These things are stressing out South African professionals right now

Medical scheme Profmed has published the results of its latest stress index, highlighting how the Covid-19 pandemic, the national lockdown, and other factors have impacted the mental health of professionals in South Africa.

The group 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 index seeks to understand and benchmark stress among South African professionals, with the results over the last three years (2017 – 2019) remaining fairly consistent as finances and health problems remain top contributors to stress levels, with work following suit.

While these factors are all interrelated, the 2020 data shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a direct impact on stress levels as well as people’s livelihoods, said Profmed chief executive Craig Comrie in a webinar earlier this week.

Comrie said that the leading cause of stress in 2020 was the possibility of losing someone, followed by the fear of losing a job.

Profmed’s data shows that the pandemic has also had a direct impact on how professionals cope with their stress, he said.

Exercise is typically the main way that South African professionals deal with stress (2019: 40%), followed by going on holiday and speaking to family and friends.

However, Comrie highlighted that all of these activities have become more difficult to do during the lockdown due to the strict restrictions put in place around exercising, travel and visiting.

The increase in stress levels are probably attributed to the fact that members couldn’t do the things that they usually use to de-stress, he said.

Comrie said that Profmed’s data also shows that an increasing number of professionals under-35 are facing severe stress, with a number of them going so far as to check themselves into short-stay facilities.

He said that there has been a double-digit increase in admissions to these facilities in the 18-35 age group. “These admissions have been coming over the last three years and we always thought that it would be the older generation that would come under more pressure,” he said.

Unique stress

Medical expert Dr Wilhelmina Erasmus said that the Covid-19 pandemic created unique stress as it was a pandemic situation which people have not dealt with before.

Erasmus said this was especially the case for the country’s professionals who have to deal with:

  • Returning to work after having Covid-19 and dealing with any possible stigmas;
  • Impaired attention, concentration, and memory and fatigue;
  • Job insecurity;
  • Dealing with a backlog and the guilt of having co-workers take on more work.

Speaking on Profmed’s stress index data, Erasmus said that most respondents were altruistic in that they were more concerned about the well-being of friends and family as opposed to themselves.

“Most respondents worry about other getting Covid-19 such as family members (rather) than themselves,” she said. “Most were also more worried about getting Covid-19 than financial burdens,” she said.

However, the data understandably shows that people who lost their jobs worry twice as much about financial burden than about getting Covid-19, she said.

Read: Good signs for middle-class South Africans

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These things are stressing out South African professionals right now