Age Differences in Coping Strategies

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In their study of coping strategies in young, middle-aged, and older adults, Folkman et al. (1987) found that older adults were less likely than young and middle-aged adults to employ confrontation and aggression. Rather than becoming highly emotional when faced with stressful circumstances, older adults tended to cope by using denial, repression, and other passive strategies (Felton & Revenson, 1987; Folkman et al., 1987). As they become older, most adults relinquish coping strategies that, though presumably appropriate in young adulthood, have now outlived their usefulness. Confronting stress with detachment and humor is more characteristic of older than younger adults (Valliant, 1977).

Lazarus and his colleagues (DeLongis, Coynce, Dakof, Folkman, & Lazarus, 1982; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) also found that the reported number of stressful life events declined from middle to older adulthood. However, this does not necessarily mean that older adults experience less stress than younger adults. Older adults may simply appraise the same event as less stressful. They may be more realistic than younger adults, adapting their coping strategies to fit the situations they can control. Older adults also seem to better understand when environmental resources can assist them in coping with a stressful situation. Compared with older adults, young adults and adolescents employ denial and other defense mechanisms more often (Blanchard-Fields & Irion, 1988; Blanchard-Fields & Robinson, 1987).

Age differences in stress and coping have also been found in the kinds and number of daily hassles experienced (Folkman, Lazarus, Dunkel-Schetter, DeLongis, &Gruen, 1986; Folkman, Lazarus, Gruen, &DeLongis, 1986). Younger adults reported more hassles than older adults regarding economic (finances) and work-related matters. College students also reported hassles with wasting time, meeting high standards, and being lonely. Environmental and social problems, home upkeep, and health were found to be more common concerns in older adulthood.

At all ages, social support from caring, interested people can lower the level of stress that must be endured. Interacting with others—confiding in them and engaging in mutually satisfying activities—makes "outrageous fortune" easier to bear. Not only does social interaction provide emotional support in times of stress, but it also provides information about the sources of stress, what can be expected, and what actions might be taken to deal with them. Much of the social support received by adults comes from marital relationships, but close friends can also provide catharsis and a boost to one's confidence. Finally, because of the physical debilitation resulting from long-

term stress, attention to adequate nutrition, exercise, rest, and care is also important.

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