Stress Response in Men: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

September 16, 2014

Even the mundane irritants of daily life may be harmful to men's health according to research from Oregon State University's Center for Health Aging Research.

Men who experience high levels of stress, coming either from chronic everyday hassles or related to a series of significant life events, are likely to die earlier than the average for their peers, according to new research from Oregon State University (OSU).

The study looked at long-term patterns of two types of stress, specifically: the everyday annoyances such as commuting, job stress, or arguments with family and friends; and significant life events, such as job loss or the death of a spouse.

Both types appear to be harmful to men’s health, but each type of stress appears to have an independent effect on mortality, explained study author Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. Aldwin notes that someone experiencing several stressful life events does not necessarily have high levels of everyday stress; that is determined more by how a person reacts to the stress.

Rather than the number of hassles experienced, the harm appears to be related to the perception of how bad the bothersome experiences are. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs and published in the journal Experimental Gerontology.  

The researchers used data from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. They studied stressful life events and everyday hassles for 1293 men between 1989 and 2005 then followed the men until 2010. Approximately 43% of the men had died by the end of the study period.

About a third of the men who reported having few stressful life events had died, while closer to half of the men reporting moderate or high numbers of stressful events had died by the end of the study.

The lowest mortality rate (28.7%) was seen among men who reported few everyday hassles. Just under half of the men reporting a midrange number of hassles had died by the end of the study, while 64.3% of the men reporting a high number of hassles had died.

As Aldwin points out, basic life stress is nearly impossible to avoid-commuter traffic, waiting lines, spoiled dry cleaning-but reaction to these daily hassles can be modified. Coping skills are very important, including an effort to keep things in perspective. Aldwin also emphasizes that the findings are not a long-term predictor of health but more a snapshot of the effects of stress on men’s lives.  

Future research will explore the differential effects of specific stressors on health to see if the daily hassles and major life events have similar or different impacts on the body’s physiology.

References:

Aldwin CM, Jeong Y-J, Igarashi H, Choun S, Spiro A. Do hassles mediate between life events and mortality in older men? Exp Gerontol. 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.exger.2014.06.019