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  • Cameron Oglesby

Is stress good or bad for you? (Yes)

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Conventional wisdom links stress with chronic illness, emotional issues, and other physical risks. But is the oppoite true? Does the absence of stress make you healthier and happier?

Not necessarily, according to a recent Penn State study.

“The assumption has always been that stress is bad,” said David Almeida, professor of human development and family studies. “I took a step back and thought, what about people who report never having stress? My previous work focused on people who have higher versus lower levels of stress, but I’d never questioned what it looks like if people experience no stress. Are they the healthiest of all?”

Before the study, its 2,711 participants took a short cognition test. Then for the next eight consecutive nights, researchers asked them about their mood, any physical symptoms (e.g., headaches or coughs) they’d had, and what they’d done during the day – specifically including frustrating and stressful experiences and positive ones.

About ten percent of the participants – 200 or so – reported no stressors whatever during the day, along with fewer health issues and better moods.

So far, so good.

But they also performed lower on the cognition test – with the difference equalling more than eight years of aging. And they were less likely to report positive things having happened during the day.

So while stress isn’t fun, it can be mentally stimulating.

“[E]xperiencing stressors creates opportunities for you to solve a problem” like “having an argument with someone” or “having your computer break down” could be “a marker for someone who has a busy and maybe full life,” Almeida explained.

What’s important, he concluded, is neither the stress itself nor the challenges it creates, but “how people respond to stressors. Respond[ing] to a stressor by being upset and worried is more unhealthy than the number of stressors you encounter.”

As with so many other things in life, different people handle different stresses in different ways. That’s why, at Senior Insights, we focus on the person.

It’s why our initial three-part holistic needs assessment goes beyond superficial physical health to also look at mental health, functional and social abilities, cognitive health, and even a safety evaluation, to uncover important information that neither our clients nor their families may have known.

And why our monthly Registered Nurse assessments go way beyond just taking vital signs and are more like mini-needs assessments.

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