The latest edition of Sweden’s national public health survey (nationella folkhälsoenkäten) suggests that stress levels in capital Stockholm are the highest of the country, with 16 percent of those surveyed there saying they felt stressed.
At the other end of the scale are Norrbotten, Dalarna and Gävleborg, largely rural areas, where ten percent said they felt stressed.
“We know that the big city environment is more stressful. More people, more interaction with unknown people, and one travels considerably longer in a big city than in the countryside too, those are some factors,” Stress Research Institute head Torbjörn Åkerstedt told The Local.
“There was a study published about a year ago that suggests people in big cities react more quickly to stress: emotions are higher than in the countryside,” he added.
Taking public transport – a near daily fact of life for many people working in cities – is thought to be a particularly tiresome experience.
“Public transport is a big stress. There is evidence that shows that when people take the commuter train, stress levels grow as more people enter it. You have to arrive on time, there’s nowhere to sit, there’s a lot of people. And of course, there’s a lot of people you don’t know. Those are factors,” Åkerstedt explained.
The figures from the Swedish Public Health agency also suggest a difference in gender, with a larger percentage of women than men saying they felt stressed across every region. In Stockholm, the figure was as much as a fifth, as 20 percent of women said they were stressed. A tendency for women to take on greater responsibility in organizing the family is thought to be one possible explanation for that.
With shopping to do, at least one big meal to plan, and all of the other duties that come with it, the festive period is one often portrayed as a particularly stressful one. But is it blown out of proportion? The expert thinks that may be the case.
“Christmas stress is perhaps a bit exaggerated. It’s not a big health risk: every day stress you experience over the whole year is more of a problem in that regard. Christmas stress is temporary, after all, so you’re not affected by it as much,” Åkerstedt concluded.
Here's a breakdown of stress levels in Sweden’s counties according to the Public Health Agency, ranked from highest to lowest:
Västra Götaland 14%