says. “I thought, ‘Well, this would be an adventure and it’s been a life’s dream, and I’d go off and do it and then I’d come back and settle into my normal life.’ I found that was not the experience at all.”
Before the assignment begins, take an active role in helping to line up financial documents, update the will and negotiate insurance benefits with the news organization. If possible, go to the newsroom and meet the editors who will be your chief contacts. In any event, make sure you know how to reach them.
During the assignment, many of the mental-health tips for the correspondent also are smart strategies for loved ones at home.
Exercise, healthy eating and moderation with alcohol are important.
Line up a support network and use it often.
Find reasons to laugh – indeed, create them. One spouse got through a mission by emailing stupid jokes to her husband; it helped them both. Another sent photos every few days of the family dog clowning it up.
Be mindful that loved ones who are not at a hazardous scene can absorb the trauma when they hear about it a lot. Monitor yourself for signs of trauma or stress overload.
Take time to reflect on what you are going through, and talk it over with trusted friends or with experts.
After the initial joy of the homecoming, be prepared for a rocky adjustment period. It doesn’t always happen, but many returning correspondents feel let down and frustrated once they are home. This is a vulnerable time for depression, acute anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Try to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of those conditions (see www.dartcenter. org). Talk to your family doctor or other experts if you think professional help may be needed. Simple listening can be a constructive form of support after the assignment. Here are a few tips for good listening.
- Actively listen
- Focus on THEM
- Ask open-ended questions
- Paraphrase what you’ve heard
- Reflect back/summarize
- Take time and space
- Use supportive body language
- Keep quiet. Listen more. Speak less.
- Dig around in feelings
- Invalidate the experience
- Say you know how they feel
- Respond with your own experience
- Say it could have been worse
- Use inappropriate humor
- Try to fix them too early When in doubt, do less.
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