It’s widely accepted that when a person suffers from stress this has massive negative effects on that person; both psychologically and physically. Much research has provided support to the idea that a being stressed can effect our immune system quite drastically making us prone to illness. However, could being exposed to a stressed parental environment cause the same problems vicariously onto the children of stressed parents?
Recent research has suggested that stressed parents might not just be effecting their own health but actually having a negative impact on their children’s too. Caserta et al. (2008) found that children of parents who suffered from stress are more likely to get sick. Through a longitudinal study of 3 years following family groups (169 children aged 5-10) it was found that those children of stressed parents were more likely to have raised illness through parental self-reports.
Caserta’s team found that the total number of illnesses, both with and without fever, was significantly higher in the children of parents who reported high levels of emotional stress. The team also measured the levels of immune cells in the children, and found those with highly stressed parents were much more likely to have heightened immune activity – a sign that they were working hard to fend off infection. [from NewScientist]
This research could raise an interesting debate about the situation of stress: does stress have it’s roots in situational or dispositional psychology? This research followed families who were all genetically related therefore it could have been that there was a genetic disposition to being stressed that was passed down from parents to children which would suggest that it’s not the situation that is causing the stress. One has to be careful not to be too deterministic here though as the situation and environment that a child is raised in obviously has massive impact on their personality and ability to cope with stress.
Important to note for parents or parents-to-be: if you’re finding yourself struggling to cope with stress get support from your GP or on-line from the BBC or NHS Direct. Alternatively there’s this useful stress reduction tool!