The state of stress among South African professionals
South African professionals are stressed. Not too stressed, but on average, moderately so. According to Profmed’s 2019 Stress Index, work, health and finances are the biggest contributors to stress levels among South African professionals.
Every year, medical aid Profmed seeks to understand and benchmark stress among South African professionals. Completed in November, this year’s survey was taken by over 3500 professionals from Profmed’s membership base across a variety of sectors, with the bulk of respondents (43%) stemming from the medical industry.
Over the last three years (2017 - 2019), Stress Index results have remained fairly consistent. Finances and health remain top contributors to stress levels with work following suit. It is not far-fetched to connect work with both financial and health issues faced by South African professionals.
Profmed CEO, Craig Comrie says, “If the Stress Index has taught us anything over the years, it’s that work-related stress remains one of the biggest health concerns for South African professionals. As we all know stress can affect us physically and impair our health, so we all need to all learn how to recognise our stress and find healthy ways of coping.”
According to the 2019 results, 71.5% of professionals think they manage their stress levels well, compared to 71% in 2017 and 75% in 2018. But do they truly recognise their own stress? Integrative Medical Practitioner Dr Ela Manga, author of ‘Breathe: Strategising Energy in the Age of Burnout’, says professionals are probably more stressed than they realise.
“Often we are not aware of the stress patterns that develop in the body and mind overtime. We almost become accustomed to the feeling of low-grade stress and it feels almost normal,” says Manga.
Manga defines the feeling of stress as a set of physical sensations such as muscle tension as a direct result of feeling overwhelmed and anxious. This, in turn, is caused by overthinking and an inability to rest and recover.
The 2019 Stress Index highlights lack of sleep, losing your temper and eating too much or too little as the top three indicators of stress, mirroring the results of the previous two years.
But how do professionals prefer to cope with their stress? As a trend that is on the rise, 59% of professionals in 2019 chose exercise as the best way to channel negative energy compared 41% in 2017 and 37% in 2018. Going on holiday was a close second with speaking to family and friends coming in third.
Dr Manga advocates exercise but cautions restraint. “Too many of us end up over exercising when are stressed because we use exercise to tune out. Exercise should be based in awareness of the body and should be used as a way to tune in not out.”
Beyond exercise, Dr Manga advocates time in nature, creative pursuits, journaling and breathwork as alternative healthy ways of reducing one’s stress levels.
It is important to note that professionals are opening up about the level of stress they face on a daily basis. In 2017 and 2018, only 13% of professionals were talking to a health professional or family member to help deal with stress. However, this number increased in 2019 to over 40%.
However, 35.8% of professionals from the 2019 survey don’t feel it is important to speak to one at all. Manga says people discount professional counselling all too easily.
“There is still a stigma associated with counselling, but working with a skilled therapist is often necessary, valuable and impactful. Having a safe space to make sense of your stressors, thoughts and felling is very valuable. It is important to create new perspectives, learn tools and have support to make changes.”
When asked if stress is ever a good thing, the 2019 Stress Index showed that South African professionals are not really sure. A third said yes, a third said no, and a third said maybe. In response to this question, Dr Manga believes stress is vital to our survival.
“We would not be alive today if we did not have the stress response. The healthy functioning of the human system is based on the balance between the energising stress response and the relaxation response which helps us recover.”
Dr Manga says that stress, when used constructively, can help us to focus, concentrate and give us energy to get things done. “However, in order for the stress response to be effective, we have to learn to rest, recover and replenish our energy stores. Because our modern lives makes relaxation difficult.”
Dive deeper into the results of the 2019 Stress Index and discover the state of stress among South African professionals and how they are coping. You can find the index here.