Older People Experience Less Daily Stress, Research Claims

Older People Experience Less Daily Stress, Research Claims
José Padilla

Written and verified by the psychologist José Padilla.

Last update: 09 January, 2023

For most of us, life today is stressful. We have to pay bills, meet certain responsibilities at work or college, and push ourselves to reach our goals, etc. Time passes quickly and doesn’t give us a break and, as productive as we are, the pressure increases.

For many people, their daily demands generate the kind of stress that exhausts them. It’s like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. However, if you’re dealing with a great deal of stress in your life, it seems there’s no need to worry as a recent study claims that it’s most likely to improve eventually.

Daily stress and health

It’s no secret that, although stress can help you function, when it’s excessive it can negatively affect your health. The longer it lasts, the worse it is for both your mind and body.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), long-term activation of our stress response system may increase the risk of physical and mental health problems. These include anxiety, depression, digestive problems, muscle tension and pain, high blood pressure, sleep problems, weight gain, and impaired memory and concentration.

Therefore stress on a daily basis doesn’t make for a good companion if you want to enjoy good health. However, it’s not all bad news. In fact, in 2022, David Almeida (2022), a professor at Penn State University (USA) conducted a study concerning daily stress and our responses to it.

stressed woman
Daily stress has effects on the mind and body.

Older people experience less daily stress

Almeida’s team used data from the National Study of Daily Experiences (NSDE). This is a national study that collected data on the daily lives of more than 3,000 adults over 20 years. The aim of the research was to examine age-related patterns in respect of exposure and affective reactivity to stressors.

The people who formed the study sample were aged between 25 and 74. They were invited to participate in the Macarthur Foundation Study of Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project. It was led by the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Participants conducted telephone interviews for eight consecutive days to assess their daily stress levels. These assessments were repeated at approximately nine-year intervals, providing longitudinal data over 20 years.

Older people experience less daily stress

The results of Almeida’s study indicated that older adults experience less daily stress. In fact, their number of daily stressors and emotional reactivity were both reduced.

The data suggested that 25-year-olds reported stressor days almost 50 percent of the time. On the other hand, adults aged 70 and over reported stressor days only 30 percent of the time.

Therefore, it appears that stress triggers reduce with age. Moreover, in addition to the decrease in the number of daily stressors, the research found that, as people age, they respond less emotionally to daily stressors when they do occur.

“A 25-year-old is much grumpier on the days they experience a stressor, but as we age, we really figure out how to decrease those exposures” Almeida stated in a Penn State news release.

Daily stress tends to decrease until the mid-50s, which is when people seem to be less affected by stress. Interestingly, Almeida also argues that advancing age (late 60s and early 70s) might actually bring more challenges and a slight increase in daily stress.

We all age in our own way. How we do it depends not only on the challenges and stressors we face but also on how we respond to and manage those situations.

“With this new research it’s encouraging to see that, as we age, we begin to deal with these stressors better. On average, the experience of daily stress will not get worse, but in fact better,” Almeida said.

Senior woman thinking about retirement
According to some studies, emotional intelligence increases in older people. This implies better emotional management.

Post-pandemic findings 

Almeida’s team is now awaiting the next data collection for MIDUS. It’ll be the first since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This new data will help to assess the impact of the pandemic on daily reactivity to stress. In addition, it’ll allow further study of how people grow and change during adulthood.

“Growing older from 35 to 65 is very different than growing older from 65 to 95,” Almeida said. “We’ve started to see that in the data already, but this next round of data collection and analysis will give us an even greater understanding of what that looks like.”

Thanks to this study, we now know that older adults experience less daily stress. Therefore, you can be confident that time will work in your favor. However, this doesn’t mean that you should simply wait for time to pass. In fact, you can start now by better managing and facing the stressful situations you face on a daily basis.

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.