5 minute read

Stress and Coping

Future Directions

Research on stress and coping has successfully identified a variety of stressful life events and chronic strains that are risk factors for depression and declining health in older adults. In addition, research has identified promising mediating and moderating factors that can be useful both for research and clinical purposes aimed at enhancing coping with stress. Intervention research has generally been promising, in that older adults can successfully be taught new coping skills that improve coping with such stressors as family caregiving, health problems, and bereavement.

However, several major concerns are apparent. Research on stress and coping in old age usually examines age differences using cross-sectional study designs. Few attempts have been made to explore developmental changes in stress and coping processes with advancing age. An important issue to explore is how stress appraisals and coping strategies change over time in the context of development.

Another concern is that the widespread use of checklists to assess stressful life events and coping strategies may have serious limitations in advancing our knowledge about stress. New research methods using self-monitoring have been developed to look at the coping of individuals with daily stressors across daily episodes of coping. Some of these studies have focused specifically on problems relevant to aging (such as coping with pain and alcohol use as a coping strategy) and may provide researchers with new methodologies to improve our understanding of this vital area of research.

Finally, a relatively unexplored area has been the study of racial and ethnic diversity as factors affecting stress and coping in late life. A small but compelling body of literature suggests that such stressors as caregiving may be coped with quite differently by subgroups such as African Americans and Mexican Americans. For example, African Americans have been found to perceive caregiving in late life as a relatively benign and expected responsibility, and to evidence lower levels of depression than white caregivers in several studies. As the older population in the United States is becoming increasingly diverse, studies of how cultural diversity affects stress and coping will be extremely important.




ALDWIN, C. M. Stress, Coping, and Development— An Intergrative Perspective. New York: Guilford Press, 1994.

ANESHENSEL, C. S.; PEARLIN, L. I.; MULLAN, J. T.; ZARIT, S. H.; and WHITLATCH, C. J. Profiles in Caregiving. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 1995.

AVISON, W. R., and GOTLIB, I. H. Stress and Mental Health—Contemporary Issues and Prospects for the Future. New York: Plenum, 1994.

BISCONTI, T. L., and BERGEMAN, C. S. ‘‘Perceived Social Control as a Mediator of the Relationships among Social Support, Psychological Well-Being and Perceived Health.’’ The Gerontologist 39 (1999): 94–103.

BODNAR, J. C., and KIECOLT-GLASER, J. K. ‘‘Caregiver Depression After Bereavement: Chronic Stress Isn’t Over When It’s Over.’’ Psychology and Aging 9 (1994): 372–380.

COSTA, P. T., and MCCRAE, R. R. ‘‘Psychological Stress and Coping in Old Age.’’ In Handbook of Stress: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects. Edited by L. Goldberger and S. Breznitz. New York: Free Press, 1993. Pages 403–412.

FOLKMAN, S. ; LAZARUS, R. S.; PIMLEY, S.; and NOVACEK, J. ‘‘Age Differences in Stress and Coping Processes.’’ Psychology and Aging 2 (1987): 171–184.

GEORGE, L. K. ‘‘Social Factors and Illness.’’ In Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences. Edited by R. H. Binstock and L. K. George. San Diego: Academic Press, 1996. Pages 229–252.

GLASS, T. A.; KASL, S. V.; and BERKMAN, L. F. ‘‘Stressful Life Events and Depressive Symptoms among the Elderly.’’ Journal of Aging and Health 9 (1997): 70–89.

GOODE, K. T.; HALEY, W. E.; ROTH, D. L.; and FORD, G. R. ‘‘Predicting Longitudinal Changes in Caregiver Physical and Mental Health: A Stress Process Model.’’ Health Psychology 17 (1998): 190–198.

GOTTLIEB, B. H. Coping with Chronic Stress. New York: Plenum, 1997.

HALEY, W. E., and BAILEY, S. ‘‘Research on Family Caregiving in Alzheimer’s Disease: Implications for Practice and Policy.’’ In Research and Practice in Alzheimer’s Disease, Vol. 2. Edited by B. Vellas and L. J. Fitten. Paris, France: Serdi Publisher, 1999. Pages 321–332.

