Measuring Stress Causes, Experiences & Outcomes Worldwide

15 April 2021

April may be Stress Awareness Month, but 2020 could be considered Stress Awareness Year. Gallup finds that 2020 was officially the most stressful year in recent history, with a record-high 40% of adults worldwide saying they experienced a lot of stress the previous day. This five-percentage-point jump from 35% in 2019 represents nearly 190 million more people globally who experienced a lot of stress.

The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated concerns about stress in a global context. And with a globally interconnected economy and the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely not the last threat the world will face, understanding the effects of stress on people’s lives and behavior has become even more important.

This is why Lightkeeper and Gallup are working together to improve awareness and understanding of stress by conducting the first-ever comprehensive global study of stress experiences in 2021. Data from the study will be used to develop the World Stress Index.

What Is Stress?

The first phase of the World Stress Index project, which started during the pandemic, included guidance from top experts in the field of stress, extensive literature reviews, and findings from cognitive interviews with adults in seven countries and territories. Each was crucial to coming up with the right survey questions to understand not only the stress that people experience, but also the context for those experiences.

Understanding what “stress” means to people was vital. Gallup asked people in Australia, Colombia, South Africa, Tunisia, Taiwan, Ukraine and the United Kingdom to say — in their own words — what stress means to them. Generally, they explained it as a negative emotion, using words such as “problems,” “difficult,” “anger,” “bad” and “anxious.” However, people also said words like “overthinking,” “boredom,” “powerlessness” and “aging.”

The World Stress Index

The World Stress Index study measures potential stressors that range from everyday sources — such as people’s jobs, finances, personal relationships or current events — to more acute stressors, such as a traumatic event. It also examines several possible outcomes of stress, including trouble sleeping, physical pain, altered eating habits, and arguing with friends and family. And it also explores possible coping mechanisms, including emotional support from friends and family, exercise, meditation, alcohol, medication and spiritual/religious practices.

The World Stress Index study will also incorporate objective environmental data to further understand potential relationships between external factors and stress. For example, using geospatial analysis, Gallup will record the recent temperature at each interview’s location, so we can better understand how environments affect people’s stress levels and wellbeing. This makes the World Stress Index not just the largest study of stress, but also one of the largest studies on how weather may influence stress.

Next Steps

The second phase of this project is already underway, with data for the World Stress Index being gathered in 125 countries and areas as part of the 2021 Gallup World Poll. With the stress epidemic reaching new heights last year, it is more important than ever to be able to understand and manage stress.

Analysis and insights from the World Stress Index will be used by Lightkeeper and its partners and customers to inform policy for governments and organizations, improve products and services for health and wellness providers, and empower educators and researchers. Lightkeeper and Gallup will share the findings from this research over the coming year.

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