Stay composed in minor stress situations

Stay composed in minor stress situations
Highlights

Stay Composed In Minor Stress Situations. In a study measuring adults’ reactions to stress and how it affects their bodies, researchers found that adults who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life appear to have elevated levels of inflammation. In addition, women can be at heightened risk.

In a study measuring adults’ reactions to stress and how it affects their bodies, researchers found that adults who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life appear to have elevated levels of inflammation. In addition, women can be at heightened risk.

Inflammatory responses are part of the body’s ability to protect itself via the immune system. However, chronic long-term inflammation can undermine health, and appears to play a role in obesity, heart disease and cancer.

These findings add to a growing body of evidence regarding the health implications of affective reactivity —emotional response — to daily stressors. The researchers report their results in Health Psychology.

Daily stressors

Nancy Sin, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthy Aging and Department of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State and her colleagues showed that the frequency of daily stressors, in and of itself, was less consequential for inflammation than how an individual reacted to those stressors. Says Sin, “It is how a person reacts to stress that is important.”

Sin’s findings also highlight the important — but often discounted — contributions of positive effect in naturalistic stress processes. “Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked,” Sin says.

In the short-term, with illness or exercise, the body experiences a high immune response to help repair itself. However, in the long term, heightened inflammatory immune responses may not be healthy. Individuals who have trouble regulating their responses may be at risk for certain age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, frailty and cognitive decline, Sin says.

“To our knowledge, this paper is the first to link biomarkers of inflammation with positive mood responses to stressors in everyday life,” says Jennifer E. Graham-Engeland, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State.

8 days of emotions

A cross-sectional sample of 872 adults from the National Study of Daily Experiences reported daily stressors and emotional reactions for eight consecutive days. Blood samples of participants were obtained during a separate clinic visit and assayed for inflammatory markers.

Subjects were interviewed by phone every day for eight consecutive days. They were asked to rate their positive and negative emotions, as well as whether or not they encountered stressors. This enabled researchers to evaluate a person’s emotional response on days when they experience stressors, and compare it to days when they do not.

The researchers used several different types of stressors, among them were arguments and avoiding arguments at work, school, or home; being discriminated against; a network stressor, i.e., a stressful event that happens to someone close to the subject; and other stressors.

Graham-Engeland says, “Little is known about the potential role of daily stress processes on inflammation. Much of the relevant past research with humans has focused on either chronic stress or acute laboratory-based stress—methods that do not fully capture how people respond to naturalistic stressors in the context of daily life.”

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