Is stress on the rise?

The BBC has broadcasted a report noting that the number of people who suffer levels of stress so high that it affects their health was over 40% of those surveyed. No matter what the sample was this is a staggeringly high figure. So it’s perhaps sad that some readers won’t be surprised. Those people might highlight the number of new technologies introduced in recent years, particularly in developing countries, increased expectations from the recession, and also the sheer quantity of information to which we’re exposed today. It’s also possible to simply look at our way of life for an explanation. Stress hormones are produced naturally by the body, in order to prepare us for an action or event. We can in some cases burn them off through physical exertion, even taking a walk. But if we’re stuck in the car or the office this simply isn’t possible.

Given the above evidence of increasing stress, do you think overall levels of stress are increasing? If so do they look set to increase still further into the future? What can we do to reverse the trend as a society?

3 comments

  • different food for thought here.

    Perhaps the new technologies are not the only ones increasing the stress level and the quantity of information generated.
    “Old” technologies as well create more information than whenever (and I refer to the quantity of newspapers, advertising that does not seem to stop throwing data towards the public).
    But is not only technology causing stress.
    Stressful situations occur whenever we are confronted with a situation for which we’re missing sufficient information previously or where we’re pushed for a decision which is not obviously in the our interest.
    for instance:
    – dealing with banks, understanding the money flow when one has not sufficient financial education
    – obligation to fill-in a tax declaration when missing a similar sufficient level of financial or legal education
    – understanding and following a medical advice which might be against one’s habits (or pleasant vices)
    – traffic regulations (no need for comments here)
    – over-exposure to information; generated by advertising or “old” technology media (e.g.: newspapers, magazines)
    – forced to assume political/citizen obligations when the town-hall or government delegates to the dwellers certain duties (let’s say I’m in no mood to remove the snow in front of my house when the street is a public domain for which I pay taxes)
    – traditional/social pressure to behave in a certain way at a specific age or in a specific situation (which may as well occur in one’s own native culture)
    – redirecting one’s intentions when going shopping via marketing techniques not necessarily for the buyer’s good
    – critiques and unkind motivation techniques when inside an educational system or at workplace
    – cultural harassment with individuals unaware of what an open society would mean

    i think there are enough circumstances that would lead to an increase of the level of stress in the future.
    i see no alleviation without an adequate education given to youngsters entering a complex society, and by adequate i’d mean not only science-oriented, but also civic, anthropological, artistic.

    reversing the trend? i’m not personally optimistic in this respect, as there seem to be insufficient symptoms of self-awareness.
    what do you think ?

  • I completely agree with you. Education is absolutely paramount in enabling people to more ably cope with stress. Great examples too.

    I would really recommend that you watch this video:

    In it Kelly Mcgonigal argues that it is not stress itself, but rather our belief about what stress is doing to us, which actually does the damage. The intro to the video is here below:

    “Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.”

    And as you rightly say, the ability to deal with stress isn’t just a psychological affair. If something is defined as a problem, and that problem permeates all regions and field of human activity, then surely we must address it in all fields of human activity.

    However I would in fact go further than education, for I fervently believe that the very structure of our economy and society is contributing to these problems. It is our economic and social structure which causes us to: glorify competition to a state approaching illness; to present ourselves as workaholics and career, more than family orientated people, as if that was a good thing; to say to people “you’re too nice”, as if being nice was bad; to immediately seek someone to blame when things go wrong, or problems arise; and to be so time pressured that don’t mind ignoring problems so long as they don’t have an immediate impact upon us.

    So am I optimistic about our ability to reverse the trend? Our ability? Yes I am. Our likeliness to actually reverse the trend? Probably, and unfortunately, pretty low.

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