2 Stressful Life Events

Health Psychology


  1. Ralf Schwarzer PhD1,
  2. Aleksandra Luszczynska PhD2

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop209002

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Schwarzer, R. and Luszczynska, A. 2012. Stressful Life Events. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 9:II:2.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Psychology, Berlin, Germany

  2. 2

    Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Wroclaw, Poland

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Every day, disasters strike somewhere, with more or less proximity and severity. In health psychology, attention is directed to the factors that translate between adversity and mental and physical health outcomes. Research on stressful life events mainly follows a stimulus-based paradigm by examining the characteristics of the event, the overall context, coping resources, and individually different response patterns. Life events can be normative or nonnormative. High-magnitude events qualify as disasters, such as natural or technological catastrophes or other man-made crises, such as war and terrorism. The experience of threat, harm, or loss depends, among others, on the event predictability, its controllability, the perceived intent, and individual differences in risk aversion or biased risk perception. On the response side, illness, posttraumatic stress disorder, resilience, and posttraumatic growth are preferred study outcomes. The chapter describes the impact of disasters, the assessment of life stress, health implications, and the role of individual difference factors, such as gender, age, or culture. It is argued that the stress–health connection can only be understood when accounting for mediating and moderating factors, including resources and strengths that might help to buffer against the adverse impact of stressful life events.


  • stress;
  • disaster;
  • life event;
  • PTSD;
  • resilience