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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Daily stress and health symptoms : The mediating and moderating roles of biopsychosocial factors Hanson, Margaret D.


Psychological stress has been cited as a risk factor for poor health across the lifespan, in many cultures, and in both the human and animal literatures. In this program of research we tested potential psychological and biological mediators linking daily stressful life experiences to daily health symptoms. Namely, we tested whether the psychological factors of coping or emotional responses to stress, as well as biological responses of daily cortisol or sleep, mediated the daily stress-health association. A second goal of this research was to test whether stress-biology associations varied according to the individuals’ childhood psychosocial environment. 87 healthy undergraduate students (Mage=21.51, 66.7% female, 27.6% Caucasian) participated in the study. Participants provided information on characteristics of their childhood family environment (conflict, parental warmth). For one week they completed a daily stress checklist via electronic diary, and noted their coping and emotional responses to the most serious stressor of their day. As well, they provided salivary cortisol samples 4 times/day, and wore an Actiwatch to measure sleep (minutes, efficiency). Using hierarchical linear modeling techniques, we found that, on days when individuals reported more severe stressors, they also reported more health symptoms (β = .24, p =.04). Emotional responses to stress significantly mediated the relation between daily stress and daily health symptoms, such that when emotional responses to stress were controlled, the relationship between daily stress and health symptoms became non-significant (β = -.001, p =.99). In contrast, coping and biological profiles did not mediate the daily stress-health relationship. Furthermore, some evidence emerged that the childhood psychosocial environment moderated the relationship between daily stress and biological outcomes; among individuals from risky childhood environments, on days when they experienced a greater number of stressors, they slept for fewer minutes (β =-12.10, p=.02). As well, individuals from childhoods characterized as low in parental warmth, on days when they experienced more severe daily stressors, they had greater daily cortisol output (β =-0.16, p=.04). Overall, findings suggest that individuals may be more susceptible to the negative effects of stress on health if they are from difficult childhood environments and have negative emotional responses to stressors.

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