Despite advancements in our understanding of the importance of stress reduction in achieving good health, we still only have limited insight into the impact of stress on cellular function. Recent studies have suggested that exposure to prolonged psychological stress may alter an individual's physiological responses, and contribute to morbidity and mortality. This paper presents an overview of the study protocol we are using to examine the impact of life stressors on lifestyle factors, health-related quality of life and novel and established biomarkers of stress in midlife and older Australian women. The primary aim of this study is to explore the links between chronic psychological stress on both subjective and objective health markers in midlife and older Australian women. The study examines the extent to which exposure frightening, upsetting or stressful events such as natural disasters, illness or death of a relative, miscarriage and relationship conflict is correlated with a variety of objective and subjective health markers.
This study is embedded within the longitudinal Healthy Aging of Women's study which has collected data from midlife and older Australian women at 5 yearly intervals since 2001, and uses the Allostastic model of women's health by Groër and colleagues in 2010. The current study expands the focus of the HOW study and will assess the impact of life stressors on quality of life and clinical biomarkers in midlife and older Australian women to explain the impact of chronic psychological stress in women.
The proposed study hypothesizes that women are at increased risk of exposure to multiple or repeated stressors, some being unique to women, and the frequency and chronicity of stressors increases women's risk of adverse health outcomes. This study aims to further our understanding of the relationships between stressful life experiences, perceived quality of life, stress biomarkers, chronic illness, and health status in women.