Recognize this face? Alisyn Camerota is a journalist, author and anchor of CNN Newsroom with Victor Blackwell, weekdays from 2-4:00 p.m. in New York City. And she has a powerful message about how she protects her mental health in the face of what she calls “a breathless, fever pitch calorie-burner pace.”
In her three decades in journalism, Camerota has covered stories nationally and internationally, earning an Emmy Award for her breaking news coverage of the arrest of Roger Stone and the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for her breaking news coverage of Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico. Camerota’s debut novel, Amanda Wakes Up, was selected by National Public Radio as one of the best books of the year and by Oprah Magazine as “a must read.”
Obviously, Camerota is no slacker, but she’s not a workaholic, either. During her successful career climb, she has mastered something most of us continue to strive for: a formula of “radical self-care” that keeps her career soaring and her mental well-being on an even keel. I had the opportunity to sit down with the CNN anchor from the studios in New York City and discover how she manages a successful career, whirlwind pace, a marriage and three teenagers. I walked away thinking too bad there’s only one Alisyn Camerota. The work world could use more people like her. Here’s why.
No Stranger To Mental Health Struggles
Despite her success, Camerota is no stranger to mental health issues. She recalled having bouts of depression as a teenager and again in her twenties and thirties. “My antennae is up for people who might be slipping into that,” she said. “I think it’s normal to have mental health struggles. Life can be anxiety provoking, and the more we talk about mental health, the more we normalize it and help remove the stigma. The fact that people feel like they’re the only ones who have certain feelings, that they’re alone, is a problem. That ends up enhancing the feeling of isolation.”
Although she hasn’t been in that situation in many years, she can totally relate to people who are feeling that way. She knows how hopeless that can feel, as if nothing’s ever going to change. “I know I can present as somebody who has had an easy life or who doesn’t struggle with these things. But it’s just not true,” she told me. “And you can’t size anybody up from the outside because everybody has had some struggle or another. I’m a big proponent of therapy. It helped me in my thirties develop tools to cope, change my perspective and get a handle on all my demons.”
Career Challenges And Radical Self-Care
Camerota is an advocate of what I call radical self-care. Sometimes we have to go to extremes and take radical steps to protect our mental health to get people’s attention. That requires going against popular opinion or refusing to appease others like Naomi Osaka did when she withdrew from the French Open amid scathing criticism. Simone Biles did it, too, vilified for putting her mental health and physical well-being over pleasing critics at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And Prince Harry, who struggled with his own depression, left the Royal Family against public admonition to protect his mental health and the well-being of wife Meghan Markle and their family.
Most of us are not international sports figures or royalty, but we all have our personal work challenges where radical self-care, although considered unpopular and selfish to outsiders, is essential for our mental health. When I asked Camerota about this, she said sometimes when you’re at the end of your rope, you have to do something drastic to grab people’s attention. “I hear a lot from women who are juggling families, homes, marriages and careers and reaching overload. They say, ‘Oh, I could never get my husband to take the kids to soccer practice.’ And I say, ‘Okay, here’s my advice. Get in bed and don’t get out. Somebody has to pick up the slack.’”
But does she practice what she preaches? She told me she has never been “cursed” with perfectionism or to have to get it all right. “I hear women say, ‘It’s so hard to be a working parent because you can’t give 100% to everything.’ And I say, ’So what. Who cares?’ I’m a big proponent of the Good Enough School Of Parenting and the Good Enough School Of Journalism. I try hard and do well enough, but I don’t strive for perfection. I do well at balancing and knowing my limitations, and I’ve never felt guilty about it. My kids know this about me. They know I’m doing my best and that I have flaws. I lower the standards for everybody and that has worked for me because I don’t want them to expect me to be at every game and be available for every homework assignment.”
She told me she takes her work health very seriously, too, but also knows her limits. “There’s a relentlessness to the breathless, calorie burner pace of my job,” she said. “We report on pandemics, hurricanes, death and destruction, a building collapsing, wars and so on. I’ve always been able to compartmentalize the losses and not carry them home. But I’m also aware that on some unknown level it takes its toll. One thing I always say is I need to be out of motion. So when I get home and my husband and kids say, ‘Okay, you ready to go out to dinner?’ I say, ‘I need to be out of motion.’ And I lie down in my bed and stare out the window at the leaves gently rustling in the wind. I can easily get myself into that alpha state because my body doesn’t like to be at that fever pitch. I dial it back, write in my journal or stare out the window at the leaves.”
Camerota said she knows the signs when she’s pushing too hard or is too stressed and believes there’s no upside to not addressing it. “Working doesn’t have to be nose-to-the-grindstone misery. You get more productivity out of well-rested, healthy employees. It’s a skill—an art—to know your limits,” she advises. “Don’t be embarrassed to hold your limits. Step into them and feel free to let people know what they are. Carve out time you need for yourself. Some people decompress with exercise, some people take a walk in the park, some read. You know your bliss. You know yourself well enough and what you need, and it doesn’t serve anybody—yourself or loved ones—if you get too overwhelmed and stressed.”
Alisyn Camerota will will appear at Resiliency 2021 on September 9, 2021 and guest host several episodes of the Distraction podcast this summer beginning August 17, which touches on resiliency and mental health.