Combatting stress on the job…

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Advisers deploy different strategies to try to maintain a healthy balance in their lives

By Susan Smith
South Dakota State University


Most jobs come with some level of stress, and advising a student media group is no exception. Advisers cope with that stress in a number of ways, from finding a good work/life balance to making sure students are trained to deal with day-to-day crises themselves.

Stress can bring on headaches, cause teeth grinding and mouth sores and contribute to a number of physical ailments including heart disease, according to Web MD.

Physical, emotional and environmental changes all contribute to stress. These stressors, when unmanaged, can begin to cause health problems or make already unhealthy conditions, like high cholesterol, worse, according to Web MD. Stress is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, but doctors aren’t sure how stress contributes to the illness.

Chuck Baldwin, a newspaper adviser and faculty member at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, said most of the stress of his job comes from the classes he teaches, not newspaper advising.

“I know there are advisers out there who have problems with the administration, who maybe have problems recruiting staff, who have uncontrollable or uncooperative staff,” he said. “If my situation were different or if it were to change, I’d probably have some stress. I just haven’t experienced those things yet.”

Baldwin characterizes his advising stress as low. He said if his primary job were advising he might feel more stress. He has things to take care of as an adviser, but those things, like revising the newspaper’s by-laws, looking at alternative rack locations and doing website upgrades. This semester he’s teaching three classes, including a writing-intensive ethics and media law course with 30 students. The prospect of that seems more stressful.

“I’m going to be grading papers from now until doomsday,” he said.

Baldwin characterizes himself as fairly laid back, but he says his program is structured in such a way that students do the majority of newsroom management. If that weren’t the case, his job would perhaps be more stressful. During the Associated Collegiate Press/College Media Advisers fall conference, Baldwin got word that staff members of the Volante, the University of South Dakota newspaper, discovered a staff reporter couldn’t verify the sources for several of his stories. His staff went about doing everything they should, going back through the paper’s archives to determine the scope of the problem and making the situation known to the newspaper’s readers.

“That wasn’t really stress; that was disappointment,” he said.

Along with teaching and advising Baldwin tries to meet weekly with all 15 of the Volante’s senior staff members. He attends portions of the general staff meeting to give a critique and make needed announcements. He credits his lack of stress to the quality of students at USD. Those he has the most issue with are apathetic and lazy.

“I don’t have very many that just ignore me,” he said. “There are some students, but frankly they don’t rise very high in the hierarchy in the paper. I have students in class who aren’t in any student media. They aren’t so stressful as they are frustrating.”

Newspaper reporter made the 2014 Forbes Magazine list of most stressful jobs. The article’s author, Susan Adams, cited the industry pressures of not only writing stories but posting on multimedia platforms amid an atmosphere of competition and ever-shrinking job opportunities. Adams suggested that reporters may stay in jobs they’re unhappy with because they believe better options are hard to find or don’t exist.

She also suggested that those in high-pressure jobs pick them regardless of stress and may in fact have a stress gene that causes them to gravitate towards such a profession.

A 2009 study of burnout and job satisfaction among high school newspaper advisers by Scott T Reinardy, Adam Maksl and Vincent Filak determined that high school newspaper advisersburn out at a lower rate than other teachers. As stated in a Winter 2009 article in Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, high school newspaper advisers are not without stress. Often they are the only staff members at their school who deal with media and “conflicts between student publications and administrators are not uncommon.” The article states that calls for assistance from the Student Press Law Center increased from 548 in 1998 to 2,200 in 2004.

Newspaper advisers were less likely to burn out because of the personal satisfaction they gained from their jobs, according to Reinardy, Maksl and Filak. The educators surveyed for the study indicated average levels of emotional exhaustion, but balanced that with a high level of personal accomplishment. Reinardy, Maksl and Filak state that those teachers “enjoy working closely with their students, and feel a great deal of personal achievement in their work.”

Baldwin echoed those sentiments.

“We’re all going to come across problems, whether with the administration or students,” he said. “Learn to embrace and appreciate the kids because that’s what it’s all about.”

