It’s not exactly a chicken-and-egg question, but it’s one Anna Mortimer has thought about quite a bit.
Does working in journalism cause anxiety, or do people who have higher-than-average levels of anxiety find themselves more attracted to high-stress jobs like journalism?
For Mortimer, whose father was a war correspondent killed when she was 19 at the end of the war in El Salvador, she thinks it’s the latter.
“Journalism is probably secondary,” says Mortimer, who has changed careers and gone into psychotherapy. “I probably have a high anxiety that makes me very aware of how other people are thinking and feeling. That makes you a good journalist but it also makes you a good psychotherapist.”
She thinks people who have similar tendencies are attracted to jobs like journalism, where a lot of drive is required, as is a level of comfort working in high-stress environments. “If you go into one of these professions that consumes your whole life, if you’re only as good as the last word you wrote, you’re in trouble,” she says. “People in the field are already on the run from unwanted feelings back home. I think you’re in trouble before you go into the profession. There’s a sort of hyper vigilance that anxious children might have that makes you a great journalist or air traffic controller, but it doesn’t help you sleep at night or have a more fulfilling life.”
But Mortimer wants to try and right that ship, or at least provide some respite.
After starting a small remote therapy practice in which she meets with her patience via web video, she launched The Mind Field, a platform that connects international development workers, journalists and similar professionals with therapists. Her patients are from anywhere in the world where there’s a WiFi connection, but she does get a lot of journalists and aid workers in far-flung locales.
“I think the reason video therapy can be a good thing — I think it’s second best. If you live in one place and can go see a therapist near you, the face-to-face experience is important,” she says. “Video therapy offers you therapy in your hotel room, your tent, wherever there’s WiFi. I see people who go out to refugee camps and speak to me on their phones. It’s so adaptable.”
Mortimer also cautions against pursuing happiness, especially among those who live with depression. “I’m anti-positive thinking because of course if you’re depressed you’re not thinking positively. It’s absurdly simplistic. I think people get very trapped in it and then feel they’ve failed.”