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Are Actors the most stressed out people?

February 23, 2007

Britney Spears has shaved her head and gone into rehab. We keep hearing of freaky behavior like this. Does this mean that acting is a terribly stressful profession? I thought I would check it out, and found a recent survey on the most stressful professions. Guess what? Acting doesn’t figure anywhere.
IT is the most stressful profession, followed by Medicine, Engineering, Sales and Marketing, Education, Finance, Human Resources, Operations, Production, and lastly, Clerical. I looked hard to see whether acting fitted in here somewhere, even indirectly.

Nope, acting wasn’t even in the Top Five, not even in the the top ten “Work Stressers”, which are:
Feeling undervalued
Having to take on other people’s work
Lack of job satisfaction
Lack of control over the working day
Having to work long hours
Frustration with the working environment
Meeting Targets

But people continue to believe that actors are in a highly “stressed profession”. A front page article in Bombay Times today said that ” limelight takes a slow and steady toll on those it favours. Hectic schedules arc lights, jet lag, neglible rest, high stress routines…..probably the list will be enough to drive most of us to the doctors. And when it comes to the actors, add to their list stunts, numerous interviews and promotional campaigns. No wonder some of our Bollywood stars are riddled with health problems.” This front page article was written because Saif Ali Khan, a Bollywood actor, suffered a heart attack a few days ago. Two other examples from the industry, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan (who also suffer from health problems) were cited as examples.

I always believed that celebrities are happier and less stressed than people in some of the other professions. I mean, they are forced to keep in shape, which means regular exercise and diet. This by itself is a stress buster. And their job throws them in contact with people, which means less chances of lonliness or isolation. And hey, lets not forget that Saif and Shah Rukh both smoke. If they got sick it was probably due to this, and genetics too must have played a part. And if Britney does wierd things, well, maybe she was always wierd or its all a publicity stunt.

So what kind of stress do celebrities have to deal with?
There’s this survey which talks of the kind of stress that celebrities do face. Charles Figley, Ph.D., from Florida State University mailed 200 questionnaires to randomly chosen celebrities. He got 51 replies, and from these he compiled a list of their top 10 stressors:

The press
Threatening letters/calls
Lack of privacy
The constant monitoring of their lives
Worry about career plunges
Lack of security, need for reassurance that they deserve what they have achieved.
Curious fans
Worries about their children’s lives being disrupted.

Even these factors do not make acting one of the top ten stressful professions. When a celebrity commits suicide there is a just a lot of hype. But the fact is that more poor farmers in Maharastra have committed suicide than Bollywood celebrities. The press might want to make us believe that celebrities are terribly unhappy people. They might want to tell us that a person can’t have everything. Good looks, good health, money, fame and happiness! Doesn’t sound fair, does it?

Quite fair really. Most actors get to where they are because hard work and talent. Their profession forces them to take care of their bodies and throws them amongst other people. The adulation they get helps boost their self-esteem. If they still remain confused and unhappy, its because they never had much self-esteem to begin with. Thats very individual. If they were into any other profession, they would probably be much much unhappier! Acting in fact helps them cope, acting doesn’t make lose their self-esteem. In fact, the adulation they get adds to it!

(Photos have been sourced from The Age and Bollywoodcity)

More on Bollywood and Hollywood.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2007 8:34 am

    My idea of film celebrities of the britney spears kind is that they are usually nutcases who do not know how to gain happiness out of what they have.

  2. November 18, 2007 10:16 pm

    Acting is a strange profession, sometimes it can be very stressful, and others – totally relaxing

  3. November 19, 2007 12:57 am

    Nita: I saw this post because Jenny commented on it bringing it to the sidebar.

    One of the key reasons why people in public life are stressed is the isolated nature of their being, when they are meant at all times public property. This splendid isolation is different from their privacy. This is the state of never knowing if someone hangs out with them for them or for their – however fleeting – celebrity. They cannot define themselves by much except the adulation of the public and critics who can turn any time. Others have the privilege to introspect in private but those who live by the sword of the media do not.

    Which is why so many find other avenues such as reading for formal degrees (such as Natalie Portman, whose picture appears here, who went to Harvard to get her degree in psychology or something) or seeking serious non-profit roles (more Angelina Jolie than Bob Geldof or Bono or even Geri Halliwell as UN Ambassador which must really be a joke!).

