Reacting positively to stressful situations may play a key role in long-term health, according to researchers.
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. Furthermore, women can be at heightened risk.
Inflammatory responses are part of the body's ability to protect itself through 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 growing body of evidence regarding the health implications of affective reactivity, emotional response, to daily stressors. The researchers report their results in a recent edition of Health Psychology.
Nancy Sin, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthy Aging and Department of Biobehavioral Health, 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.
"A person's frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress," said 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 affect in naturalistic stress processes. "Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked," Sin said.
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 said.