Conflicting with popular belief, stressors are not the cause of health issues, rather, it is people’s reactions to these stressors that measure whether the future will hold negative health consequences, suggests a new study that appears in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

The research showed that a reaction to a stressful situation now, can predict your health problems for 10 years down the road, regardless of your present health and stressors.

David Almeida, professor of human development and family studies at Penn state says, “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.”

A group of participants who took part in the MIDUS (Midlife in the United States) study, a national longitudinal study of health and well-being, were recruited by Almeida and his team to examine the relationships among stressful happenings in everyday life, people’s reactions to those events, and their health and condition 10 years in the future.

The investigators questioned, by phone, 2,000 people every night for eight nights about what happened to them in the previous 24 hours.

They questioned the participants regarding the following topics:

  • moods
  • physical health symptoms
  • productivity
  • stressful events experienced
  • use of their time

Examples of stressful events they might experience are: sitting in traffic, arguing with someone, or taking care of a sick person.

By only asking people about the last 24 hours of their lives, and then examining the days to follow, the authors were able to see the ins and outs of the participants’ daily experiences.

Saliva samples were gathered from the 2,000 people, at four different times, on four of the eight days. Measurements of the stress hormone cortisol were collected from the saliva.

The researchers then connected the information they collected with the data from the larger MIDUS study, demographic information of volunteers, their health issues, personalities, and their social networks.

The authors found that the volunteers who became troubled by daily stressors and still harp on them even after they have passed, were more inclined to have chronic health problems, specifically pain (from arthritis or cardiovascular issues), 10 years down the road.

Almeida explained:

“I like to think of people as being 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. 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.”

The authors believe certain types of people may be more likely to have stress in their lives. These individuals include young people, those with higher cognitive abilities, and people with higher levels of education.

Almeida then concluded:

“Our research shows that people age 65 and up tend to be more reactive to stress than younger people, likely because they aren’t exposed to a lot of stress at this stage in their lives, and they are out of practice in dealing with it. Younger people are better at dealing with it because they cope with it so frequently.

Likewise, 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 an indication that a person’s life is hard and troublesome, however, it may mean that they just lead an active an active life and participate in many events going on around them.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald