OPINION: Self-care is an essential tool in your journalism arsenal

When South Africa first went into lockdown in late March 2020, I started a 21-day #LockdownJournal Challenge.

The idea was that it took three weeks to hone a new habit and I really wanted to get writing again. The challenge took off and soon, I had two groups on different days and the challenge taking place on various social media platforms.

I had also inadvertently created a coping mechanism for myself.

The challenge required me to upload new prompts on various social media platforms each morning at around 8 AM. I got up early and in those quiet pre-dawn moments, I spent time on my own reflections ahead of sending out the messages to others.

Those private moments help lessen the anxiety of the change. They ensured that I prioritised myself for the rest of the day. I began to consider my own needs for self-care.

When people say the personal is political, I really do consider how women put the needs of others above their own needs. So practicing self-care can be a political act - one that says we matter enough.

What is self-care?

Essentially, it is any act to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Wikipedia is a little more theoretical: “In healthcare, self-care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated. Some place self-care on a continuum with health care providers at the opposite end to self-care while others see a more complex relationship”.

For journalists, self-care is about enhancing your own health and well-being by managing your stress. It starts by setting boundaries between your work and home life to ensure that you give your body time to destress and recuperate.

Before the lockdown, it was relatively easy to switch off from the office. Sometimes, it was as simple as the drive home that allowed us to change gears for the day and leave the office behind.

Now, many lament that the work day never seems to end.

In countries with the added burden of electricity outages, the day can also bring unexpected challenges of stepping in for colleagues without power and doing their shifts.

So then, what does it mean to practice self-care?

Firstly, the process needs to be intentional. And by that, I mean having more than good intentions to look after yourself. It is essential to have a self-care plan. A self-care plan is a personal map for looking after your wellbeing.

Some find their release in religion, physical exercise, relationships or even cultural activities. Others find release in groups whether these are study groups, clubs around common interests or professional development.

A good starting point is what works for you.

I found weekly meetings of a small advanced journal group of writers as an excellent outlet for stress at the beginning and end of the week. If your ideal group does not exist, you can even create your own.

But most self-care practices really start with you and with taking care of your body.

I reached out to other journalists and here are some of their self-care tips:

  • Get enough sleep.

  • Have some physical exercise whether it is walking, yoga, jogging or something even more active.

  • Take a lunch break away from your desk.

  • Mute social media updates after hours.

  • Start a journal.

  • Make time for family and friends.

  • Plan one special activity to support your wellbeing every week.

Your self-care plan should be dynamic and responsive to the changes in your environment. Check in to ensure that the plan is having the desired impact on your life.

Most of all, use your plan to prioritise you.

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