Study finds that experiences of daily stress decrease as people age

Stories about how daily stress can negatively impact people’s lives, from physical health to mental and emotional well-being, are frequently in the media. But there is good news about the experience of daily stress as people age. Results from a recent research study led by David Almeida, professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, showed that the number of daily stressors and people’s reactivity to daily stressors decreases with age. The findings were published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

“There’s something about growing old that leads to fewer stressors,” said Almeida. “This could be the types of social roles that we fill as we age. As younger people, we may be juggling more, including jobs, families and homes, all of which create instances of daily stress. But as we age, our social roles and motivations change. Older people talk about wanting to maximize and enjoy the time they have.”

The research team utilized data from the National Study of Daily Experiences (NSDE), a national study led by Almeida at Penn State that has collected comprehensive data on daily life from over 40,000 days in the lives of more than 3,000 adults across a 20-year time span, starting in 1995. Respondents were aged 25 to 74 when the study began and were invited to participate in the NSDE from the larger Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute on Aging.

Respondents participated in telephone interviews that assessed daily levels of stress for eight consecutive days. These daily assessments were repeated at approximately nine-year intervals, providing a longitudinal daily diary across 20 years.

The researchers noted a decrease in the effects of daily stress both in the number of daily stressors that people reported, as well as their emotional reactivity to them. For example, 25-year-olds reported stressors on nearly 50% of days, while 70-year-olds reported stressors on only 30% of days.

In addition to the decrease in the number of daily stressors reported, Almeida and the research team also found that as people age, they are less emotionally reactive to daily stressors when they do happen.

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