Disease clusters were made famous by Erin Brockovich, but they are harder to pinpoint than you might think. More >
Are You Teflon or Velcro When It Comes to Stress?
Stress happens. There is no avoiding it. So it's not really a question of how much stress you have in your life as much as how you handle the stressors that do occur . When stressful things happen, do they really get to you? Or does stress usually go as quickly as it comes?
Researchers studying how stress can affect health over time dubbed these two coping styles Velcro and Teflon. It should be pretty obvious which is which. The team looked at the relationships among stressful events in daily life, people's reactions to those events, and their health and well-being 10 years later. They found that if you are the type of person who tends to carry stress around with you, your body is likely to pay the price.
"Our research shows that how you react to what happens in your life today predicts your chronic health conditions and 10 years in the future, independent of your current health and your future stress," said David Almeida, one of the researchers, in a press release. "For example, if you have a lot of work to do today, and you are really grumpy because of it, then you are more likely to suffer negative health consequences 10 years from now than someone who also has a lot of work to do today, but doesn't let it bother her."
The people in the study were part of a larger group participating in MIDUS (Midlife in the United States), a national longitudinal study of health and well-being funded by the National Institute of Aging.
Researchers called 2,000 people on the phone every night for eight consecutive nights, asking what had happened to them in the previous 24 hours. Participants were asked about how they used their time, how their mood had been, if they had any physical health symptoms or complaints and how productive they had been that day. They were also questioned about the stressful events they had experienced, such as being stuck in traffic, having an argument with somebody, or taking care of a sick child.
Since people were only asked to recall the previous 24 hours, researchers were able to gain a clearer, more immediate sense of the ups and downs of subjects' lives than they could in studies which checked in with participants every month or so. Everyday coping styles were also more evident.
The team telephoned the study members every day for eight days in 1995 and then again in 2005. Having such a long view enabled the researchers to look at how participants' daily experiences changed over time and also how experiences that were occurring 10 years ago were related to health and well being in the present.
People who became upset by daily stressors and continued to dwell on them after they had passed were more likely to suffer from chronic health problems. Ten years later, pain, such as that related to arthritis, and cardiovascular issues were more common among this group.Certain groups experience more stress in their lives. The study, which appears online in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, found that younger people had more stress than older people; people with higher levels of education had more stress than people with less education. Some may actually choose to involve themselves in stressful situations such as those who become involved in environmental or political causes or human rights issues or other injustices.
"What is interesting is how these people deal with their stress," said Almeida. "Our research shows that people with lower cognitive abilities and education levels are more reactive to stress than people with higher cognitive abilities and education levels, likely because they have less control over the stressors in their lives."
Stress can be a sign that a person's life is filled with hardship, but it can also mean that the individual has a rich and busy life, full of activities and experiences. It may be that Teflon-type people, who tend to shed the negative effects of stressful events more easily, seek out more experiences than Velcro types who have a harder time recovering from stress.
November 6, 2012