According to recent research, having a positive attitude toward one’s own aging may help older adults cope with stress by reducing negative reactions to difficult events.
Researchers recruited 43 community-dwelling older adults (age 60-96) to participate in a survey that examined their attitudes toward their own aging, daily stressors, and daily negative affect. Once a night for nine nights, participants were asked to indicate the types of stressors they experienced over the past 24 hours, such as disagreements or health issues. They also reported the degree to which they experienced each of 10 negative emotions. Demographic and personality characteristics were also collected.
As might be expected, on days that participants experienced a greater number of stressors, they also reported significantly greater negative affect. Participants’ attitudes toward aging, however, had an interesting effect on how they responded to stress.
On less stressful days, participants generally reported a similar degree of (low) negative affect, regardless of their attitudes toward aging. On more stressful days, however, participants who reported more positive attitudes toward aging maintained a relatively low degree of negative affect, but participants with less positive attitudes toward aging reported a significantly higher degree of negative affect. Age, gender, education, personality, and chronic conditions did not alter this effect.
Individuals who hold more positive attitudes toward aging appear to react to stress in a healthier way. They are more able to cope with the issue, allowing them to maintain relatively low levels of negative affect. However, it is unclear from this study how this works; for example, older adults with more positive attitudes toward aging may have more positive attitudes in general, helping them to cope with stress better, or those with less positive attitudes may have a heightened reaction to stress. In either case, interventions targeting attitudes toward aging should provide older adults with another tool to utilize in times of stress.
Bellingtier JA and Neupert SD. Negative aging attitudes predict greater reactivity to daily stressors in older adults. Journal of Gerontology Series B: (2018); 73(7): 1155-1159.