Kyle Miller completed a master’s degree in communications students from the University of South Dakota in 2013. He is completing a doctorate and teaching as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He advised the USD radio station, KAOR-FM, from 2011-2013.

Miller said his experience as a radio station adviser cemented his decision to make a career from media advising. He felt a medium level of stress as an adviser. Making the transition from student to adviser was stressful, he said, because some of his advisees knew him as an undergraduate. Not all of them respected his new position.

“As an adviser, I was in a position to really help guide my students in the running of the station and thought that since they knew and were friends with me in my undergraduate/non-adviser roles, it would be a seamless transition,” Miller said. “But the ‘we know all’ attitude that may have worked when I was at their level translated into minimal respect for me as an adviser, and it was difficult for me to see that.”

The problem lessened at semester time when most of the problem students moved on.

Miller said the biggest help for him in managing the stress of advising was time management.

“Knowing when to dedicate time to grading and classwork is crucial,” Miller said.

Knowing when to have fun is also important, he said. Going to sporting events, traveling and spending time with family and friends help Miller regain his equilibrium.

“While I’m usually working on-campus every day (including weekends) with research, grading, and even at USD with thesis work, knowing when to just set aside time where you don’t work on any of that is needed so you don’t burn out,” he said.

A Feb. 23 article in The Guardian analyzed mindfulness-based stress reduction, which the National Health Service in Great Britain has prescribed to treat depression since 2004. Research on the method indicated the program was helpful in teaching long-term methods to combat stress and depression. The mindfulness process was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The method attempts to focus the patient’s thoughts by identifying what is happening around him or her while meditating. The Guardian article related a meditation session where participants were asked to focus on a particular area of the body and as their thoughts began to wander to their to-do list, or reliving past mistakes, they were asked to let those thoughts pass by them without judgment and return to focusing on their breathing or a particular part of their body in order to return to the present.

Heidi Evers, a licensed counselor in Brookings, S.D., uses mindfulness to help her clients deal with various mental health issues.

“Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening at this time, without filters or judgment,” Evers said. “By allowing oneself to be more fully aware of themselves, their surroundings and their part in their lives, it helps them to make choices that will lead to their goals, whether it be to be a better parent, lose weight, communicate better, focus at work or any other situation they may want to improve in.”

Mindfulness is mainly self-taught, can be inexpensive and is designed to assist in a deeper relaxation.

There are eight attitudes learned in the course of mindfulness: beginner’s mind, non-judgment, acknowledgement, non-striving, equanimity, letting be, self-reliance and self-compassion.

“Reflection on these qualities encourages a positive, healthy self-esteem and approach to life,” Evers said.

She sees a number of symptoms and behaviors in her patients when they experience high stress levels. She said it could be a parent who is stressed at work and goes home to take that stress out on a child or their spouse or partner. High stress can cause issues with appetite, leading the individual to rely on comfort foods or to experience a decrease in appetite. Stress can cause sleep difficulties. A lack of sleep causes mood shifts, which add to the stress of work or a relationship, or the inability to concentrate on classes. Often people suffering from high stress engage in “a lot of negative self-talk” Evers said.

Kelly Morr is the publications coordinator at the University of California at Berkeley. She advises 71 publications; 40 to 50 of those publish at least once a year, while some publish more frequently and include magazines, yearbooks, smaller newspapers, literary journals, online publications and academic journals.

Her job was new when she joined her department in August 2012. She had been a freelance writer joining academia when she began running a tutoring and writing program.

Morr said while change automatically causes stress, she didn’t know the volume of publications she advises was unusual. In her previous position she oversaw a student staff of 25. She now oversees 10 student staff members on a regular basis who provide support to the other publications along with the staffs of the student publications. She tries to meet with them on a fairly regular basis.

Morr’s position was created when several others were combined, leaving her department in a state of flux. Morr noticed the stress this caused her colleagues.

“One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is how it affects relationships,” she said. “You’re not as good at communicating as you otherwise are.”

