SA’s most stressful jobs revealed

Businessman with head in hands

Stress is a big part of our everyday lives, but it’s what we do for a living that could just tip us over the edge. A just-released survey conducted by mental wellness advocate, Pharma Dynamics, reveals which careers rank amongst the most stressful.

Almost 2 000 respondents living and working in South Africa participated in the online survey, which aimed to measure job-related stress based on several stress triggers. These included factors such as the physical and mental demands of a job, deadlines, how much traveling is required, whether it entails working long hours, being exposed to public scrutiny, dealing with conflict and generally what type of risks are associated with various professions.

Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – a pharmaceutical firm specialising in central nervous system medication for the treatment of depression and anxiety – says it was interesting to see where various professions were plotted on the stress chart.

“To some, certain occupations might not appear to be stressful, while in reality they are. Sitting behind a desk all day might seem like a cosy job, but many white-collar professions can produce an enormous amount of stress,” she says.

Based on the findings, pilots claimed the top spot overall, largely due to the high degree of personal risk the job poses to themselves and others. The taxing physical and mental demands of the role, on top of working long and arduous hours, also added to its high stress rating. At the other end of the scale was a surprising find… Economists, who under the dire current economic climate should be stressed beyond measure, appear to be the least stressed among the 40+ professions that were included in the survey.

Hair stylists, which came in at second place, also have it rough. Most cited the degree of competitiveness in the industry, unmanageable deadlines and the constant pressure of working in the public eye as reasons for their stress. The environment in which most salons operate is often fast-paced and exposes hair stylists to unhealthy fumes and noise, which could potentially add to their already high levels of anxiety. The job is also physically demanding as it requires a lot of standing and many suffer from chronic back pain as a result.

Farm life with its country setting is often idealised, but as the pace of agriculture increases along with the unescapable threat of global warming it comes as no surprise that farming counts among the third most stressful occupations in SA.

Occupation Average stress score
Hair stylist
Film director
Police officer
Corporate executive

Van Aswegen says even though not all jobs require the same level of stress and effort, stress remains an unwelcome part of any profession.

“Of particular concern however is the high level of stress that participants across various career fields reported. More than 31% referred to their jobs as extremely stressful, 40% described their job-stress as mild, while only 29% cited work-stress as manageable.

“Chronic stress can have a long-term effect on the mind and body, and when stress starts interfering with your ability to live a normal life, it becomes even more dangerous. Chronic stress may also cause disease, either because of changes in your body or overeating, smoking and other bad habits people use to cope with stress. If you experience constant job strain, it increases the stress hormone, cortisol, which affects many brain functions and could in turn increase your risk of depression and anxiety.

“October is recognised as National Mental Health Awareness Month, which makes the last stretch of the year an important time to reflect on work-related stress and the impact it has on our mental well-being.

“To many, persistent stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but it shouldn’t be. Make a point of measuring how much stress is in your life by identifying the situations that cause it most, how often these occur and what you can do to prevent it,” advises van Aswegen.

Some stress-busting measures include:

  • Walking away when you are angry before reacting
  • Exercising – physical activity increases the production of endorphins which will give your mood an instant boost
  • Resting your mind by turning off multi-media devices completely or at least limiting screen time
  • Reaching out to friends and family by letting them know you’re having a tough time at work
  • Making time for enjoyable activities every day
  • Getting enough shut-eye – at least eight hours a night

If, however, you continue to feel overwhelmed by job-stess, consult a psychologist or contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counsellors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

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