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The Dark Side of Having No Stress

A new study indicates the stress-free life may not be as positive as it sounds.

  • About 10 percent of people surveyed over eight days did not report experiencing any of multiple kinds of stressors.
  • The no-stressors group reported more positive emotion and less negative emotion than other participants.
  • But they also tended to have lower results on a test of cognitive functioning and reported giving and getting emotional support less often.

“I am so stressed out!” “This is too much.” “I cannot take it anymore.” Who has not had thoughts like these at some particularly stressful point in their life?

Stress is a constant companion for many people these days. Thousands of scientific studies have investigated the potential negative psychological effects of too much stress, from burnout and depression to psychosomatic illness. This suggests that it would be optimal for one’s psychological well-being to have no stress at all.

But is this really true? What happens if you have little to no stress?

This question was the focus of a new study by researcher Susan T. Charles from the Department of Psychological Science at the University of California, Irvine, and her research team (Charles et al., 2021). In the study, the scientists analyzed data from the large Midlife in the United States Survey daily diary study. Overall, the data of 2,804 volunteers aged between 25 and 75 years were included in the study. Each of these volunteers was asked for eight consecutive days whether they had experienced one or more of seven different types of stressors:

  1. have an argument or a disagreement
  2. avoiding a disagreement
  3. stressor from home
  4. stressor from work or school
  5. discrimination
  6. network stressor
  7. other stressors

Overall, 9.7 percent of the volunteers (264 people) did not report any of these stressors during the study period.

Was there anything different about them?

Being stress-free in this study was related to several positive outcomes. Overall, these people had fewer chronic diseases and reported experiencing more positive emotions and less negative emotions than stressed people. However, they also had lower levels of cognitive functioning, as assessed using a 20-minute test of memory and thinking flexibility. Moreover, they gave and received emotional support less often than stressed people.

Those who reported none of the stressors also tended to be older and less educated, were more likely to be male, and were less likely to be married than stressed people.

The researchers concluded that social activities might be an important factor regarding the relationship between stress and well-being. Having many social connections and giving and receiving emotional support to and from others might be related to experiencing some stress every now and then in daily life. While these daily hassles might increase negative emotions compared to being stress-free, they can also motivate us to challenge our views and opinions and actively engage in solving problems.

So, next time you feel a bit stressed, remember: Having no stress at all may not be all positive.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Rido/Shutterstock


Charles, S. T., Mogle, J., Chai, H. W., & Almeida, D. M. (2021). The Mixed Benefits of a Stressor-Free Life. Emotion. Advance online publication.