Does Stress Have Higher Consequences Than we Think?


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     In class we recently learned that stress does not cause ulcers, a discovery made by a Penn State professor and one that earned him a Nobel Prize. Yet another Penn State professor has made a discovery denouncing the impact of stress its self on the health of a human being. David Almeida, a professor of human development and family studies, argues that it is not the stress that causes the "bad stuff" to occur, rather it's the way we handle that stress. Almeida clarifies his findings"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 study, started in 1995, was conducted by calling 2,000 people eight consecutive nights and asking them multiple questions about how they handled life's everyday stresses during the pat 24 hours. Researchers asked about their moods, the physical health symptoms they had felt, and the types of stressful events they had to face that day, among other questions. Saliva was also collected on four out of those eight days to measure the subjects' amount of stress hormone present. The subjects were re-visited ten years later in and it was found that those who indicated they were more upset because of the stressful situations in 1995 were more likely to suffer from chronic pains and cardiovascular disease in 2005. 
     Everybody reacts to stress differently. It is clear from this study, however, that the more healthy way to worry about stressors is to simply not worry about or be upset them. As always there is of course a chance that there is no causation between being upset by stress and being more likely to have chronic diseases, as the ones who got the pains or diseases could have gotten them anyway. Also I think it is interesting that the study goes mainly off of people making judgment calls about themselves, as everybody has a different definition as to what "upsets" them or not. To counter this, the study (which can be viewed here) also includes the average level of affect on "non-stressor days" along with a neuoroticism score.         
     This however, also does not account for the situations the subjects are in, which is important because some people lead lives that would put them at a greater risk for chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease may be the prime example for this). Also noted in the paper, being in a more negative environment may lead people to perceive situations as more stressful than they really are.
      While this study did convince me that being upset by everyday stresses is unhealthy, I believe a much more in detail study needs to be conducted in order to fully accept these results. That being said since I am not a person who worries much about daily life, I see myself as unaffected by this study. The theory its self does make sense; dwelling on life's daily stresses certainly cannot be good for you. But as we have learned time and time again in this class, theories without really proper science are often times incorrect. So what do you think Science 200? Did this study convince you enough to change the way you react to stressors, or would you like to see more science on the matter?

3 Comments

I think this is a really interesting blog topic! My mom is always telling me that if I stress out now, I'll get wrinkles when I'm old. According to your blog, there could even be some truth in this.
With the elections upon us, I thought it was appropriate to connect this study with a similar, more, political one. It's been noted over the years that when a president enters office, compared to when he leaves office, he looks significantly older. His face is generally more wrinkly and his hair has more grays. This rapid aging has been linked to the stress he endures during his time in office. This moduleby Time Magazine is really cool and shows before and after photos of several presidents. I would definitely give it a look to see what I mean. To me, these photos are more telling than any evidence a scientific study could give that proves stress causes premature aging.

This study wasn't very convincing to me. Like you said, each of the 2,000 people experimented are in different situations in life which is never taken into account in the study. The design of the study calls for the honesty of its participants when asking about their stressful endeavors and reactions. Answers can be tampered with unconsciously by the respondents needs for social desirability. Social desirability is the bias tendency to impress others. Also, correlation does not equal causation, so who's to say the stress in a person's life ten years ago is the direct cause of their cardiovascular disease ten years later? I feel handling stressful situations in a happy way does have benefits, but not necessarily ten years down the road with the way your heart works.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_desirability_bias

I wouldn't trust the people as much as I would trust the saliva samples. One reason is because people tend to exaggerate or be over-dramatic. Currently, I am very stressed out because I am pledging a fraternity. It is easily the most stressed out I've ever been in my life, and that is part of the reason I'm doing my homework at 2 a.m. (lack of time). When I hear other people complain about there stress and they give bogus reason, I get irritated. So, like I said, you can't trust ALL of the people saying that they are stressed. Overall, I definitely agree that stress can cause a lot of problem's in ones life. It can weaken your immune system, throw off your sleeping patterns, and like you wrote, it can have a long term effect on your body. Everyone should find a good way to deal with there stress and never keep it to yourself. Talk to someone! (in my opinion)

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