Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Elevated Stress Levels Increase Chance of Death

New study on stress and mortality

It is a well-known fact that one's lifestyle can affect one's mortality rate. A new study links high to moderate stress levels to an increase in mortality. According to the study, conducted by Carolyn Aldwin of Oregon State University, individuals who tend to live a more stressful life have a 50% higher chance of dying.

The Effects of Stress Later in Life

Published in the Journal of Aging Research, the study followed 1,000 men, all of whom were in good health and were among the working middle class, over an 18-year period, from 1985 to 2003. Most of the previously published studies on stress focused upon the ways in which stress events, such as graduation or a wedding, affected young people. The new research examined stress at a higher age, and over a longer period of time. It included events that typically occur more frequently at a middle or older age, such as a death in the family or placing a spouse in a retirement home. The individuals in the low stress group experienced two or less major stress events per year, while the ones in the moderate group had an average of three, and those in the high stress group had an average of six events.

How Much is Too Much?

The study yielded fairly surprising results. Namely, the rate of mortality of the three groups was not linear. Instead, it seems that experiencing anything more than two stressful events per year is harmful. Individuals in both the moderate and high risk groups had a much higher mortality rate than individuals in the low risk group. Long-term stress may impact how long someone lives much more than scientists first believed. Even moderate stress can have a critical effect over the long term, causing health issues and eventually leading to an earlier death. The threshold seems to be two stress events per year, with the human body unable to cope with more, at least not for very long. Stress has long been recognized as problematic to one's health and well-being, and a source of disease, but this study makes it a much higher priority.

Low Stress is the Key to a Longer Life

While the study did not focus upon short term stress or upon prevention, it clearly highlights the importance of keeping one's stress level low in order to improve one's health and chances of living a long life. We must remember that while many people turn to smoking or drinking in order to reduce stress, these things also increase the mortality rate and thus aren't good choices. Living a healthy life-style, and not worrying about things overly much may be the key to good health, at least as far as stress is concerned.

More from Robert Puff Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today