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2021 Stress Index unveils the mental state of the South African professional

20 October 2021 Profmed

The myriad challenges that COVID-19 has forced on our lives have been stressful, none more so than for many working professionals. Based on Profmed’s 2021 Stress Index, fear of loss of income and the fear of losing a family member to COVID-19 went head-to-head as the biggest stress factors of the last year.

In August, medical aid Profmed’s Stress Index survey went live once again. Every year, the medical scheme surveys and strives to gauge stress among South African professionals. Over 2400 Profmed members – professionals across a variety of sectors – responded to this year’s survey. True to form, the greater part of respondents (37%) hailed from the medical industry – as was the case in 2019 and 2020. However, the number of respondents almost doubled this year, sitting at 2457, compared to last year, where only 1331 participants were recorded, making this the most comprehensive and reliable research on the effects of stress.

Despite COVID-19, the Stress Index results for the last three years have remained somewhat consistent. Profmed CEO, Craig Comrie says, “It is not implausible to associate work with both financial and health issues faced by South African professionals. With concepts invading our daily lexicon like the ‘new normal’ and working from home, it’s no wonder 36% of respondents admitted to struggling with balancing working from home and home life.”

The 2021 results revealed that 42% of our respondents are affected emotionally, physically and mentally by stress, compared to 43% in 2019 and 46% in 2020. This indicates some improvement since last year where working conditions changed significantly. To deal with it, 49% of respondents consistently exercise, which is a stark contrast to 2019, when 60% used exercise as a tool to deal with stress. We hope that people safely return to gyms and exercise routines as lockdown levels are lowered, like other healthy behaviours this can also save your life. The research continues to indicate that only 3% prefer to see a counsellor to manage their stress and we encourage people to use the amazing counselling skills available in South Africa to cope with both short term and long term effects of stress.

Comrie says, “The Stress Index illustrates that work-related stress remains one of the biggest health concerns for South African professionals. With COVID-19 elevating stress and anxiety levels, failure to recognise our stress and find healthy ways of coping can severely affect us and impair our physical and mental wellbeing.”

Work usually takes priority over everything else in our lives and our aspiration to prosper professionally can cause us to neglect our own well-being. A well-adjusted work-life balance is paramount, not only for our physical, emotional and mental well-being, but also important for our career. Section 9 of the BCEA stipulates that, South African’s working hours should not exceed 45 hours a week. However, the “new normal” introduced by the pandemic, sees many professionals far exceeding this.

When asked if working from home has improved the work-life balance, 62% of the professionals felt this question was “not applicable” to them, with 21% saying their work-life balance has improved in 2021.

Comrie says that there are many ways to get help if you are struggling to cope. “If stress hinders your daily routine for several days in a row, it’s important to identify the root cause and speak to a professional.”

Organisations that provide wellness support for stress for their employees record less sickness, fatigue and mental burnout where employees are concerned. These incentives lead to a more positive company culture. Nonetheless, 2,376 of 2,475 participants disclosed that their organisations do not provide wellness support for stress.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 39.08% of our members reported their mental health has suffered the most,” says Comrie. “This is because the pandemic has overwhelmed every aspect of our lives. With the vaccine roll-out plan being the contentious topic that it is, 39.05% of our members have moderate confidence levels in it.”

On a scale of extremely high to extremely low, 31% of respondents recorded medium stress levels. However, the results showed that some people are able to deal and recover from stress more effectively than others. “It’s also important to know that continuous tension on your body from stress may contribute to severe health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Mental disorders such as depression or anxiety are also caused by ongoing and untreated stress. Knowing your stress triggers and tackling them early is vital in the battle against stress,” says Comrie.

Delve deeper into the stress levels of South African professionals, explore the results of the 2021 Stress Index attached.

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