Relation of chronic and episodic stressors to psychological distress, reactivity, and health problems

  • Stephen J. Lepore
  • Heather J. Miles
  • Jodi S. Levy


This study tested the hypothesis that exposure to chronic stressors, which reflect persistent, negative life situations, would have greater physiological, psychological, and physical health costs than exposure to episodic or intermediate-length stressors, which reflect relatively transient, negative life situations. We also tested whether cardiovascular reactivity, conceptualized as a marker of underlying pathophysiological states, would mediate the relation between chronic stress and psychological distress and illness. Participants were 75 male and 75 female college students. Compared with students experiencing few chronic life stressors, students experiencing many chronic life stressors had exaggerated cardiovascular responses to acute challenges, delayed recovery to resting levels of cardiovascular functioning after the acute challenges, elevated psychological distress levels, and they reported more illnesses. None of the outcomes was associated with the number of episodic or intermediate-length life stressors students experienced. Cardiovascular reactivitv did not mediate the stress—distress or stress—illness associations. The results suggest that ongoing stressors that are static are more detrimental to health and well-being than are episodic or change-related stressors.

Key words

cardiovascular reactivity chronic stress psychophysiology life events 


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Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen J. Lepore
    • 1
  • Heather J. Miles
    • 2
  • Jodi S. Levy
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Stanford UniversityPalo AltoUSA
  3. 3.Michigan State UniversityFast LinsingUSA

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