Being Well Talk: “Stress: How it Affects our Health and Aging”

Stress happens to us all. On Tuesday evening Dec 2nd, NC State Professor Shevaun Neupert told an audience of two dozen diners at the Irregardless Cafe that each of us can determine how we react to the stressful events in our lives.

First of all, there is no question that Stress is not good for our health. It also increases the aging process. Folks that are stressed out have reduced work productivity, reduced ability to cognizance, often forget important information and experience physical health symptoms.

Prof Neupert described her research that found patterns in how various populations experienced stress. There is clear evidence that younger people with limited education tend to over-react to stress and have poor coping abilities.

People can adapt to their circumstances via personal mastery: the ability to achieve their goals. Often younger people perceive themselves to have greater constraints and obstacles which interfere with their goals.

People who are able to adapt to daily stressful events and maintain well-being are generally older adults, who have higher levels of education and feel a strong sense of self-control.

Prof Neupert then addressed the very pertinent question for this time of year “So what can we do about stress?” She answered “By anticipating potential stressful events”.

Statistics were presented that demonstrated the benefit of preparing for stressful, upcoming events in reducing reactivity to stressors. This is called “Context-Specific Anticipatory Coping”, examples are:
* Plan rehearsal: “I come up with a plan”
* Problem analysis: “I analyze the source of the problem”
* Stagnant deliberation: “I think about how to solve the problem, but the thoughts just spin around in my head”
* Outcome fantasy: “I daydream about the problem fixing itself”
All of these coping mechanisms are associated with an increased ability to cope with future stressful events.

Prof Neupert concluded that maintenance of daily emotional and physical well-being and reduction of negative responses to stressors is related to:
* Higher education
* Strong perception of control
* Older age

Maintenance of daily memory (especially for older adults) is related to:
* Less stressor exposure
* Planning ahead for likely upcoming stressors
* Matching anticipatory coping to the needs of the events.