So here is my question, and I don't think it's a simple one: is the academic world a stressful place? The above are an interesting set of anecdotes, but there are certainly contradictory anecdotes.
For example, as a starting point we might look to the CareerCast list of least stressful jobs, where university professor was judged the least stressful job in 2013 (and nearly the least in 2014), and the reaction to it. (A nice Forbes article here, and last year's related article here with hundreds of comments. Inside Higher Ed articles here (2014) and here (2013).) The big quote this year from Inside Higher Ed:
Tony Lee, publisher, CareerCast, added via email: "We received a lot of feedback about our ranking of university professor as a low-stress job. But we found that while adjunct and part-time teachers are right that their jobs can be stressful, the stress levels for tenured university professors – which is what we rank – are lower than the majority of other jobs we measure in our report."My own take on this amusement (before we get to the serious) is that they probably underestimate the stress levels of professors -- even tenured, university profs. On the other hand, since CareerCast's "most stressful" jobs include military, police, firefighters, and event coordinators, I'm not going to argue against the point that university professors may have it comparatively easy.
Now, more seriously, is life working in academia stressful? I think it's an important question; to the extent that academia is more stressful than it should be, it may be damaging both to individuals, and to the overall success of scientific productivity on a larger scale. On the other hand, perhaps the level of stress in academia is natural for various reasons, including the type of work involved, or the type of people involved, and is not really so bad either in relative or absolute terms.
I don't know the answer to this question. I could speak for myself (this is my blog, after all), but that's just more anecdote. I poked around a little bit but didn't see anything especially informative in the research literature I saw; I'd be happy to have pointers suggested. Also, it's a problematic question, for several reasons, as there are all sorts of underlying questions to answer first.
1) Stressful compared to what? What are the right comparisons? I tend to think the comparisons should be with other professional jobs (doctor, lawyer, businessperson -- and, for CS, I guess the appropriate "software engineer" type title), which seem to me to pretty stressful employment options in their own right.
2) Stressful at what time in one's career? I think there are different stressors, and different amounts of stress, at different career points. Grad student stress is not the same as assistant faculty stress is not the same as tenured faculty stress.
3) How would one measure "stress", anyway? CareerCast gives some information on its criteria which leads to university professor being (one of) the least stressful jobs. Daniel Lemire offers the week-end-freedom test for how free you are (which may be one way of checking stress), but I don't agree with his assumptions.
4) And how might one account for various selection effects? Maybe academics are more generally "Type A personalities". Perhaps the right questions are not why academics are stressed, but why does academia attract so many Type A personalities, and/or does academia reward Type A personality-types in ways that are detrimental.
5) Are Computer Science/Engineering in academia different in terms of stress than other academic fields, since these are the areas I care most about? (Ostensibly, for instance, we get paid higher salaries, and have ample opportunities for outside-university work. Both of these could affect stress levels.)
I'm sure you can come up with more issues that complicate the basic question.
I may do some more posts on this basic theme; I do think the topic is important, but there's little hard information. Seeing as how there's lots of psychologists hanging around universities, I'm surprised that I didn't quickly find one or more recent comparative studies on stress levels, personality types, etc. for academics, but perhaps I just need to look harder. (If only I had the time!)
To be clear, my bias is that when I read blog posts from my respected colleagues that portray academic life as some sort of competitive pressure-cooker where everyone is out to increase their ranking and are working 80+ hour weeks without any sort of social life, that's just not the reality I am aware of. (Including, I think, for the people who actually write these posts, who generally seem to be talking about "other people".)
To cut off some potential responses, I'm not blind, nor stupid; there are plenty of stresses in academia, in particular having to do with the employment situation, where the number of jobs is not sufficient for the number of potential job-seekers generated. And I would be interested in finding useful ways to understanding stress in the field and how to reduce it productively, especially for graduate students. But to do this, we would need to move beyond individual anecdotes, gain some more data-driven understanding of what's going on, and start determining best practices. The mythologies about academic life and stress do not seem helpful in understanding where there are problems and how to address them.