Nisha Chittal, who leads audience engagement at a super fun food publication, shares with us her experience covering the election for NBC, her best self-care tips, and why you should always wash your face twice.
Tell us about yourself.
“I live in New York and I’m currently the Director of Audience Development at Tasting Table. I’ve worked in media and social media for a little more than eight years now.
I’ve always been interested in the intersection of social media, technology, and journalism, so that’s been the domain of my career so far. At the start of my career I worked at a marketing and digital media agency, then I worked at the Travel Channel leading their social media efforts.
Most recently, I spent three and a half years working for NBC/MSNBC news leading social media. After the election though, I was ready for a change from hard news, so that’s how I ended up at Tasting Table.”
How did you make the decision to leave NBC?
“I had always considered myself a political junkie and that’s what drew me to work at NBC in 2013. I wanted to be there for the 2016 election — I wanted to be part of that coverage. I knew that it would be an incredible place for me to work during such a monumental election. So I was really excited about it going into it, but as we all know now, it was quite a grueling election year. It was also a nasty election and made worse by the fact that we live in a 24/7 news cycle driven by Twitter.
There were more debates than ever. The cycle also started earlier than ever. Candidates were announcing their campaigns in spring 2015 — which was so early! We were in 24/7 campaign coverage mode since early 2015, basically.
By the time we got to the primaries in spring 2016, the atmosphere was so intense because there were so many debates and primaries happening at the same time. We were working non-stop especially because we were working on social media. But really, everyone was working around the clock. On a Tuesday night, there’s primaries, then there’s a Republican debate, then on Saturday another Democrat debate. Basically, every other night was a late night at the office.
I used to love politics going into that election cycle, but by the time of the primaries I was getting really sick of politics. I completed the election cycle, but I don’t know if I’d want to cover a presidential election ever again. It was just so exhausting and so nonstop and there was always something every day.”
When did you know that you wanted to make the transition out of political news coverage?
“I just sort of felt it coming for a few months. I did a ton of traveling: for the general election in the fall, the Republican National Convention in the summer, and so on.
…but it was also really tiring. For instance, I didn’t have any normalcy in my life, I couldn’t plan my gym schedule or eat healthy. I didn’t see my friends for like, months. [laughs]. I was so fortunate to have that experience, but as it was happening, I thought to myself, “I don’t want to do this for life.
I’m still passionate about politics and the news, but once your job demands that you be on and alert 24/7, then it starts to feel more like a chore. Now that I don’t work in breaking news, I can choose how much and when I want to consume. I have the option to unplug. We’re past the election now but it’s still crazy. I think it’s more important than ever to have time to disconnect from the news.”
Since your transition, to Tasting Table, have you changed your news consumption habits? Have you been able to unplug a bit?
“Oh my god, drastically. It was a conscious decision too. I thought to myself, “Once I don’t work in news, I won’t have to have push notifications turned on for every news channel under the sun.
I gave my notice in November after the election. After that, I made the conscious decision to clean up my news consumption habits. I deleted a bunch of news apps from my phone. I turned off push notifications, especially Twitter and Nuzzel. I unsubscribed from a ton of email alerts, newsletters, and I unfollowed a lot of people on Twitter. I cleaned out my Facebook feed too.
I used to go to dinner and have my phone out, and constantly see all the email alerts. The second I turned all that stuff off, and allowed myself to disconnect, I felt so much better.
I think it’s healthier to control the flow of information. I totally recommend that to everyone: do a news cleanse if it’s stressing you out!”
What advice do you have for anyone else who might be at a place of transition in their career, like maybe they’ve been thinking about leaving their job, or transitioning to a new field?
“I think the key indicator I use when it’s time to move on from a job or onto a new opportunity is whether you’re learning and growing in that job. If you think there’s still a lot of room to grow, then stay.”
What does self-care mean to you? Why is it important?
“I think it just means finding balance in your life and finding things that keep you centered and grounded.
I’m glad that self-care is becoming a buzzword and trendy to talk about because before there was a time where we put pressure on ourselves to be doing something productive at all times. If you wanted to take an afternoon and do a Netflix binge, that was seen as lazy. But now that self-care has become a more trendy topic, culturally everyone is interested in the practice.
Can you talk about how your self-care routines have evolved over time, maybe even in the last few years or so?
“I think the thing that’s changed the most is that I’ve become more focused on health and wellness than when I was say, in my earlier 20s. In my early 20s, self-care was Netflix and pizza. Don’t get me wrong, I still love those things! But now I prioritize. I set aside time every Sunday to grocery shop and plan out my meals for the week. Once I do all of that on Sunday, I’ll be much more organized for the week and I won’t default to order take-out.
I also prioritize going to the gym more than I used to. For years, I would write “going to the gym 3x a week” as part of my resolutions and it never happened. I think I realized it last year during the crazy election cycle and post-election I really committed myself. I really try to prioritize meal cooking and I even try to schedule my work-outs so I don’t miss them.”
That’s a great tip!
“Exactly, because then I have it on the calendar. Especially if your gym has classes, that’s easy to schedule. When I discovered gym classes, it made working out so much easier. You’re in a group environment, there’s an instructor, and I tend to work harder in a class.”
Do you have any tips for meal-prep?
“Hmm, I’ll sit with all my cookbooks and decide what to make. I’m constantly finding recipes online. I do use this app called Anylist which lets you save all the recipes you find. There’s also a Chrome extension that saves the recipes and let’s you make a shared grocery list, so I share my list with my husband. You can make your shopping list in the app, schedule out your recipes.”
Um, that app sounds game-changing.
“Yes, it’s game-changing.” (Editor’s Note: No, this is not #sponcon.)
How do you maintain a self-care routine on the worst days -— like the ones where you’re traveling, or your schedule is particularly packed? What are your non-negotiables?
“The really crazy days are tough. I still over-schedule myself with drink dates or events. I try to be good about going to bed at a consistent hour — I am not a night owl at all. Even when I travel for work, once I’m done with work, I go to the hotel, put on the TV and a sheet mask, and chill out.”
Do you have any specific products you recommend?
I’m really into skincare, and I’ve been perfecting my routine. I do a lot of Korean sheet masks. I just started doing a serum, I use the Olay Regenerist. It’s classic.
I use two different cleansers, because that’s what they do in Korean skincare routines. There’s a cleansing water, and a morning cleanser that is more cream-based. I do believe in the “wash your face twice” philosophy. Then I do a toner, serum, moisturizer, and face oil.
I just started using Acure, which is a great skincare company. They have this green face mask that I love. Their brightening facial scrub is great also. I try to be really religious about that these days.
As far as pop culture, I love a lot of HBO GO - I’m watching Big Little Lies. I just started reading The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. I love fiction. Maybe this counts as self-care too, but because I worked in news for so long, outside of work I never wanted to read non-fiction. I really love Emma Straub - her book that came out last year called Modern Lovers was great, and I just went back to re-read The Vacationers.”
Each week, we explore how busy, badass, and creative women take time out of their lives to relax and treat themselves to a girls’ night in. Check back next week for another interview with a #GNIwoman.
As told to Alisha Ramos, March 2017.
Photography by Heather Sten for Girls’ Night In.