There are a number of elements that can be quantified and used as approximate measures of stress levels. These elements vary according to whether stress is being measured in an individual, in an organization, or in society itself.

Looking at statistics

One of the most useful sources of information on the level of stress in society is national statistics – for example, the annual rate of heart attacks and suicides. Changes over a period of time in these statistics are particularly significant, since they highlight trends. An increase in heart attacks or suicides usually reflects a major social cause of stress in a country, such as widespread unemployment or economic catastrophe.

Measuring stress in individuals

Although stress in individuals can be measured to some extent by things like heart rate and the level of adrenaline production, it has more to do with how far “out of sync” an individual is with their usual physical condition. Since everyone has a different heart rate or blood pressure, there is no average statistic to indicate personal stress. Also, different people respond differently to stress. In some, stress can manifest itself in panic attacks, headaches, or stomach problems. Others may suffer a lack of sleep or a loss of self-esteem. There are also thought to be different responses for men and women. Whereas women may become withdrawn or depressed, men are more likely to become aggressive, irritable, or develop addictions.

Stress statistics

The following statistics attest to some of the effects of stress:

  • Stress-related problems are thought to cause half of all premature deaths in the US.

  • In the EC, some 10 million people suffer from work-related illness each year.

  • In Norway, work-related sickness costs 10 per cent of the Gross National Product.

  • In the UK, 180 million work days per year are lost through stress in the workplace

Measuring stress in organizations

Companies and other types of organization have certain widely recognized quantitative measures of the level of stress, the most popular of which is the absenteeism figure. This is the percentage of staff absent from work on any one day. However, you cannot deduce that the company with the highest rate of absenteeism is necessarily the most stressed; certain industries are more prone to absenteeism, through injury for example. In fact, many companies suffer from “presenteeism”, the presence of disaffected or exhausted workers of no more benefit to the company than absentees. Increasingly, those suffering from stress choose to go to work rather than stay at home.

Table Measuring stress levels
Type of StressElements That Can Be Measured
Societal StressThis is visible in society as a whole, manifesting itself with a decline in general behaviour.
  • Unexpected changes in crime figures.

  • Unemployment figures, with special regard to inner-city areas in which unemployment may be endemic.

  • Educational results, especially in schools in poor rural and run-down inner-city areas.

  • Levels of emigration and immigration.

Personal StressThis causes individuals to suffer a lack of both control and ability to function on a reasonable level.
  • Persistent insomnia.

  • Rashes, cramps, headaches, or other physical symptoms of unknown origin.

  • Changes in eating patterns.

  • Marked rise in a personal level of cigarette, alcohol, and drug consumption.

Organizational StressThis affects the general morale of an organization, resulting in both financial and personnel problems.
  • Unexpected changes in levels of absenteeism among employees.

  • Quality of production within the organization, with the emphasis on apparent decline.

  • Number of work-related accidents.

  • Number of work-related health complaints.


Ask yourself if other people find you stressful to work with.


Keep a diary of the days that you feel highly stressed.


Treat yourself to something you want but would not normally buy.


Make sure your desk is as near a window as possible.

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