You’re doing amazing, sweetie.

Ethar El-Katatney

I’ve been grappling with this question for a little over two years. I became the acting executive producer of the newsroom in June 2015, and two weeks later, Trump announced he was running for president.

For six months, I was essentially auditioning for the job of leading a newsroom, and so I lived, breathed and thought of lots of Trump. I got the job officially on New Year’s day, and since then, he’s pretty much been a constant fixture in my life.

It is exhausting, depressing, and sometimes also very hard to separate myself as an individual from what’s going on. As a non-American on a very temporary work visa and a clearly identifiable Muslim woman, there are many moments when I have to stop to breath though the rising nausea in my stomach and soldier on through the day. Other than one post soon after election day, I keep my thoughts and feelings quiet.

And Trump is only one kind of coverage. There’s Syria. Bodies of dead children every day. Police shootings. That’s footage of black men shot by white police men every other week. The war in Yemen, hurricanes, mass shootings. The list goes on and on.(Oh and I came to America after years of covering lots of revolutions in the Middle East).

I’ll admit I have a very bad work-life balance. My slack notifications are always on, even when I’m on vacation, or sleeping. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes when someone on the other side of the world pings. And I answer. I pretty much stopped going out after work. So much of my job is talking and discussing and cheerleading and thinking and being ‘on’, I really don’t have energy to socialize much after work. My days start at 7am, and don’t really end before 6pm every day. I’m one of those people who needs inbox 0 and hates red notifications of unanswered things, so I’ll often do that in evenings. Over the last year, I picked up extra projects, grew my team, absorbed other types of content production, etc.

I’m really tired.

The Poynter leadership academy for women in digital media I went to in March was a time of great self reflection (side note: still can’t believe I got in! whoot whoot happy dance). A realization of how much time I spend on urgent activities that are not always important, for example. A realization that my never getting up from my chair all day except to go to the bathroom and watch videos is negatively affecting my team and myself. So in the last six months, I’ve been thinking a lot about my life.

So, in no particular order, here are small things I’ve introduced to my life this year that really have made a difference.

WORK THINGS:

  • Turn off wifi and cellular data when I go to bed. Do not turn them on in the morning before I have at least gone to the bathroom and washed my face.
  • Turn off push notifications on the weekend if I’m not on call. I was watching bae Olivia Pope last weekend when a producer whatsapped me (since I didn’t immediately respond to the slack) to ask who was on call for the shooting in Texas. I felt guilty I didn’t know what had happened, but I now…
  • Try and be okay with not being on top of all the news all the time.
  • Turn off notifications for most non-essential apps — facebook, whatsapp, instagram, snapchat etc.
  • Tweet less. There was a time I tweeted dozens of times a day, amassed tens of thousands of followers, and HAD to be on top of anything. I rarely tweet now, and guess what — I’m okay with that.
  • Unless there is major breaking news, try to keep my phone in my bag for half my commute that is above ground. Look at the beautiful bay and water and sun, rather than at my screen. Do not listen to podcasts. Just enjoy 10 minutes of nothing.
  • After the morning pitch meeting has ended, stories assigned and questions answered, walk to get coffee. Still answer slacks on the way there, but turn off data on the way back (I am somewhat addicted to my phone, so only putting it on silent doesn’t help). Try and enjoy the 5 minute walk and the coffee.
  • My desk is in the middle of the newsroom’s open work space, which means I’m very accessible but also often interrupted. Have one hour in the morning (usually 9:30–10:30am) in a meeting room undisturbed to work in silence.
  • I often fail at this: Go get lunch, rather than order using Postmates or UberEats.
  • I always fail at this: Try and not eat lunch at my desk. I’m averaging once a month eating on the roof, but making my peace with that.
  • I often fail at this but getting better: Have a senior producer run the newsroom once every couple of weeks, and take the day to catch up on strategy/ goals/ data/ audience development etc. Generally empower my seniors more — also a realization of my Poynter leadership training. Skip non-essential meetings and have seniors attend instead.
  • I often fail at this: Delegate delegate delegate.
  • Actually have an email and slack response when I’m on vacation, and do not reply to emails.
  • Get up and walk around the office every couple of hours.
  • If a tab is open for more than a week on a long-form article I haven’t read, close it.
  • Say no to new projects. No to some invitations to speak/ mentor etc. More no, generally (still working on that).
  • Delete most news apps. Download apps that help me organize. Unsubscribe from a dozen news newsletters — keep no more than three. And less than 5-non news newsletters. Brain Pickings is my never-miss. Whenever I’m tempted to re-subscribe, I remember the sad, beautiful fact that we’re all going to miss almost everything.

