Firefighters, military personnel and police officers regularly face physical danger in the course of their work which accounts for the high levels stress they endure. So it’s no surprise that these careers make the list of 10 most stressful careers.

But are you aware that journalism and broadcasting are also on that list? Why is that so?

Journalists’ brains show a lower-than-average level of executive functioning, according to a new study, as we explain below.

Many factors contribute to the stress levels of media professionals: the responsibility to produce unbiased, factual copy that means checking and rechecking details while deadlines loom, irregular and long working hours and public scrutiny are a few of them. The digital age has also eroded job security with print media circulation dropping and scores of journalists and reporters being laid off.

How do journalists cope with the stress? A smoke and a drink goes a long way you say. Yes, but according to a new study that’s not what give journalists their unusual ability to cope with the stress of their jobs.

A study by neuroscientist Tara Swart in conjunction with the London Press Club into the mental resilience of journalists has revealed that the pressure of their work situation doesn’t get journalists down because they attribute meaning and purpose to their work. They feel that what they do, matters.

The results showed that journalists’ brains were operating at a lower level than the average population, particularly because of dehydration and the tendency of journalists to self-medicate with alcohol, caffeine, and high-sugar foods.

This is not the whole story though.

Journalists are able to stay mentally resilient under stressful conditions, but they undermine their resilience with counterproductive habits like drinking too much coffee and alcohol and enjoying too many sugary treats. These habits caused journalists to score low on executive function – the ability to control emotions, suppress biases, solve complex problems, switch between tasks, and think flexibly and creatively.

Journalists also scored low on silencing the mind – taking time out to purposefully practice mindfulness by allowing thoughts just to be without reacting to them. No surprise here – many of the study participants said they had not time to take a break during work.

On the upside: journalists have what it takes to excel at what they do

The test participants scored high on abstraction, the ability to deal with ideas rather than events. High scores indicates the ability to think outside the box and make connections where others might not spot the dots. They also scored high on value tagging – the ability of the brain to assign values to different sensory cues. So, journalist excel at sifting through information and deciding what’s important.

How can journalists further improve their resilience?

It seems mental resilience hinges in part on what and how much you drink during the day. On average journalists drink 3 glasses of water a day which is too little to keep the brain hydrated.  And their caffeine intake is high enough to interfere with a good night’s rest. Journalists also exceed the recommended 14 units of alcohol per week – the average was 16. Because of the toxicity of alcohol the liver works hard when it should rest, so this is another factor that prevents proper sleep and rest.

Bottom line: more water, less coffee and alcohol together with some physical exercise, proper nutrition and time for a mental break will probably shoot their stress resistance abilities through the roof.