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Psychological Resources and Biomarkers of Health in the Context of Chronic Parenting Stress.

Abstract

Background

Epidemiological studies link psychological resources to better physical health. One reason may be that psychological resources are protective in stressful contexts. This study tested whether indeed psychological resources are protective against biological degradation for healthy mid-life women under the chronic stress of caring for a child with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis ("caregivers").

Methods

We tested whether five types of psychosocial resources (i.e., eudaimonic well-being, autonomy, purpose in life, self-acceptance, and mastery) were associated with biological indices of aging in a sample of mid-life women stratified by chronic stress; half were caregivers (n = 92) and half were mothers of neurotypical children (n = 91; controls). Selected stress and age related biological outcomes were insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), systemic inflammation (IL-6, CRP), and cellular aging (leukocyte telomere length). We tested whether each resource was associated with these biomarkers, and whether caregiving status and high parenting stress moderated that relationship.

Results

All the psychological resources except mastery were significantly negatively associated with insulin resistance, while none were related to systemic inflammation or telomere length. The relationships between eudaimonic well-being and HOMA-IR, and self-acceptance and HOMA-IR, were moderated by parental stress; lower resources were associated with higher insulin resistance, but only for women reporting high parental stress. The well-known predictors of age and BMI accounted for 46% of variance in insulin resistance, and psychological resources accounted for an additional 13% of variance.  CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that higher eudaimonic well-being and greater self-acceptance may be protective for the metabolic health of mid-life women, and particularly in the context of high parenting stress. This has important implications given the rising rates of both parental stress and metabolic disease, and because psychological interventions can increase eudaimonic well-being and self-acceptance.

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