Notre Dame professor of psychology, Cindy Bergeman, gave a special lecture this past Saturday on the way different people experience the negative effects of stress on their lifespan and day-to-day experiences. The talk also touched on Bergeman’s ongoing research, which looks at the short and long term effects of stressors and how coping techniques can affect resilience.
The body has many predictable reactions to stressful situations. Blood pressure rises, there is an increase of glucose levels to the muscles, breathing rate increases, and so on. These results are useful in a survival situation, but not in daily life where there are few needs for a flight-or-fight response. Unfortunately, the body’s reaction doesn’t change regardless of whether the stressor is a charging lion or an approaching deadline.
Bergeman’s work has been a ten-year study that mixes daily and yearly assessments to understand the influence of both chronic stress and one-time events. Daily life is important, but what is stressful today may not necessarily impact one’s health a decade from now. This is why Bergeman is taking a broad view of lifespan since it could be major one-time events (death of a loved one for instance) or a series of smaller pressures and hassles that have the most detrimental impacts.
Also of interest is the different ways people interpret their own stresses. Some people, for instance, view stressors as threats to fear or avoid. Others shut down in the face of a stressful situation. There are also those who interpret stressors as a challenge to overcome and will charge head on. How these sorts of reactions influence the negative or positive effects of stress on one’s lifespan, health, and aging, is another dimension of Bergeman’s studies. Although the study is entering its final year, she is hoping to extend it another five in order to get a broader and more thorough picture to work off of.
Klingerman, B., “How Stress Gets Under The Skin,” Notre Dame Research web site, September 16, 2016; https://research.nd.edu/news/69784-how-stress-gets-under-the-skin/, last accessed September 19, 2016.