  4. November 19, 2007 7:20 am

    Thanks Jenny, Shefaly.
    Somehow this has been one of my favorite posts but it did not attract comments.
    That’s a good point you raised Shefaly. The loneliness that celebrities may suffer inside. I suppose a way out is to retain their old childhood friends and a few actors have done so. Apparently Jackie Shroff is one of them..but most actors tend to drop their older friends and at times even their marraige partner, the one they had before they got famous. That is why I like Shah Rukh Khan. He and his wife Gauri have been together before he got famous.

  5. November 19, 2007 2:14 pm

    Nita: Perhaps it deserves a ‘second outing’? πŸ™‚

    I think it is hard enough for regular people to retain old friendships for many reasons –

    a) People’s growth trajectories vary and their relative success varies too; some friendships become untenable because people may find they have nothing in common any more and this effect is probably more pronounced in people whose growth and success trajectories are markedly different.

    b) The “conversation” sometimes just ends for reasons we cannot always pinpoint; sometimes it is space and sometimes it is time and sometimes it is life. This is especially true in my case; my friendships are long, ongoing conversations and if my friends cannot keep up with the thrust and parry, alas, they do fall by the wayside; of course making allowance for their relative busy-ness and life events and so on.

    c) Sometimes an active cull is required; this sounds brutal but sometimes this is needed. Friends who do not know what your life is now may insist on dwelling in the past ‘do you remember’ whereas you may want to move on, or vice versa. At such a time it is worth considering if the friendship is worth it. Applies both ways. Someone may be culling me as I write this, but if there is no regret then it is fine. And for ‘celebrities’ who is to say old friends will not change and come to expect something in return for loyalty?

    The fact that you cite Jackie Shroff and Shahrukh Khan is in itself an illustration how easy it is to assume a friendly tone about someone one does not know much about πŸ™‚

    That said, some people choose solitude and those are the ones others know least about. They are probably happier that way and if one could at all summon them to respond to such ‘stress surveys’, would admit to having very low levels of distress but high levels of eustress that feeds their creativity and engagement with their professions.

  6. November 19, 2007 2:28 pm


    I have in fact been thinking of second outings for several of my posts as some of them were posted when I had fewer visitors!
    What you said about friendship, well I guess it’s a very personal thing so there isn’t any wrong or right. But for me friendship is something different. It doesn’t matter if one has less in common…it’s the person that matters. I mean if the person has different views and a different life, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s just that there is more to talk about! I have friendships which have lasted ever since I was in second grade. My friends are my jewels like I mentioned to you once and almost as dear to me as my parents and bro and sis-in-law!
    About the actors ofcourse we know them but superficially. One never really knows…

  7. November 20, 2007 2:05 am

    I don’t find it even moderately surprising that acting as a profession doesn’t find its way into the most stressful jobs. Part of the reason, I assume, is because of the nature of stress, and, for want of a more refined way to term it, its non-discrete nature in other professions.

    The “stars” have the resources (and by that I mean MONEY and FAME) to sustain periods of unemployment, and to rejoin the ranks without considerable loss in demand, for their skill sets. Other professions don’t have the luxury of an ON/OFF switch, if only because the job is their only means of livelihood.

    Further, I think, and this is completely my opinion and a shot in the dark, that most of the stress in the movie business, is self-induced. Apart from the stress of deadlines, for completion of movies etc (which I feel is a much higher burden on the Producers and Directors than the actors), most of it is created by the performers or their manager/agents. The phrase “No such thing as bad publicity” comes to mind, and most of these artists have used this to benefit their careers, including, britney spears.

    There are far more “stars” that handle the limelight well than the ones that end up shaving their heads, breaking cars and the like.

    Couple more things, I noticed the survey was conducted in the US, and a similar survey in India would perhaps be at least slightly different, perhaps with Agriculture based professions reaching the top of the list. Nothing says stress louder than family suicides (I don’t quite know the technical term).

    And lastly, you beat me to it, I was writing up something on the same topic, only from the other side of the coin and less sympathetical.

  8. November 20, 2007 2:26 pm

    @The Depressed Doormat:

    well i don’t have too much sympathy for stars that say that they get too much media attention, except in some exceptional circumstances ofcourse like in the case of Diana. For some reason I have a lot of sympathy for Princess Diana.
    Overall though I think the stars want and need the limelight, and mostly it’s those who want it get into the profession.

