Journalists are regularly exposed to the risk of a number of physical and psychological ailments due to increasing stress, which they need to control clinically and through self-regulation, according to doctors and media men. As the competition for news gets more intense due to the proliferation of TV channels and digital newspapers, journalists are coming under increasing pressure to meet deadlines, compromising their health, said Dr Azad Moopen, chairman of DM Healthcare. Speaking at a stress meet organised by Indian Media Forum, an Indian journalists association and DM Healthcare, doctors from the healthcare group advised journalists about various techniques to absorb and release increasing stress.
Some journalists who participated in the stress meet said they are direct victims of health hazards like stroke, diabetes, heart ailments and mental restlessness.
M K Lokesh, Indian Ambassador to the UAE, who inaugurated the meet, said stress can be controlled by resorting to traditional Indian medicinal systems like Ayurveda and Yoga. “Stress is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by the media. Even my stress level went up after a number of journalists called me up to enquire about some unfortunate events,” he said.
The stress level of journalists in India is growing as many new television channels and digital newspapers are in a fierce competition for news. Earlier, competition was among newspapers and there was one day to wait for the next edition. “In a small state like Kerala, there are 17 television channels and every year more channels are added. What used to happen in 100 years is now happening in one year, putting stress on everybody including journalists,” Dr Moopen said, adding that stressed journalists who are exposed to lifestyle diseases like diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and even mental illness need to exercise regularly and practice yoga.
Participants of the stress meet also remembered Gopal Bhattacharya, an Indian journalist who died of heart attack in Dubai on August 5, 2008. Bhaskar Raj, a journalist who worked closely with Gopal Bhattacharya, remembered the fateful day and advised journalists to be careful about their health. He said stress caused by external and internal factors can result in abnormal behavior.
Growing competition among television channels and the proliferation of social media are adding to the stress of journalists, experts attending the meet said. “Stress is a physical and mental reaction to unfavorable situations. It can attract many illnesses and even change the human cell structure that can result in cancer. Avoid getting into bad situations by responding to stress in a negative way by resorting to drinking, drug addiction and smoking,” Dr T M Jaison, Specialist Cardiologist of ASTER Medical Centre said.
Dr Mohammed Yousuf, Specialist Psychiatrist at Aster Medical Centre, said journalists, policemen and civil defense people who are exposed to violent situations like road traffic accidents, suicides and natural calamities can suffer from secondary trauma or post trauma disorders. “Stress and suicidal tendency are closely related. Reporters sometimes get emotionally attached to the people in their news stories and thus invite mental disorders. They need to be emotionally detached from such situations, which is not easy,” he said.
Journalists who often report about suicides can develop suicidal tendencies and those who report about food poisoning deaths may feel reluctant to eat or feed their children, he said, in response to a journalist’s query. A journalist working for an Indian television channel said he could not sleep well after reporting a violent family suicide in Ras Al Khaimah. Another journalist from an English newspaper said she feels reluctant to feed her children after reporting a series of food poisoning deaths of children in the UAE. Similar emotional stress is experienced by journalists who regularly cover road accident deaths and injuries, violent murders and relationship cases.
N. Vijaya Mohan, president of Indian Media Forum, spoke about the stress level of journalists who covered natural calamities like the Latur earthquake in India, the Kuwait war and the September 11 attacks in the USA. “Some Indian journalists who lead a stressful life don’t get enough insurance coverage. In some cases, they become victims of strokes, heart blocks and other diseases which are expensive to treat,” he said.
Dr T M Jaison, Cardiologist at Aster Medical Centre, said since the heart and emotions are closely related, stress can cause fatal heart ailments and blood vessel clots. He said scientific studies during earth quakes and other natural calamities showed that the human blood thickens 2.6 times more than during normal times. During the 9/11 attacks, heart patients undergoing treatment at various US hospitals recorded increased blood pressure. Negative stress can result in explosive behavior, increased use of alcohol, drug abuse and smoking.
Dr Jaison suggested ten ways to control stress which included taking a deep breath and muscle relaxation methods to take control of the situation, regular physical exercise for thirty minutes per day, getting connected with people, sharing problems, and by devoting time for oneself, on things that one enjoys doing. “A problem shared is a problem halved. Find more time to do what you enjoy the most and by challenging yourself to do new things like learning a new language, music, painting or by doing good to others,” Dr Jaison advised journalists. Progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, meditation and yoga will help stressed journalists to relax, he added.
P. V. Vivekanandan, a senior Indian journalist who has worked 35 years in various Gulf countries, recollected his traumatic experiences while covering war in Yemen, Iraq and some African countries. “I have seen headless bodies, not one or two, but 80 of them together. It is very stressful to see and report such horrific situations. I had my first heart attack four days after visiting Iraq where violence was rising. I have seen thousands of angry and hungry people rioting,” he said, adding that such traumatic experiences had impacted him mentally.
At the stress meet, journalists were also given special training to face a medical emergency like helping a heart attack victim. A free medical checkup was arranged for participants in the meet, which was followed by Iftar.