Don't Worry, Be Happy — and Healthy

Stress matters less than how you react to it for chronic health problems

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Got a lot of stress in your life? No biggie. It's not the stress that will affect your health ten years from now. It's how you react to it.

A recent study has found that people's reactions to day-to-day stress plays a part in their chronic health problems. And the impact from stress remains a decade later. 

Overall, the researchers found the amount of stress in a person's life is not as important as how they deal with it.

"Learn stress management skills."

The study, led by Jennifer R. Piazza, PhD, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University, used data from the National Study of Daily Experiences conducted from 1995 to 1996 and then a decade later.

The original national study involved surveying 2,000 people every night for eight days in a row to ask what had happened to them in the past 24 hours.

Saliva samples from each of these individuals were also collected at four different times on four of the eight days to measure the participants' cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone.

Survey questions focused on stressful events, their productivity, physical health, how they used their time, their moods and how they responded to these events. Examples of stressful events might include being stuck in traffic, having an argument or needing to meet a deadline.

Then, ten years after the original survey, researchers were able to contact 435 of the original participants to assess their health.

They found that people who had more emotional reactions to daily stressors during the first survey were more likely to have chronic health issues ten years down the line.

Daily stressors are less severe than major life events and do not carry the long-term threat of chronic stressors. Yet the current investigation reveals that how people react to the daily stressors in their lives has long-term implications for physical health.

They wrote that finding ways to help people respond more healthily to daily stressors might reduce chronic health issues in the future. Senior author David Almeida, PhD, also a professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, said in a release about the study that he thinks of people as one of two types.

"With Velcro people, when a stressor happens it sticks to them; they get really upset and, by the end of the day, they are still grumpy and fuming," Dr. Almeida said. "With Teflon people, when stressors happen to them they slide right off. It's the Velcro people who end up suffering health consequences down the road."

Some of their other findings were that individuals aged 65 and older tended to react to stressful events more often than younger individuals, perhaps because they do not experience it as frequently, suggested the authors.

The authors also found that people with lower levels of education or lower IQ reacted more to stress than those with higher IQ or a higher educational level.

The study was published October 19 in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 4, 2012
Last Updated:
November 7, 2012