  9. November 20, 2007 4:34 pm


    “For some reason I have a lot of sympathy for Princess Diana.”

    I think you are in a growing minority (or should that be shrinking minority?) πŸ™‚

    Diana and the media had a symbiotic and mutually-parasitic relationship. She played them for all they were worth and the media played along. It was part of her revenge on her then-very-unpopular ex-husband while people made money based on her “exclusive” photos…

    They say you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Nowhere was it truer than in her case…

  10. November 20, 2007 7:34 pm


    Guess so! πŸ™‚
    But somehow I still like Diana! Probably an irrational like!

  11. November 20, 2007 9:01 pm

    Nita: Everyone likes Diana, despite all this. πŸ™‚

    Our image of her is frozen in age and time, a bit like Marilym Monroe and that helps. I wonder if it would have remained so if Diana had lived and continued to conduct herself in ‘interesting’ ways… Or if she had aged and thanks to British tabloids, every wrinkle or sight of cellulite was mocked in the papers. Who knows?

  12. November 20, 2007 9:29 pm


    I have thought of this too.
    I have a magazine picture of the palm of her hand and it shows a very high physical passion of the sexual kind and a very big heart. I know you probably will think of this as nonsense but I believe in palmistry and I believe that there were somethings which came naturally to Diana and needing love was one of them. She married the wrong man and her life became a tragedy.
    And you are right, my image of her is frozen in time.

  13. November 21, 2007 3:26 am

    @Nita: I am not sure how you can call that a tragedy? She married into the most influential families in England, with quite a lot of spending power. And the paparazzi only increased the artificial demand, for a person with no skill, no talent and absolutely no claim to fame.

    Far from a tragedy.

    @Shefaly: I guess you forgot about the exceptions!

  14. November 21, 2007 7:13 am

    @The Depressed Doormat:

    I meant her death was a tragedy. She diied at 35.

  15. Dave permalink
    January 23, 2013 12:12 am

    Sorry but I have read this article word to word and I have to say, compared to some of today’s jobs, acting is near the bottom of the list in terms of being stressful. One obvious point is that 99% of actors and actress’s aren’t famous. If they were then a certain degree of stress would naturally come into it e.g. being followed around by people trying to take pictures and invade your personal life everyday must be hard – they chose that profession so I don’t particularly feel sorry for them, but it must be hard to deal with. However, comparing acting to other jobs, where’s the stress? You list things like…
    The press (only relevant to celebrities for the most part)
    Critics – (everyone has critics at work)
    Threatening letters/calls (only relevant to celebrities)
    Lack of privacy (only relevant to celebrities)
    The constant monitoring of their lives (only relevant to celebrities)
    Worry about career plunges (everyone has this worry)
    Stalkers (only relevant to celebrities)
    Lack of security, need for reassurance that they deserve what they have achieved (same for everyone)
    Curious fans (only relevant to celebrities and is that really a stress or a luxury?)
    Worries about their children’s lives being disrupted (only relevant to celebrities).

    As I say…I don’t feel sorry for celebrity actors and actress’s, they chose that career path. I do think that young kids of 13,14 and 15 are totally deluded nowdays in thinking that they will one day be a famous actor or actress which is highly highly unlikely and compeltely unhealthy…but what about the stress of astronauts, airline pilots, military officers, chefs, fire fighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses? Some of the most stressfull jobs in the world (Fact not opinion). They work a heck of a lot harder than actors and actress’s and get no or very little recognition for it. So as far as the question “Are actors the most stressed out people?” – I find this very hard to agree with. The majority of points that you listed are nothing to do with actually being on the job.

  16. ntobeko permalink
    March 4, 2013 10:08 pm

    i know acting is a big challeage but can you guys please don’t make us too nervous……it like u don’t want us to get along wth our studies in acting

  17. tparker permalink
    September 11, 2013 11:05 am

    Julie Benz she always looks stressed. she smiles and everything but she looks like something is wrong with her.

  18. Pugliesaccio permalink
    April 15, 2016 10:31 pm

    It’s like you say a Formula1 racing pilot is not stressed because he gets a lot of money and invitations to parties and fan-propelled self esteem. Let’s talk about bus, trains and taxi drivers. Scorsese made one of the ten greatest films of all times out of that. I think that Acting is a very very very stressful job unless you are in the very little 1% of star actors.


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