Being positive amid daily stress is good for long-term health

July 17, 2015 by Blaine Friedlander, Cornell University
Credit: George Hodan/public domain

Relax. Breathe. It's all small stuff. When faced with life's daily challenges, adults who don't maintain a positive outlook have shown elevated physiological markers for inflaming cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, according to new research by Cornell University and Penn State psychologists.

"Hassles and minor frustrations are common in day-to-day living. Our findings suggest that how people react to daily stressors may matter more than the frequency of such stressors," explain the researchers in "Affective Reactivity to Daily Stressors is Associated with Elevated Inflammation," published June 8 in the journal Health Psychology and co-authored by Anthony Ong, Cornell associate professor of human development; along with Penn State researchers Nancy Sin, Jennifer Graham-Engeland and David Almeida.

While many scientists have studied how affects human health, the researchers explained that little is known about how reactivity to daily stressors affects biomarkers of .

The study found that those people who had difficulty maintaining positive emotional engagement during times of stress appeared to be particularly at risk for elevated levels of inflammation.

The researchers surveyed nearly 870 midlife and older adults. People who experienced greater decreases in positive affect on days when stress occurred were found to have increased amounts of interleukin-6 (a protein that acts as an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory agent) and C-reactive protein (an anti-inflammatory agent). Women who experience increased negative affect when faced with minor stressors may be at particular risk of elevated inflammation.

"Previous research suggests that the chronic experience of joy and happiness may slow down the physiological effects of aging," Ong said. "This study extends that research by showing that possessing stable levels of 'positive affect' may be conducive to good health, while disturbances in daily positive affect may be associated with heightened inflammatory immune responses."

Ong explained, "These findings are novel because they point to the importance of daily positive emotion regulation that until now have largely been neglected in studies of stress and inflammation."

Explore further: Resilience to stress may be key for long-term health

More information: "Affective Reactivity to Daily Stressors Is Associated With Elevated Inflammation." Health Psychol. 2015 Jun 1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26030309

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