Stress in modern Britain: An update to the seminal 50 year old survey


StressInModernBritain

By Henry Lovett, Policy & Public Affairs Officer, The Physiological Society

In the 21st century, stress is all-pervasive. The Physiological Society has conducted a national survey in the vein of the seminal work of Holmes and Rahe in 1967[1] to ascertain how different stressful events, both positive and negative, affect people. In partnership with polling firm YouGov,[2] we surveyed over 2000 British adults and asked them to rate how stressful they find (or imagine they would find) 18 different life events. The results suggest some enlightening conclusions.

The overall ordering of the stressor events is given here, along with an average score (out of ten points) assigned to each one.

Rank Event Stress /10
1 Death of spouse/relative/friend 9.43
2 Imprisonment 9.15
3 Flood/fire damaging your home 8.89
4 Being seriously ill 8.52
5 Being fired 8.47
6 Separation/divorce 8.47
7 Identity theft 8.16
8 Unexpected money problems 7.39
9 Starting a new job 6.54
10 Planning a wedding 6.51
11 Arrival of first child 6.06
12 Commute delays 5.94
13 Terrorist threats 5.84
14 Losing smartphone 5.79
15 Moving to bigger house 5.77
16 Brexit 4.23
17 Going on holiday 3.99
18 Promotion/success at work 3.78

Perhaps most interestingly, for every single event, the reported stress experienced by men was lower than that by women. The average difference was 0.56 points. The biggest difference was in the stress caused by the threat of terrorism, which was 1.25 points higher for women. The smallest difference was for the arrival of a first child – a life-changing event for either sex! Of course, we cannot tell from these figures if the women responding do experience greater stress, or are simply more willing to report it; an age-old problem of this type of research.

Overall regional differences were small, with the average stress level across Great Britain varying only by 0.28 points. The most stressed area was Scotland, while the least stressed was the South East of England. The East of England was notably upset by delays in their commutes, while Londoners were most sanguine about going on holiday.

The results for some events point towards stress levels increasing with age, most strongly for long-term problems such as illness or imprisonment. Exceptions to this trend were the loss of a smartphone, which fits with the added difficulties this would cause to highly-connected younger generations, and the arrival of a first child. This was rated highest by those 25-34, who are likely to be the group experiencing this most recently.

One interesting stressor was Brexit (with the given definition of “the process of leaving the European Union”). Though ranking low among all the stressors, Brexit had the greatest variety of responses given, shown by the highest standard deviation. Respondents aged 18-24 scored Brexit stress a point higher on average than those 55+. Those living in London and Scotland also scored Brexit a point higher on average than Wales and much of the rest of England. Most markedly, those respondents educated to higher degree level reported stress two points higher than people with only GCSEs or A-Levels, while undergraduate degree-holders were also more stressed, though more than a point lower than those with higher degrees. These trends correlate with the constituencies of the electorate most likely to vote Remain in the referendum, suggesting they are finding the Brexit process stressful while leavers are happier to let things play out.

Participants were also asked to fill in any other particularly stressful events which they felt the survey had missed out. The most common responses concerned driving: car breakdowns, suffering traffic, road rage, or being the passenger of a careless driver all featured. Another set of common response described caring responsibilities for aged, ill or disabled people.

Finally, to the person who responded: “Trying to enter an amateur radio contest when the ionospheric conditions are poor due to a coronal mass ejection, coupled with a neighbour’s plasma TV causing major interference on the 1.8 to 7 MHz bands.” All we can say is, we feel your pain.

[1] T Holmes and R Rahe, Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Vol. 11, pp. 213 to 218. Pergamon Press. 1967

[2] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2078 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd – 28th December 2016.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

2 thoughts on “Stress in modern Britain: An update to the seminal 50 year old survey

  1. Pingback: دراسة: فقدان الهاتف يسبب ضغطا نفسيا يشبه أثر التعرض لهجمات إرهابية

  2. Pingback: Stressing out the immune system | PhySoc Blogs

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