Burnout from workplace stress remains at an all-time high as professionals continue to grapple with the notion of work-life balance.
According to the latest Profmed Stress Index, an overwhelming 40% of respondents said work-life balance was the number one driver of stress in their lives, followed by toxic environments and workload.
“It’s hard for many working proessionals to admit when they aren’t coping,” says Profmed clinical executive Justine Lacy.
“We have developed a culture where it is acceptable to push through – irrespective of how you are feeling mentally and physically. The expectation or hope is that you come out the other side unscathed.
“This avoidance strategy doesn’t work anymore. Something has got to give.”
The Stress Index is compiled annually from the responses of more than 2000 of Profmed’s professional membership base. Covering a variety of sectors and industries, it provides a useful barometer for measuring stress levels annually in the country.
Symptoms and effects
The 2023 Stress Index revealed that a staggering 72% of professionals have never sought help for stress.
“We find the impact of daily stresses creeping into our lives. It is often all-encompassing and manifests in different ways for different people.
It could ultimately lead down a dark road,” explains Lacy.
Most index respondents felt that stress affected them on an emotional, physical and mental level.
Fatigue was listed as the most common symptom, followed by lack of sleep and muscle tension. The index also revealed the three biggest side effects of stress as disconnecting from the world, being overly aggressive, and overeating.
“The relentless stresses of daily life manifest physically in tightened muscles and restless nights; while mentally, a ceaseless stream of thoughts takes its toll. Emotionally, our resilience erodes and our nerves fray. In the throes of workplace pressure, our holistic well-being remains precariously balanced.”
Somewhat confusingly, this year’s Stress Index revealed that almost half of the respondents were reported to be either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the way they currently manage their stress.
“Stress is a very personal journey,” Lacy continues. “It’s hard to believe that so many people are satisfied with the way they are coping – especially considering that stress levels in general are on the rise and have been for years.”
The index showed that 30% of respondents identified exercise as their go-to option for dealing with stress.
This was followed by finding a hobby to keep busy (14.13%), and speaking to family or friends (14%).
Lacy contends that while the index is helpful, there are still too many professionals unaccounted for in the numbers – those who haven’t yet realised how stress is “completely controlling their lives”.
Lacy offers the following tips to invite more serenity into your professional life:
- Set achievable goals to maintain a manageable workload.
- Integrate breaks into your routine for mental refreshment.
- Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life.
- Prioritise self-care through activities that promote mental well-being.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation for stress relief.
- Seek support from friends, family or colleagues when needed.
- Delegate tasks and avoid taking on excessive responsibility.
- Cultivate effective time management skills.
- Foster open communication about well-being with those around you.
- Explore resources like counselling or well-being programmes for additional support.
Stress reduction strategies will differ according to what works for each individual. It could be a weekend outing with the family, a coffee date with a friend, or a realistic re-organising of your workload.
“Whatever the therapy may be, we need to be cognisant of how stress can wear us down. It’s clear the work environment is a huge proponent of stress for employed South Africans.
Equally, those who are not employed deal with a different type of stress.
“Regardless of what the cause of your stress might be, it’s time to recognise it and tackle it head on.”