HALEY, W. E.; ROTH, D. L.; COLETON, M. I.; FORD, G. R.; WEST, C. A. C.; COLLINS, R. P.; and ISOBE T. L. ‘‘Appraisal, Coping, and Social Support as Mediators of Well-Being in Black and White Family Caregivers of Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.’’ Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64 (1996): 121–129.

KAPLAN, H. B. Psychological Stress—Perspectives on Structure, Theory, Life-Course, and Methods. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 1996.

KIECOLT-GLASER, J. K.; DURA, J. R.; SPEICHER, C. E.; TRASK, O. J. ; and GLASER, R. ‘‘Spousal Caregivers of Dementia Victims: Longitudinal Changes in Immunity and Health.’’ Psychosomatic Medicine 53 (1991): 345–362.

LAZARUS, R. S. ‘‘The Role of Coping in the Emotions and How Coping Changes over the Life Course.’’ In Handbook of Emotion, Adult Development, and Aging. Edited by C. Magai and S. H. McFadden. San Diego: Academic Press, 1996. Pages 289–306.

LAZARUS, R. S., and FOLKMAN, S. Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1984.

MCCRAE, R. R. ‘‘Age Differences and Changes in the Use of Coping Mechanisms.’’ Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences 44 (1989): P161–P169.

MURRELL, S. A.; NORRIS, F. H.; and HUTCHINS, G. L. ‘‘Distribution and Desirability of Life Events in Older Adults: Population and Policy Implications.’’ Journal of Community Psychology 12 (1984): 301–311.

NEWSOM, J. T., and SCHULZ, R. ‘‘Social Support as a Mediator in the Relation Between Functional Status and Quality of Life in Older Adults.’’ Psychology and Aging 11 (1996): 34–44.

NOLEN-HOEKSEMA, S., and DAVIS, C. G. ‘‘Thanks for Sharing That: Ruminators and Their Social Support Networks.’’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (1999): 801–804.

PARGAMENT, K. I., and BRANT, C. R. ‘‘Religion and Coping.’’ In Religion and Mental Health. Edited by Harold G. Koenig. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998. Pages 111–128.

PEARLIN, L. I., and SKAFF, M. M. ‘‘Stressors and Adaptation in Later Life.’’ In Emerging Issues in Mental Health. Edited by M. Gatz. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1995. Pages 97–123.

ROBERT, B. L.; DUNKLE, R.; and HAUG, M. ‘‘Physical, Psychological, and Social Resources as Moderators of the Relationship of Stress to Mental Health of the Very Old.’’ Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 49 (1994): S35–S43.

SCHULZ, R., and BEACH, S. R. ‘‘Caregiving as a Risk Factor for Mortality—The Caregiver Health Effects Study.’’ Journal of the American Medical Association 282 (1999): 2215–2219.

SOMERFIELD, M. R., and MCCRAE, R. R. ‘‘Stress and Coping Research—Methodological Challenges, Theoretical Advances, and Clinical Applications.’’ American Psychologist 55 (2000): 620–625.

STALLINGS, M. C.; DUNHAM, C. C.; GATZ, M.; BAKER, L. A.; and BENGTSON, V. L. ‘‘Relationship among Life Events and Psychological Well-Being: More Evidence for A Two-Factor Theory of Well-Being.’’ Journal of Applied Gerontology 16 (1997): 104–119.

ZAUTRA, A. J.; HOFFMAN, J. M.; and REICH, J. W. ‘‘The Role of Two Kinds of Efficacy Beliefs in Maintaining the Well-Being of Chronically Stressed Older Adults.’’ In Coping with Chronic Stress. Edited by B. H. Gottlieb. New York: Plenum Press, 1997. Pages 269–290.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Stress and Coping - The Stress Process Paradigm, Types Of Stressors, Individual Differences In Coping With Stress, Coping Responses