Study Finds Women Become Less Stressed With Age
Or maybe we just learn to handle it better?
In 2011, a study hit the headlines, identifying women in their 40s and 50s as the most stressed-out group of people. Since that time, additional research has emerged on both sides, either validating the original study or suggesting women approaching midlife are actually less stressed and enjoy a better quality of life than other age groups. Which is it?
It’s an important question, especially for Indian women — the most stressed demographic in the world, according to a 2011 study.
” I thought [sic] my life was extremely stressful in my 20s and 30s,” says Tina, 42, of Mumbai. “Now I laugh at my younger self.”
It’s an arc borne out by new research analyzing data from more than 3,000 women between the ages of 42-53 who participated in a national health survey in the US. The analysis found that over a 15-year span, the levels of perceived stress for this age group decreased.
Perceived stress is an important distinction; it’s not a measure of actual stressors, but rather a measure of confidence, control and ability to cope with stress. Perceived stress decreased even across other influencing factors, including for women with less education and more financial hardship.
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“The neat thing is that for most of us, our perception of stress decreases as we age through the midlife — perhaps life itself is becoming less stressful, or maybe we’re finally feeling at the top of our game, or maybe things just don’t bother us the way they did,” says Elizabeth Hedgeman, who led the study as a doctoral graduate with the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Perhaps things just don’t bother us as much as we age, whether due to emotional experience or neurochemical changes. It’s all worth exploring.”
Most of the women we spoke to laughed, like Tina, at the idea that life is less stressful at their current age than when they were younger. But they acknowledge their attitudes toward stress have changed over time, as have the things that stress them.
“In many ways life seems more stressful [now],” says Swati, 41, of Mumbai. “I feel I have less energy to handle things, aging parents and growing kids seem to all be acting childish at the same time. And even with work, it feels like a now or never opportunity to create something significant.”
But Swati adds that she’s now more aware of her experience of stress, and she’s learned how to manage stress better. She knows the value of healthy habits and self-care rituals now, she says, and is better at recognizing the signs of stress and walking away from irritants.
Tina’s way of handling stress has changed, too.
“I think age has taught me to not sweat the little stuff anymore,” she says. In her 40s, she’s taken a long-view to stress, a perspective she didn’t yet have in her younger years. “When I find myself getting agitated or stressed about a situation, I ask myself the question, ‘Is this going to matter in five minutes, five days, five weeks, five months or five years?’”
If the answer is minutes, days or weeks, she tries to let it go.
“It’s not always easy, but I am trying,” Tina says. “Oh, and wine helps, too.”
Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle's managing editor.