Young Adults Can Be Taught to Deal Effectively with Stress

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Young Adults Can Be Taught to Deal Effectively with Stress

Jim Windell


            The long-term effects of stress are well known. People who experience ongoing stress may experience headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue and sleep problems.

           But can you ward off these symptoms if you take preemptive steps to respond to stress?

           According to two recent studies from researchers at North Carolina State University, the answer is yes – especially for younger adults.

            The findings of these studies, published in the journal Forecasting, suggest that younger adults, in particular, can benefit significantly from using proactive skills to deal with stress. Proactive coping is an umbrella term for behaviors that allow people to avoid future stressors or prepare themselves to respond to those stressors. These proactive coping measures can be behavioral, such as saving money to deal with unexpected expenses, or cognitive, such as visualizing how to deal with potential challenges.

           In the first of the two studies, the researchers focused on skills that allowed people to concentrate on their goals when dealing with stressors. Enlisting 107 younger adults (ages 18-36) and 116 older adults (ages 60-90), for a total of 223 participants, those participants completed an initial survey that focused on understanding goal-oriented proactive coping behaviors that they used. The study participants then completed daily surveys for the next eight days, recording the stressors they experienced each day, as well as their physical health symptoms.

           According to Shevaun Neupert, corresponding author of a paper on the two studies and a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, “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 added that there was no positive or negative effect of proactive coping for older adults.

           The second study focused on efforts by subjects to avoid or prevent stressors. In this study, 140 people between the ages of 19 and 86 completed a baseline survey designed to capture their stress-prevention proactive coping behaviors. After that, the study participants completed daily surveys for 29 consecutive days, reporting on their daily stressors and physical health.

           The results of this study showed that adults between the ages of 19 and 36 who engaged in proactive coping reported little or no drop-off in physical health on stressful days, compared to adults in the same age range who engaged in less proactive coping. As with the first study, however, proactive coping had no effect for older adults.

           “The effects in both studies were linear,” said Neupert, “so the more proactive coping younger adults engaged in, the better their physical health on stressful days.”

           Neupert went on to explain that the findings of these studies suggest there is tremendous value in teaching young people how to engage in proactive coping. “These results are important for helping us work with people to build resilience, since proactive coping refers to skills that can be taught.”

           But it is college age people and young adults who seem to benefit the most from developing proactive skills.

           To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Neupert, S.D., Smith, E.L. & Schriefer, M.L. (2022). A Coordinated Analysis of Physical Reactivity to Daily Stressors: Age and Proactive Coping Matter. Forecasting 20224(4), 1004-1018;

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