Morr said she combats the stress and long hours of advising by creating a rich life for herself outside her work. She has written one novel and has another in the works. She uses competitive figure skating as a physical outlet.

“I find if I take weeks off if I’m injured, I do feel more stress if I don’t get some sort of physical outlet,” she said. “Just to be able to go and do something with your body that works with me.”

Mayoclinic.com recommends the following ways to eliminate stress:

  1. Get active. Nearly any form of physical activity can help relieve stress. Endorphins and other natural chemicals increase when you exercise. It helps divert the mind from whatever is causing stress and sparks a more relaxed state.
  2. Laughter. Laughing causes your stress response to heat up and cool down, according to the Mayo Clinic site. It also “lightens your mental load.”
  3. Connect with others. When people are stressed their first instinct might be to isolate themselves. But reaching out to others creates a distraction from the stress, provides supports and helps buffet life’s ups and downs.
  4. Assert yourself. Learn to say no or delegate. Saying yes to a new responsibility can take time away from a personal life, ultimately causing more stress than just saying no in the first place.
  5. Try yoga. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind, helping you relax and manage stress and anxiety, the site says.
  6. Get enough sleep. While this may seem easier said than done, getting enough sleep causes your body to recharge. The quality and quantity of a person’s sleep affects their mood, concentration, energy level and overall functioning.
  7. Keep a journal. Recording thoughts and feelings can help can release pent-up emotions, according to the site.
  8. Listen to music or be creative. Music distracts from stress and causes muscles to relax. It also reduces stress hormones. The same effects are gained from pursuing any hobby.
  9. Seek Counseling. If typical methods of stress relief don’t work the Mayo Clinic site advocates seeing a professional. The time to seek this type of help is when stress begins to take over and makes it difficult or impossible to complete daily tasks.

CMA/ACP conventions and other journalism gatherings are useful in combating stress, long-time adviser Nils Rosdahl said.

Miller and Baldwin also cited support from those organizations as playing a strong role in their development as advisers.

Baldwin attended a new adviser training his first year and heard some horror stories of what can happen in student media. He said thankfully he has had few of those problems in his own advising.

“That didn’t appear here,” he said. “Part of it has to do with the good kids we have here in South Dakota.”

His biggest issue transitioning was the relatively slow speed at which things move in an academic bureaucracy.

The College Media Association doesn’t offer specific resources for advisers dealing with stress aside from its popular listserv, CMA President Rachele Kanigel said.

“And clearly, many advisers turn to our listserv to let off steam, seek advice and find comfort when they face stressful situations,” she said.

Rosdahl taught and advised journalism for 25 years at North Idaho College, retiring in 2010. His most stressful year was the first one. The college president fired him because he wouldn’t censor the newspaper. Eventually that president was ousted and the new leader hired him again. That same year he and his wife had a baby and adopted a two-year-old with physical challenges. Overall he said the most stressful part of his job was when students failed to follow through on their duties. The stress he felt influenced his efforts to recruit, and he developed a philosophy of caring, sharing and being there for students.

“It meant sharing my knowledge and experience, sometimes my lunch, caring that they learned and did a good job, and being there when they needed me and as they produced the paper. I loved the job and the kids.”

Rosdahl also worked to develop an active life outside of work even though he admits to feeling guilty about not spending what he thought was enough time with his own family, particularly during production weekends. He advised young advisers to find releases like writing and editing , exercise, hobbies and activities to combat stress.

He creates things with old wooden/metal printers’ type, walks a lot, plays tennis and pickleball, and gathers and build brick walls and walkways with thousands of flat and brick-like rocks he collects from mountains and rivers.

“It’s physical, creative and useful, a great release,” he said.


Susan Smith
Susan Smith

Susan Smith is the media adviser at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. She advises The Collegian newspaper, the KSDJ radio station and the Jackrabbit yearbook. She also teaches news editing in the SDSU Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. Smith is a three-degree graduate of SDSU, where she earned master and bachelor’s degrees in Journalism and Mass Communication as well as a bachelor’s degree in political science.

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