LIFE THINGS:

  • Schedule in one fun activity a week. Force myself to do it. Even if it’s just a movie. I have fun things scheduled through the end of the year. A concert this weekend. A trip next weekend. Dickens fair the weekend after. Brunch plans every 2–3 weeks.
  • Drink herbal teas. They feel calming. I should have an Amazon dash button for Yogi’s Honey Lavender stress relief tea.
  • Figuring out my energy ‘juicers’ and ‘zappers’ — investing in the former and disconnecting from the latter.
  • Drink more water. I bought a “think happy stuff” water bottle and refill often.
  • Travel one weekend a month. It brings me an insane amount of happiness to travel plan. When I’m feeling super low, I open up my travel app and look at the trips I have coming up and it makes me happy.
  • Have someone come to (really) clean once every two weeks. My grandma was right: a clean house does make a difference. Make my house more homey and a place I love to be in — plush throws, art work on the walls from my travels, mugs I love, big cushions. Invested in a better mattress and black out curtains to help me sleep better. A white noise machine. Essential oil diffuser and fancy lavender spray. Comfy slippers. Reading the Girl’s Night In newsletter and getting inspired.
  • I bought one of those mini magnetic fridge whiteboards and write myself encouraging affirmations every once in a while.
  • Try one Tasty recipe a month of the dozens I ‘save’ and never make.
  • Buy myself flowers once a week.
  • Signing up a for a music service and letting it curate playlists for me based on my eclectic iTunes library.
  • Follow conversations in my whatsapp group for family, and for my best friends from back home.
  • Be open to various spiritual rituals. Attend. Listen. Spirit matters.
  • Limit the brainless Netflix watching every night. Just keep up with my Shonda shows. Try and finish a book a week. I will unabashedly admit I read lots of trashy romance novels and 13-year-old boy fantasy world/ dystopia escapism books.
  • Listen to some fun podacsts in addition to smart ones. Just finished Homecoming Season 2.
  • Be okay with not being an awesome social presence with witty commentary on everything. Be okay with the fact I don’t really post or write much (this post being an exception!)
  • Brew coffee on weekends. Actually sit on that patio I never step foot in for at least 20 mins on Saturdays.
  • Once a month, meal prep for the week and don’t eat out all the time. Get one of those meal prep boxes where you can cook everything in 10–15 mins. Buy healthy snacks — protein bars, nuts, etc.
  • Use instacart rather than go grocery shopping and lugging huge bags around the city. Use postmates to pick up meat from my butcher. Use primenow. Basically cut out errand time where I can.
  • Once a month, get a massage. I got one of those weird self massage contraptions and I use it sporadically.
  • Sign up for one new thing a month. Right now I’m pondering Shonda Rhimes’s masterclass on writing for television. I signed up for a Grotto class and only made it to half the sessions but still glad I did. Going to a hand drumming class next week,
  • Started a one-gratitude-a-day journal.
  • Acknowledge and respect that fact that watching horrible things every day takes a huge toll on my mental and emotional health. Just because I have learned to compartmentalize doesn’t mean I shouldn’t always be working on finding avenues to deal with what I see and do every day.
  • Experiment with ways to slow down my monkey mind — I’ve tried coloring (okay-ish), meditating (didn’t quite work), yoga (I’m just not flexible enough), and going out to sit by the water without my phone (I had a mini panic attack that the world was ending and I was missing it). Keep experimenting.
  • Generally do random things and go to random events, outside of my comfort zone.
  • Invest in clothes I don’t need to iron. Invest in super comfortable work clothes.
  • Every once in a while, light up this amazing delicious candle and read some poetry. I asked for recommendations of ‘soothing’ music and currently in love with Ryan Stewart’s “Equanimity.” Or just general YouTube Zen music playlist.
  • Once a month, go on a long drive for a long hike with actual trees and wind and nature. I live in California, so honestly I should do this all the time.
  • Call my mom every week. EVERY week. For at least 20 minutes.
  • Read Buzzfeed Nifty lists of “things you MUST have!” and occasionally actually go amazon shopping.

Lots of other little things. The gist of it being feeling less guilty about not being plugged in and on all the time, and understanding that taking care of myself means I’m not drained at work and will bring fresh eyes and heart to my work. The bad news will never end, and if I want to keep doing what I do as a career, I have to step away every now and then.

So for all of us who work in the media, remember that self care is super important. And here’s a lil’

h/t Hannah Wise

Ethar El-Katatney

Written by

Young Audiences Editor at @WSJ. Previously executive producer @AJ+. Published author, award-winning journalist, international lecturer.

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