According to a recent study, younger adults who adopt proactive measures to deal with stress are better able to prevent those harmful health consequences.
The study was published in the journal, ‘Forecasting’. “The fact that we have two studies with the same results highlights the importance of proactive coping for younger adults when it comes to handling stress,” says Shevaun Neupert, corresponding author of a paper on the two studies and a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.
“These results are important for helping us work with people to build resilience, since proactive coping refers to skills that can be taught. The findings also suggest that younger adults, in particular, can benefit significantly from these skills.”
Proactive coping is an umbrella term for behaviors that allow people to avoid future stressors or prepare themselves to respond to those stressors. These can be behavioral, such as saving money to deal with unexpected expenses, or cognitive, such as visualizing how to deal with potential challenges.
“You can also think of proactive coping as a way of helping people continue to work toward their goals, even when dealing with challenges,” Neupert says.
The first of the two studies focused on skills that allowed people to concentrate on their goals when dealing with stressors.
For this study, the researchers enlisted 223 people: 107 younger adults (ages 18-36) and 116 older adults (ages 60-90). Study participants completed an initial survey that focused on understanding goal-oriented proactive coping behaviors that the participants engaged in. The participants then completed daily surveys for the next eight days, recording the stressors they experienced each day, as well as their physical health symptoms.
“We found that younger adults who consistently engaged in proactive coping, such as thinking about what they need in order to be successful, experienced fewer negative physical health symptoms on stressful days,” Neupert says. “However, there was no positive or negative effect of proactive coping for older adults.”
The second research concentrated on actions taken to mitigate or minimise stresses. 140 participants between the ages of 19 and 86 were recruited by the researchers for this study. Participants in the study completed a baseline survey to record their proactive coping strategies for stress management. Following that, the study subjects responded to daily questionnaires for a total of 29 days, disclosing their daily stresses and physical well-being.
In this study, the researchers discovered that, compared to adults in the same age range who engage in less proactive coping, those adults between the ages of 19 and 36 who engaged in proactive coping reported little to no drop-off in physical health on stressful days. Proactive coping, like the previous trial, had no impact on older persons.
“The effects in the both studies were linear, so the more proactive coping younger adults engaged in, the better their physical health on stressful days,” Neupert says.
“These findings suggest there is tremendous value in teaching young people how to engage in proactive coping, starting with college-age young adults, but extending through to people who are established in adulthood.”