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It's not just you: A new survey shows the world is more stressed out than ever

UK, Lichfield, woman at computer working from home until late
UK, Lichfield, woman at computer working from home until late

Have you been feeling down this past year?

It’s not just you: A new survey from global analytics firm Gallup shows that the world is feeling more stressed and unhappy than ever before.

The survey, which collected more than 120,000 interviews across 122 countries, reveals that more people experienced negative feelings in 2021 than any previous year.

Julie Ray, managing editor for world news at Gallup, says negative emotions have risen within the last decade. Ray adds that stress during 2020, the first year of the pandemic, jumped five [percentage] points.

“It’s a huge change for the world,” she says.

Interview highlights

On the trajectory of pre-pandemic stress

“Stress levels, worry levels, sadness: All of that has been rising since about 2011. We’ve seen upticks almost every single year.

“The unique thing about the data in 2021 that we hadn’t seen for a number of years is that, with this increase in negative emotions, we saw for the first time in 2021 a decrease in people’s positive experiences. We’re seeing kind of a double whammy emotionally, with people having more negative experiences and less joy.”

On whether the poll explains the ‘why’ behind rising stress

“It doesn’t. We asked people about their positive and negative experiences. And we [asked] them a lot of other questions about what’s going on in their lives economically, whether they have enough food and shelter or whether they have confidence in their institutions.

“So we have all that to give context to their emotional well-being as we regard it. And you can tell by what’s going on in the country. Of course in Afghanistan, we saw negative experiences go through the roof. But we were also collecting data at the same time that the U.S. was withdrawing and the Taliban was taking control.”

On how Afghans are feeling emotionally. Afghanistan has ranked as the least positive country since 2017.

“We’ve seen heightened levels of stress and worry and sadness and all of these negative emotions among Afghans for a number of years. But 2021 just basically blew the roof off of all the previous findings. Afghans are more worried [and] stressed than anybody else has ever been in the history that we’ve been looking at these data.”

On the prevalence of negative feelings despite economic upswings

“These data provide another insight into people’s daily lives that you can’t get from looking at [gross domestic product]. Just like if you were going to a doctor. The doctor can’t tell just based off of your temperature if you’re sick.”

On good news found from the survey

“We had seen — and of course, this makes perfect sense — in 2020, people who were smiling or laughing less the previous day [before taking the survey], we saw that started to rebound in 2021.”


Kalyani Saxena produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Jeannette Muhammad adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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