TitleStress, coping, and aging
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsAldwin, C, Yancura, L, Lee, H
Book TitleHandbook of the Psychology of Aging
Pagination275 - 286
ISBN Number9780128160947

There are two central conundra in the field of stress, coping, and aging. First, why do older adults report less stress than do younger adults, despite the manifest problems of late life, such as increases in health problems of self and others, losses of loved ones, and restricted financial income? Second, why do older adults use fewer coping strategies? The decrease in self-reported stress is due to a number of factors, including declining participation in social roles such as work and active parenting, as well as a change in perspective brought about by having faced similar or worse problems in the past. Also, chronic health problems (e.g., hypertension) that are fairly well managed may not be perceived as “stressors” unless there is a crisis (e.g., stroke). However, there is also an apparent change in appraisal and coping strategies in later life that undoubtedly affect the perception of stress. While early theorists ascribed the decline in coping effort as a shift from active to passive coping, more contemporary models ascribe it to a change in motivation, for example, from extrinsic-instrumental to intrinsic-valuerational and/or as attempts at resource management due to environmental constraints. Allowing oneself to become upset over relatively minor problems may take a physiological toll on older adults, and not appraising these as stressors may help maintain emotional equilibrium. Older adults may use more proactive and anticipatory coping in order to avoid stressors. Coping efficacy also tends to be stable across time, suggesting that older adults may become more efficient copers, that is, expending less effort to greater effect. However, there are clearly individual differences in the trajectories of stress and coping processes, and theorists need to account for these individual differences. Nonetheless, the idea that older adults, barring cognitive impairment, may be more efficient copers may be a positive aspect of the aging process.