Spotlight on Success:

CSUF Communications Professor Teaches Students How to Use Mindfulness in the High-Stress World of Media 

Dr. Doug Swanson March 22, 2021

"Engaging with mindfulness rewires your brain. After a while, the stressful thoughts that used to be 'automatic' are not that way anymore. Calm is easier to find."

CSUF Communications Professor Doug Swanson, Ed.D, APR, has had a mindfulness practice for about ten years. He has even practiced with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh at the spiritual leader's monastery in Escondido.

"Prior to the pandemic, I was going at least twice a year for silent retreats," said Swanson. "I found these experiences to really help me unwind and clear my thinking." 

Dr. Swanson has taught in higher education since 1990, but he spent the first 12 years of his professional life in the fast-paced, high-stress world of media. "I worked in newspapers, radio stations, and television news," Swanson said. "I know from personal experience there is a great need for media and communications people to be mindful at work, to help mitigate the stress they deal with every day."

It only made sense to bring his two experiences together, weaving mindfulness into teaching public relations and journalism. It's why he took a sabbatical in 2018 and developed this research: Perceptions of Mindfulness Among Public Relations Professionals and Students: Similarities, Differences, and Implications for Undergraduate Career Preparation. It was published in the Journal of Public Relations Education by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. (You can read it here.Opens in new window )

His study involved administering the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale to public relations professionals and undergraduate students preparing for their careers.  The results showed that both professionals and students think alike when faced with different workplace scenarios.   

"PR and professionals working in the news business report their mindfulness and mindlessness in much the same way! This was like a bolt of lightning to me," Swanson said. "I was determined to develop and launch a course that makes students aware of how important it is to get control of their state of mind as they enter the media business."

Dr. Swanson launched his course, "Mindfulness in Media and Public Relations," this spring with a mix of undergrads and grad students. The class is a secular mindfulness course and not about religion or spiritual practice. He says the purpose is to find ways for students to integrate mindfulness into their future newsrooms and public relations agencies.

First-year graduate student, Jacqueline Davis, wants a career in crisis communications and emergency management. She's currently taking Dr. Swanson's class and says it's given her the skills to deal with office politics.

"These will help me in my career because the corporate world is an intimidating world, everything is so fast-paced, and a lot of people can be mindless and brutal," said Davis. "So being able to navigate this type of world can really change the way I experience them and decompress so that it doesn't hold me back."

Yisella Mariscal, a public relations major, is taking the class because she wants to see another side of the public relations industry. She's worked in the corporate world and rarely saw her managers care about their workers.

"I'm glad I'm taking this class because Professor Swanson has shown us how to see the industry from a different perspective," said Mariscal. "Every class, we all share our experiences, and it helps. I know this class will continue to show me more, and I'm excited about it."

Alexander Valladolid is earning his bachelor's degree this spring in communications with a concentration in advertising. He says Dr. Swanson has taught him how to be consciously present.

"This is important to have a healthy mental and emotional state," said Valladolid. "Taking the steps towards being mindful will potentially improve work engagement, leaving myself and a future employer content."

Justine Houston-Brown, APR, Senior Account Executive for Rocket Launch Marketing & Public Relations, is a CSUF 2012 COMM graduate. She was a recent guest speaker in Dr. Swanson's class and touched on the importance of mindfulness in public relations agency life.

"As the agency and your clients constantly evolve, news cycles change, and deadlines come and go, it's critical for PR professionals to stay on top of everything," said Houston-Brown. "Small moments to pause or break will help your mindset stay fresh, making you all the more valuable to clients and your employer. "

Dr. Swanson says media has changed considerably since he was a reporter working on 3 to 4 stories a week. Now, reporters are working on 10 to 12 stories a day while juggling several social media platforms. The ongoing stress is incredible.

"There is, sadly, almost no research on mindfulness within the communication professions," Swanson said. "I hope to continue my research and help show PR people and others that this is a topic that organizations need to focus on. The health of our workforce is too important to neglect this."

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