Category: Transdiagnostic


The Relationship Between Life Stressors and Anxiety

Sunday, November 19
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM
Location: Indigo Ballroom A, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Anxiety | Longitudinal | Stress
Presentation Type: Symposium

Introduction: Adolescence marks a period when youth commonly experience an increase in stressful life events and when many psychiatric disorders first manifest. There is a clearly defined bi-directional link between stressors and depressive symptoms, but the directionality of this link within anxiety is less clear. To address this critical gap, we examine in detail the longitudinal relationship between life stressors and anxiety symptoms in youth. Specifically, we examine whether life stressors predict anxiety symptoms (stress causation) over a period of 1.5 years, as well as whether anxiety symptoms predict life stressors (stress generation) over this time. Informed by previous work, we examine potential influencing factors, including stressor type (independent vs. dependent) and emotion dysregulation. Methods: Social, separation, and physical anxiety symptoms and frequency and type of life stressors were assessed every 3 months for 1.5 years in a large community sample (n=528, ages 7 to 16). Emotion nonacceptance and difficulty with goal-directed behavior (in the presence of negative emotion) were assessed at baseline. Time-lagged analyses using HLM were conducted to examine the bi-directional relationship of life stress and anxiety over time. Results:Life stressors (driven by interpersonal stress, ps<.02) significantly predicted subsequent physical and social anxiety (ps<.03), controlling for previous anxiety. Anxiety symptoms did not predict any type of subsequent life stressors (ps>.33). Both nonacceptance and goal-directed difficulties predicted subsequent anxiety symptoms (ps<.001) and life stressors (ps<.01), but did not moderate the relationship between the two (ps>.32). Conclusion: The findings supported the stress causation but not stress generation hypothesis. In addition, nonacceptance and difficulty with goal-directed behavior predicted greater subsequent anxiety symptoms and life stressors. We discuss implications for prevention and intervention work. 


Rebecca L. Schneider

Graduate Student
University of Colorado Boulder


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The Relationship Between Life Stressors and Anxiety

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