Prior research indicates that exposure to chronic stress increases allostatic load and alters individuals’ response to stressful situations, with evidence for both exaggerated and blunted emotional responses. Recent studies have also linked lifestyle factors such as poor sleep and insufficient physical activity with elevated negative mood in response to stress. The present study extends upon prior work by investigating interactions between chronic stress, physical activity, and sleep as predictors of affective reactivity during real-life sustained stress. Students (N=637) were assessed during an academic semester and end-of-term final exam period. Self-report ratings of negative affect, acute stress levels, anxious and depressed mood, chronic stress, sleep habits, habitual physical activity, health and demographics were obtained. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses examined the extent to which chronic stress, habitual physical activity, and sleep, as well as their interactions predicted subsequent changes in negative affect and acute stress during the exam period. Poorer sleep quality and shorter sleep duration prior to the exam assessment, but not habitual sleep duration or physical activity, predicted greater increases in acute stress and negative affect during exams. Higher levels of chronic stress and anxiety symptoms at baseline v predicted greater affective reactivity to exams. These relations were partially mediated by poor sleep quality. Findings highlight the importance of sleep and chronic stress in predicting individuals’ affective response to real-life acute stress. Interventions that reduce chronic stress and improve sleep may help individuals’ buffer against impairments to their affective health during stressful life episodes.
Thomas Ritz, Ph.D.
Alicia Meuret, Ph.D.
Austin Baldwin, Ph.D.
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Nordberg, Hannah, "Affective Reactivity to Real-life Acute Stress: The Role of Chronic Stress, Physical Activity, and Sleep" (2020). Psychology Theses and Dissertations. 16.