It’s not just you, PR is a stressful job

PR is listed in the top 10 most stressful jobs in the world.

Nathalie Tuck

5/4/20233 min read

people sitting on chair with brown wooden table
people sitting on chair with brown wooden table

Did you know that PR is ranked as one of the most stressful jobs in the world? It’s right up there with airline pilots and firefighters according to CareerCast. That’s right, actuaries, lawyers and engineers fair much better on the stress barometer than PR PR professionals.

Many of the jobs listed in the top 10 most stressful jobs come with a level of physical risk, which is why you see professions such as enlisted military personnel, police officers and even taxi drivers in addition to the aforementioned pilots and firefighters, dominating the list.

But there is another contributor that stands out when looking at the list – mental stress. Occupations that require one to spend time in the public eye, work under constant deadline pressures or are in fiercely competitive environments feature strongly.

The external perception or stereotypical view of PR is that it is ‘fluffy’ and involves lots of gifts and extravagant parties.

Personally, I can’t recall the last time I attended an extravagant party or was the recipient of a gift. PR is actually characterised by tight deadlines, public scrutiny, crisis management, regular engagement with high-level executives and journalists (often also stressed) as well as a need to be in the public eye.

Take a moment to google PR and mental health and you will be met with a throng of articles and research on the matter, “Industry on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown”, “Is the PR Industry facing a mental health crisis?” read the headlines.

Everybody loves a bit of bad news

What I have realised of late is that one of the things that really impacts me emotionally, and I am sure others in our industry experience the same, is consuming news. It is our job to consume the news. And the news, especially in a country like South Africa, is a recipe for anxiety and depression.

One study by the American Psychological Association, it was found that more than half of those surveyed felt consuming news caused them stress, while many reported it also created anxiety, fatigue and resulted in sleep loss. In particular, it is repeated exposure that amplifies the problem.

As PR professionals we review multiple news streams throughout the day. We are on the lookout for news and in particular threats that could impact our clients and the environment they operate in.

It is also a fact that the more news you consume the more you will want to consume. It’s called a negativity loop and our brains are predisposed to it. Research shows that adults have a propensity to learn from negative information to a greater extent than positive information. It supports our evolutionary instincts - in theory - and as a result, we seek out negative or potentially threatening information more readily. It’s our natural defense mechanism but in the hyper-information we live in it unfortunately has disastrous consequences.

We become addicted. Trapped in the cycle of needing to know and understand what is going to happen. Compelled to share with others (the more the merrier) the impending doom that is headed our way. We find a strange sense of community in our misery.

The social dilemma

Working in PR we have an occupational requirement to be “tuned-in” to what is happening in the news environment as well as the social zeitgeist. Other corporate departments look to their communications colleagues to advise them on the prevailing societal sentiment so that the organisation can’t be accused of being tone-deaf or insensitive in its communications.

It's not easy being a human offence-radar, able to detect the slightest hint of indignation that could be interpreted in any one of the many messages emanating from an organisation on a daily basis. It’s a heavy burden to bear.

And don’t even get me started on social media. In fact, if you care for your mental health at all, approach the cesspit that is Twitter with extreme caution lest you get ensnared in a doom-scrolling time warp. You can be just as cautious of Facebook Instagram and TikTok with their cyber bullies, unrealistic depictions of real life and filter bubbles that skew your perception of what is happening outside of your ephemeral sphere.

Be kind to yourself and others

So how do you succeed in PR or social media management and keep your sanity?

Sadly, I don’t believe there is a silver bullet, but awareness seems to be a good first step.

Once you and those around you acknowledge the hazards it’s easier to look for interventions. These could include seeking out good news stories to balance your outlook and avoiding social media on weekends and in the evenings. Seeking opportunities to read books and long-form content that inspires you both creatively and intellectually and making a concerted effort to get sufficient sleep and exercise.

And remember you are not the only one dealing with these struggles. There is a good chance your colleagues are feeling just as stressed as you are. You could probably both do with a good laugh or a friendly chat. After all who better to understand and appreciate the challenges of PR life than those you work with?

Look after yourselves out there.