Death, Taxes, And Deadlines: Stress Is An Invisible Epidemic

A few months ago, I caught up with a buddy for a drink. He’s in advertising, and like most of his colleagues, he works awful hours. Nights, weekends, you name it. But it didn’t appear to bother him. He always seemed like one of those corporate ironmen, the guys suspiciously impervious to heavy workloads and overly demanding bosses.

But on that night, my buddy came clean. He told me he stopped sleeping well a few years before. Then he’d gotten a weird back pain that wouldn’t go away, so he slept even less. At the same time, his job ramped up. In pain and perpetually tired, he was working even more. Eventually, this all became intolerable, so one morning he marched over to his boss, gave his two weeks notice, and resolved to figure out some other source of income.

When I asked him why he hadn’t held out until he’d found that next best thing, he said, “I just couldn’t live one more day with that stress.”

In magazines, we often joke that in this world nothing is certain but death, taxes, and deadlines. For us editors, stress is a fact of life, sometimes even a badge of honor, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t get to me sometimes. In this, I am not alone. Workplace stress in the U.S. has been rising consistently. Even as we crawl out of the Great Recession, just about everyone feels like they’re doing more for less–and they probably are. Add to that the usual though no-less-daunting pressures of child rearing, elderly parents, education, health care, and finances, and you’ve got a population that’s stretched pretty thin.

Stress is an unacknowledged epidemic, the true scale of which is still unknown.

Since the 1930s, scientists have known that psychological stress has physical impacts, but in the past few years scientists have started to grasp the full extent to which this is true. Chronic stress is linked to depression and obesity. It raises the possibility of heart disease by 40 percent, and dramatically increases the chance of a heart attack or stroke. It can lead to dermatitis, contribute to Parkinson’s, and boost susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis and even certain cancers.

In our modern age, stress is an unacknowledged epidemic, the true scale of which is still unknown. And that’s why we decided to make it our cover story this month. To research this piece, contributing editor Brooke Borel sifted through dozens of studies to figure out how stress affects us and, more importantly, how we can address it in a smart and scientific way. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what she finds. At least, you’ll have a good time reading it–and that should reduce some stress right there.

Enjoy the March 2015 issue of Popular Science.

3 Things That Stressed Us Out This Issue

  1. Hearing the story of how the world’s tiniest sculpture was lost forever due to one clumsy thumb smudge
  2. Realizing that our passwords–no matter how complicated we try to make them–probably don’t do much good
  3. Working around four holidays, one of the world’s largest consumer technology expos, and an international auto show