Middle adulthood and stress Essay

Stress affects individuals physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally on every level of human development.  This essay will focus mainly on stress during middle adulthood and discuss how stress affects individuals at this stage during human development.  This stage spans from 40 years of age to 65.  Individuals do not possess the strength, coordination, and stamina that we had during our twenties and thirties.  But during this period we remain pretty stable, there is only a slight physical decline - Middle adulthood and stress Essay introduction.  Personality development and adjustment theories, such as Erison’s give a way of defining life crisis of the middle years.  He regarded this level as generativity versus stagnation.  A period of striving to having and raising our children well and making our mark in the world or we do things that are worthwhile.  We do this to enhance and maintain our self-esteem.  With Eriksonians it is the ideal of shaping the new generation.  This could be the raising of their children or working to make the world a better place.  Levinson’s theory, midlife transition, is a dramatic shift in psychological perspective.  This is a marked time of thinking how much time we have left.  Individuals will think more of what they could have accomplished rather than what the future can bring (Rathus & Nevid, 1999).  Whatever the theory they may be experiencing the crisis that arises produces stress.

Defining stress is “the mental and/or physical strain resulting from adjustive demands or challenges” (Cohen, 1994 p.148).  Most people must adjust to a life that is less than perfect.  We need to adapt to stress not just the stress of crises or unexpected good fortune, but also the stress of everyday minor demands.  Every adjustment is an attempt to balance our desires against the demands of the environment, to weigh our needs against the reality of achievement.  How we adjust to the stress that we endure is crucial to our health and the quality of our lives.  Stress can hurt you psychologically and physically.  All major life changes involve a certain amount of stress.  This is because major life changes typically bring strong emotions, and even joy or elation that can cause arousal in the body and begin to take a toll on its resources (Morris & Maisto, 1999).  Major life events are stressful because any new experience requires some adjustment.  Change is one of the most common event that causes stress.  Middle adulthood has middle life crisis for dealing with this stressor.  Most people crave order, continuity and predictability in their lives.  So anything that disrupts this order, good or bad, will cause stress (Rathus & Nevid, 1999).  But there are other factors to look at when looking at stress.

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Pressures, Frustrations, conflict and self-imposed stressors are events that give individuals stress.  Pressures happen when we feel forced to speed up, intensify, or shift directions in our behaviors.  It can happen when we feel compelled to meet a higher standard of performance.  This can come internally or externally.  Frustration happens when a person is prevented from reaching a goal because of something or someone who might stand in their way.  Individuals must adjust to this by modifying goals or finding a way around the block.  Conflict is the most common.  Conflict arises when we face two or more incompatible demands, opportunities, needs or goals (Morris & Maisto, 1999 p.481).  These conflicts can never be resolved completely so individuals must give up some of their goals, modify them, or delay going after them.  And sometimes individuals create problems for themselves apart from stressful events in their environment.  Many people carry with them a set of irrational, self-defeating belief that adds unnecessarily to the normal stresses of life as with mid-life crisis.

The transition to midlife can cause a crisis that is referred to as mid-life crisis and entrapment and loss of purpose is marked by this point in life.  The midlife crisis is composed of feelings of personal mortality, emotional instability, loss of meaning, and dissatisfaction with life at home and on the job (Cohen, 1994 p.515).  Cognitive interaction is continuous between the physiological, emotional, and cognitive aspects of human nature.  Emotions include physiological, emotional and cognitive “components” (Rathus & Nevid, 1999 p.170).  High levels of bodily arousal in response to stress heighten our emotional responses and influence our cognitions.  Even the emotional effects of stress can cause physical symptoms in individuals.  Positive emotions such as love and desire can fill us with pleasure, but negative emotions like those induced by stress can cause problems.  There are three emotional responses that come from stress Anxiety, anger and depression.  Anxiety is in response to threats, anger to frustration and social provocation.  Depression, something middle adulthood sees more often, arises to the response of stressors like death, failure, inactivity or lack of stimulation (Rathus & Nevid, 1999 p. 169).

Health psychology has become a big topic when dealing with stress.  The relationship between psychological factors and prevention and treatment of physical illness has become big business for pharmaceuticals and middle adulthood.  Many studies point to a correlation of stress and certain illnesses including cancer (Rathus & Nevid, 1999 p. 165).  Science is looking at how stress and the immune system interact and this has helped with relief for physical disorders ranging from headaches to heart disease.  Examining the ways in which our behavior patters, like smoking, contribute to or can help us prevent and cope with physical disorders with many affecting us in middle age.

One thing that has been shown to reduce or buffer the effects of stress is social support.  “Research shows that social support moderates the impact of stress in situations ranging from problems at work to disasters” (Cohen, 1994 p.154).  It is useful for people who have stress to get together and talk about their feelings or ideas to support one another are useful.  And studies of Alameda County, California have found that people who receive social support may even live longer (Rathus & Nevid, 1999 p. 155).  So when looking at stress and middle adulthood one should keep in mind the effects of stress and how it relates to them and their level of development.  If middle adults understand this maybe the transition to late adulthood will be a smooth transition with reduced or no stress.



Cohen, R.J. (1994).  Psychology & adjustment: values, culture, and change.   Boston:     Allyn and Bacon.

Morris, C.G., & Maisto, A.A. (1999). Psychology: an introduction.  New Jersey: Prentice           Hall.

Rathus, S.A., & Nevid, J.S. (1999). Adjustment and growth: The challenges of life.  Fort             Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

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