In this article, our expert Dr Kate Edwards – Lecturer in Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Sydney – reviews the mixed benefits of a stressor-free life at Emotion 2021 Charles et al. and breaks it down to give us the vital parts we need to know. 

Background

A life with no stress, that might sound idyllic to some, but new research has shown it comes with some downsides too.

Most stress research has focussed on the effects of lots of stress, and mostly we find that high levels of stress have negative effects on physical and psychological heath. 

But what about no stress at all, would that be the healthiest possible option?

What did the study measure?

In this study researchers asked 2,804 people about their experience every day for a week and identified a group (10% of the whole) who reported no stress events at all. Then they looked at their health. 

What did the study find?

These people were pretty healthy, they reported higher levels of daily well-being (i.e., higher positive affect and lower negative affect) and fewer chronic illnesses than those who reported stressors. 

But they also had less active daily lives and lower levels of cognitive function. So why might a stress-fee life not be the greatest thing? 

Well, in this study the people identified as stress-free had less activity and less social connection. They both offered and received emotional support less often from others and they reported fewer daily positive experiences. 

So, it might be that life was stress free, but also more boring!

It’s not surprising that those with no stressors were less socially active, because it’s known that social interactions are the most common source of daily stress or uplifts. 

How much weight should we give this research?

What this study didn’t measure was participants social network size and they only measured over a one-week period, so more data is needed to generalise the findings further.

What’s the key takeaway from this research?

The finding that cognitive function was lower in stress free people might be related to the lower levels of activity and interaction, the old adage says ‘use it or lose it’ and that could be what’s being found here. If we don’t experience events (both positive and negative) we don’t get to solve problems, resolve an argument or think through the best options, and doing all those things help keep our brains functioning well.