Amaka is a PR account manager with a full service PR agency in Lagos, Nigeria. On a typical day, she would provide strategic PR counsel to a client or two, liaise with clients regarding media campaigns and creative projects, hold a meeting or two with colleagues, speak with journalists and influencers, analyze PR coverage and write a report or two. Her daily commute to and from work takes approximately four hour on a good traffic day. This may look a bit tedious, but Amaka enjoys it. “PR has always been my dream job. I love every bit of what I do”, she would say.
In recent times, Amaka gets very angry at little offences and she’s wondering why. Everyone knows her for an equable temper. Am I overacting to unrealistic expectations and demands of clients? Or is it the long hours of meetings? She would ask herself. “Nowadays I can hardly sleep and my blood pressure is anything but normal. What is happening to me?” She would wonder.
Like Amaka, so many PR professionals hardly realize what stress is doing to their bodies. They are not aware that their job is a very stressful one. The 2018 Careercast’s Most Stressful Jobs Survey Report rates Public Relations as the 8th most stressful job in the world. According to the report, the only jobs that are more stressful than Public Relations are those of enlisted military personnel, fire fighters, airline pilots and police officers. Others are those of event coordinators, reporters and broadcasters.
Why is PR Work So Stressful?
According to the Careercast’s Report, jobs making the ten most stressful jobs rating are those that the practitioners have to face common fears every day. For the military, fire fighters, the police and airline pilots, it is the fear of serious injury or death. And for PR professionals, it is the fear of strict and regular deadlines, client’s or employer’s unrealistic demands and expectations, and the fear of high public visibility such as when representing an organization as a spokesperson.
Why You Should Care
What’s the fuse about stress? Is it not everywhere? That line of thought is misleading and dangerous. Every PR professional should be concerned about stress. The 2018 CIPR State of The Profession Report reveals that mental health issues are on the rise amongst PR professionals. According to the report, roughly one in six (16%) of PR professionals that completed the survey said they had a mental health condition. The figure has more than doubled since the 2017 survey when only 6% of practitioners reported mental health conditions. This is worrisome as most mental conditions are stress-induced. Several studies have shown that there is a connection between stress and mental health conditions such as depression, psychosis, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Stress also impacts the body negatively. Headaches, upset stomach including constipation, aches and tense muscles, low sex drive, chest pain and cardiovascular problems are some of the negative effects of stress. But there is good news. There are methods for keeping stress at bay. Using them effectively can make a lot of difference in your overall health.
4 Practical Ways to Reduce Your Stress
Stress is in the DNA of Public Relations work. There is no escaping from it. But you can counter the harm it can do to your health. Here are five practical ways that I have used for more than ten years now to very good effect:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
One way to reduce tension created by stress and improve the flow of oxygenated blood throughout your body is to engage in a deep diaphragmatic exercise. This is how to do it:
- Lie on your back on a flat surface or bed with your knees bent. Ensure your head is supported with a soft pillow.
- Place your left hand on your upper chest and the right one below your rib cage to enable you feel your diaphragm as you breathe.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your stomach move out against your right hand while the left hand remains still on your chest.
- Next, move the air from your stomach area to your chest area and hold it there for as long as you can without any discomfort.
- Exhale slowly and repeat the process five to ten times to help your muscles feel calm and make your whole body ring with vitality.
Doing this exercise twice a day – in the morning upon waking up and in the night before going to bed – can provide a wonderful energy and relaxation tonic for your body.
Meditation is the process of keeping one’s thoughts still. This is done by concentrating your full attention either on an object or a sound. You can also concentrate on the inflow and outflow of your breath, and still achieve the same result: calming your body and mind and building inner strength to face the challenge that life and work bring your way.
Meditation is not for priests alone. Anyone can practice it. All you do is to pick up information on the several methods available and choose the one that suites you most. I have a predilection for body scan meditation, and I practice it daily. Here is the process:
- Lie down or sit with your spine straight.
- Begin with three or four deep diaphragmatic breath to calm your body down.
- Then shift your whole attention to your toes. Feel whatever sensation there.
- Gradually, move your attention to your feet, lower legs, upper legs, pelvic region and shoulders, and up to the crown of your head.
- Imagine your breath going in and out of each of your body parts as you concentrate.
- Enjoy the sensation that sweeps through your body for two to three minutes before you stand up.
- Physical exercise
Physical exercise is one of the best methods for reducing stress. It relieves muscle tension and allows them to return normal resting state after the exercise. It also helps the body to release endorphins to increase a sense of wellbeing and relaxation.
Cycling or jogging for thirty minutes a day and three to five days a week is a good way to start. You may include flexibility and strength building exercises such as push-ups.
Endeavour to consult your doctor before starting any physical exercise programme.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation technique is this: since stress contracts and tenses up the muscle, it makes a good sense to tighten and release all the major muscle groups in the body in order to achieve relaxation.
This is how it is done:
- Clench your hands into fists very tight and contract the muscles in your forearms and biceps. Hold for about ten seconds and release.
- Raise your eyebrows as far as you can and furrow your forehead. Hold for ten second and release.
- Squeeze your eyes shut as tight as possible. Hold for ten seconds and release.
- Clench your teeth and squeeze your whole face as tight as possible for ten seconds before you release.
- Bring your chin down to your chest and hold for ten second before you release.
- Move your head back till it touches your upper back. Hold for ten seconds and release.
- Turn your neck right and left, ensuring that your chin is at the same level with your shoulder. Hold for ten seconds and release.
- Push your shoulders up toward your ears as far as you can. Hold for ten seconds and relax.
- Arch your back and pull in your stomach as far as it can go. Hold for ten seconds and release.
- Tighten you thighs, calf muscles and buttocks for ten seconds and release.
- Pull your toes toward you as close as you can without raising your legs. Hold for ten seconds and release. Thereafter, bunch it for the same amount of time and release.
After completing the exercise, lie there for a few minutes, observe your breath and savour the calmness that envelopes your whole body. When you encounter a stressful situation, your body prepares you to either face it or run away from it. This is known as fight or flight syndrome. Adrenaline is released into your system. Your blood pressure and pulse rate increases and there is an increased blood flow to your muscles. If this state is prolonged, your whole system goes out of harmony and disease sets in. But the four methods of stress reduction can create opposite bodily reactions and trains your body to maintain a state of relaxation that withstands stressful situations. It is not too late to start now