A new study into the stress levels of journalists appears to have confirmed some well worn clichés about the industry – that hacks love a drink and poor diets, but arguably have better coping mechanisms when it comes to workplace stresses.
The study, titled Study Into The Mental Resilience of Journalists, was conducted over a seven month period by British neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart.
Forty journalists were selected for the research paper and all had to complete a blood test, wear a heart-rate monitor, kept a food diary and complete a brain profile questionnaire.
Some of the major findings of the study included:
• Despite being ranked as a highly stressful job – namely due to the deadlines – the cortisol from participants’ blood samples showed that journalists weren’t more stressed than those in other industries. In fact, the study’s participants cited outside work pressures (family, finances) as a bigger stress than work.
• Most of the respondents said they enjoyed their job and felt that journalism was a noble profession, hence they were more likely to do it for less money.
• Some 41 per cent of the subjects said they drank 18 or more units of alcohol a week, which is four units more than the recommended weekly allowance. Less than five per cent of them drank enough water, and some said they drank no water at all.
• Journalists were also much more likely to consume caffeine during the workday and “this correlated with higher reported stress and physical manifestations of stress (increased heart rate variability and higher cortisol levels)”.
• As a group, the journalists also exhibited lower executive functioning scores than the average person, indicating a lower than average ability to regulate emotions, suppress biases, solve complex problems, switch between tasks, and think flexibly and creatively.
• Over 25 per cent of respondents said they suffered from poor sleep due to “alcohol consumption, caffeine intake, eating late and disturbances from children”.
• Half of the respondents were aged over 35 and this group were shown to have less stress and higher resilience than their Gen Y counterparts. Dr Swart noting that measures to deal with workplace stress could be learned over time.
• Journalists were found to excel at “abstraction” – the ability to “think outside the square” and see things others don’t.
• They were also found to be good at “value tagging” or the ability to prioritise one thing over another. Journalists were found to be very good at sifting through large amounts of information and picking out the important bits.
• Respondents were found to have poor “executive function” which meant they suffered from poor sleep, nutrition, exercise and mindfulness. Many participants reported they had no time for breaks while working.
• Journalists were also terrible at “silencing the mind”, meaning they’d often fret about the past and worry about the future.
• Compared to other professions such as bankers, traders, or salespeople, journos showed they were more able to cope with pressure. Traits that make journalism a particularly stressful professions are deadlines, accountability to the public, unpredictable and heavy workloads, public scrutiny, repercussions on social media, and poor pay.
The report noted: “The headline conclusion reached is that journalists are undoubtedly subject to a range of pressures at work and home, but the meaning and purpose they attribute to their work contributes to helping them remain mentally resilient despite this.
“Nevertheless, there are areas for improvement, including drinking more water and reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption to increase executive functioning and improve recovery during sleep.”