Self-Study Unit 4: The First 24 Hours

Journalists should also be aware of acute stress disorder during this time period and beyond. To find out more about traumatic stress effects on journalists, visit the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder's web site for journalists.

Penny Owen, formerly a staff correspondent for The Daily Oklahoman and a former Dart Fellow wrote an article entitled, "Managing the Memories: Through the Eyes of a Reporter Who's Been There," for the Dart Center's web site. Owen was one of the key reporters who covered the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. In reflecting on what she experienced after the bombing, she uses her experience to give advice to journalists covering the WTO terrorist attacks:

"The journalists covering the Sept. 11 attacks are doing a terrific job, but I am sure they will feel fallout, if some haven't already. My advice is to seek out other journalists to talk to — and to do so before they are tired of talking about it. A main regret of mine was waiting until we slowed down to talk it out. When we finally did slow down, everyone was so sick of the bombing they didn't want to talk about it. I felt really lonesome after that. Also, pamper yourself between the tough stuff. Get a massage, take a day off to shop, whatever. Anything de-stressing is weird, but helpful."

Sapolsky outlines five things that can make stressors more difficult to deal with. They are loss of control, loss of predictability, loss of outlets for frustration, loss of sources of support and a perception that things are getting worse. On the other hand, if people feel they have some control, predictability, outlets for frustration, sources of support and a perception that things are going to get better, these things can mitigate the damaging effects of stress. (Of course not everyone reacts the same to stressors; factors such as personality type and past experiences affect a person's stress-response.) It is hoped that this lesson will help journalists feel as though they have some control over job-related stress — i.e., that there are things they can do to mitigate the stress-response.

Knowing what to expect at the scene of a tragedy can help with the predictability factor. No amount of words on a page can fully prepare someone for the reality of some kinds of trauma, but it is better to have some preparation than none at all. Journalists can also prepare for such traumatic events by making sure they have outlets for their frustrations - as Sapolsky recommends: "punch a wall, take a run, find solace in a hobby."

As importantly, mental relaxation and visualization can play a role in relieving stress. He writes, "We are even cerebral enough to imagine those outlets and derive some relief ... ." This is a good argument for learning meditation, visualization, tai chi, yoga and other calming exercises. The cultivation of a support network of friends and family, as well as an optimistic attitude, can also help mitigate the negative effects of stress.

The first 24 hours after a traumatic news event will require tremendous reserves of mental and physical energy. Depending on what the nature of the event is like, the journalist himself or herself may experience things during that time period that can lead to psychological and physical problems later. This module is not meant to be a clinical manual for diagnosing mental illness. It is meant to create an awareness of potential dangerous signs and to suggest ways to pre-empt or mitigate escalation of stress symptoms. If problems are such that professional interventions seem warranted, see your physician or a mental health professional immediately.