How You Respond to Stress Important for Your Health ; Don't Build Anger or Fear beyond Stimuli

Article excerpt

When it comes to stress, it's better to be Teflon than Velcro. Don't let stress stick to you like fuzzy stuff to Velcro. Let it slide away, like a cooked pancake off a Teflon skillet.

Psychologists long have known that chronic stress causes psychological ailments such as depression, anxiety and anger. But "reactivity" to stress - or the overreaction to stress - gets physical and can lead to cardiovascular and infectious diseases. It makes people more susceptible to the common cold - or worse.

Until recently, studies focused on chronic stress. Now a Penn State University study says a person's inability to handle the "minor hassles of life" on a daily basis - a pending deadline, unpaid bills, road rage, a burdensome chore or a spat with a loved one or colleague - also affects health.

In 1995, the Penn State research team interviewed 435 participants each day for eight days to gauge the stress levels they experienced, and their reactions to the stress. The team also did saliva tests to measure their levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. A decade later, in 2005, the team repeated the testing regimen.

Published recently in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, the study found emotional reactivity to daily stress was "associated with an increased risk" that a participant would report a chronic physical health condition 10 years later.

"Daily stressors are less severe than chronic stressors, but they are nonetheless associated with adverse same-day physical health outcomes," the study says, noting the occurrence of fatigue, sore throat, headache and backache.

Reactivity to daily hassles also can lead to hypertension, stressful social interactions that increase the risk for metabolic syndrome that's a precursor to type 2 diabetes and even cardiovascular disease. The study says the problem isn't stress but a person's reaction to it.

Velcro and Teflon types face daily stress. But Velcro types respond more emotionally and have problems letting the moment pass. For them, every unit increase in stressor reactivity results in a rise of 10 percent in the risk that participants in the study would report a chronic health condition 10 years later.

"I think our activities of daily life have evolved faster than body physiology," said David Almeida, a doctor of psychology at Penn State's Center for Healthy Aging, and the study leader. "We are trying to determine who the Teflon people are and who the Velcro people are. …