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Workshop helps beginner journalists deal with interview anxiety (Part II)

February 22, 2015

In the fall of 2014, instructors teaching first-year students at the Ryerson University School of Journalism observed what appeared to be an increase in the number of students whose fear of contacting and interviewing strangers was an obstacle they seemingly couldn’t overcome. After being contacted by the instructors, Bronwyn Dickson and Laura Girz from the Centre for Student Development and Counselling developed a workshop tailored specifically for journalism students and the anxieties they face in their reporting assignments. The workshop was mandatory for all students in first-year reporting classes. Two students wrote accounts of their experience. This is the second in the series.

By NICK DUNNE

Special to the RJRC

​I was clutching my phone, staring at my interviewee’s number. I simply had to press the call button, but all instincts told me to resist. I paced back and forth, my heart pounding and thoughts racing around so fast that I could only draw a blank. I went to review my notes. The tight grip I had on my Samsung was slipping; the sweat off my hands had covered my phone with a slimy membrane, and the nervous shaking only made it harder to hold. It was like wrangling a bullfrog. Ready or not, I took a deep breath, finally pressed call, and waited for my interviewee to pick up.

​I know all too well the stress involved with conducting interviews. No matter how many times I do them, they have never gotten easier. But counsellors Bronwyn Dickson and Laura Girz from Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design set out to highlight the problems and the solutions to a journalist’s anxieties.

​Dickson and Girz came to my class recently for a presentation about dealing with anxiety as a journalist. Dickson then led a meditation session.

​The counsellors said anxiety is a normal reaction, especially given the nature of journalism, which is wrought with tight deadlines, stressful interviews and a shrinking job market that looms over student and veteran journalists alike.

​“I think that for me the most stressful thing is the fact that what I’m writing is, I would hope, going to have an impact on some level socially,” said Trevor Hewitt, another first-year journalism student. “I would say the fear of getting things articulated clearly and in a manner that accurately reflects them is the most stressful part for me. It would be the worst to write a story about something and get a major factual error that basically negated your argument.”

​The presentation allowed us to discuss the anxieties of interviews and share our common concerns with one another, but there was little talk about the stress of journalism’s current job market. The majority of people I asked said that, on top of interviews, that’s what stresses them out.

​Dickson said there are both physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. The physical symptoms include muscle tension, nausea, a racing heart and fast breathing, while the mental symptoms are thoughts of failure, catastrophe or just simply blanking out.

​Anxiety is a normal response to stress, and moderate anxiety can be good thing; the pressure can motivate people to work hard and succeed, the counsellors said. But anxiety becomes unhealthy when we let it cripple us by overestimating danger and underestimating our ability to cope.

​The first reaction for many is to avoid the source of anxiety, but that will only delay the inevitable, students learned. Avoidance only prolongs the stress.

​Other bad habits include extreme success-or-failure thinking, jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst will happen, and ignoring your accomplishments while exaggerating your shortcomings.

​Dickson and Girz suggested three strategies for dealing with anxiety: sleeping well, eating well and mindfulness, which is a form of meditation that stresses self-awareness and thinking about the present moment.

​Other strategies included thinking positively, and considering how you would advise a friend if they were overly anxious.

​Breathing slowly, relaxing your muscles and visualizing a calming environment can also help combat the physical symptoms of anxiety, they said.

​The counsellors’ presentation encouraged people to take a step back and think: “What’s the worst thing that could happen? How would I deal with this? What is the likelihood of this happening?” and to properly assess your situation.

​If these strategies do not work and the anxiety is getting in the way of your life by preventing you from performing important activities, the counsellors said to seek help.

​If you are a Ryerson Student and need help, the Centre for Student Development and Counselling can be reached at 416-979-5195 and the email is csdc@ryerson.ca.