Stress can often lead to poor health, but the way you react to stress can change that. A study from Penn State University finds that responding positively to everyday stressors can limit the risk of poor health as a result of stress. They found that reacting negatively to stress increased the risk of inflammation, which plays a role health issues like obesity and heart disease. Remaining upbeat in the face of stress could limit health problems later on.
The researchers surveyed a cross-sectional sample of 872 adults from the National Study of Daily Experiences. The participants reported on daily stressors and their emotional reactions for eight consecutive days. They spoke to a researcher on the phone for each night of the study. The phone interviews allowed the researchers to compare participants’ emotional responses on days with and without stressors. In a separate clinic visit, the participants provided blood samples. The researchers analyzed the blood samples for biomarkers of inflammation.
Adults who were not cheerful or positive in response to minor daily stressors had a higher risk of inflammation. Women had particularly heightened risk levels for inflammation. Inflammatory responses are a part of the body’s typical immune response. Inflammation can help the body protect itself, but chronic inflammation, as brought on by reacting negatively to stress, can undermine long-term health. The study revealed that the frequency of daily stressors impacted inflammation less than how a person reacted to the stressors.
The study contributes to growing evidence that emotional responses to stress have important implications for health. The findings underscore the importance of maintaining a positive attitude in response to stressful situations.
“A person’s frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress,” says study author Nancy Sin, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthy Aging and Department of Biobehavioral Health. “Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked,”
This research is published in the journal Health Psychology.
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