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Stress levels of Australian Couples impacting Physical Health: Two basic ways to cope with stress

In today’s fast paced society, it is impossible to avoid stress in our lives. A survey of Australian adults found that 1 in 4 respondents reported moderate to severe levels of stress, highest amongst 18-25 and 26-35 age groups. Almost 1 in 5 (17%) reported that current stress levels are having a strong to very strong impact on physical health (Australian Psychological Society, 2014).

Stressors are external events which cause an emotional or physical reaction. The impact of the event depends on whether one views the event as positive or negative. When stress levels are high or chronic, it is common for physical symptoms (headaches, backaches), psychological symptoms (anxiety, anger) and relational issues (conflict, disconnection) to emerge.

There are 2 basic ways to cope with stress:

  1. Eliminate the stressor. Some stressors represent things that are controllable (working too many hours). In some cases, it is possible to make choices that actually eliminate the stressor (change jobs).
  2. Change one’s reaction to stress. When a stressor cannot be eliminated, it is important to look at how one reacts or copes in response to the stressor. Learning and using healthy coping mechanisms can help individuals respond to stress in healthier ways.

Stress and Couples 

A 2009 study of 82 couples demonstrates how high stress levels can negatively impact marriages (Neff & Karney, 2009).

The greater the stress levels, the more strongly partners react to the normal ups and downs of life. In other words, when stress levels are high, we experience perceived stress more intensely.

The study also suggests high stress levels make it more difficult to effectively use one’s positive relationship skills such as communication and conflict resolution abilities.

Finally, couples are more likely to evaluate their relationship negatively when they are experiencing prolonged exposure to stress. High stress negatively colors a couple’s perceptions of their marriage.


Australian Psychologicsl Society (2014):

Neff, L.A., and Karney, B.R., (2009). Stress and reactivity to daily relationship experiences: How stress hinders adaptive processes in marriage. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97 (3), 435-450.

Tune in next week for part 2.

By Shane Smith, Director PREPARE-ENRICH, Relationship Educator and Mediator, Secretary, Marriage and Relationship Educators Association of Australia.

Read on for various resources to assist you at this time. Finally, please let us know how you are going in these challenging times. 

For more information on the virus and the steps that can be taken to minimise its impact, visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Marriage and Relationship Education is a learning opportunity, much like you would do in any other important life event. Check out the video for couples on YouTube:

Tune in next week for more discussion about relationships and mental health. 

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