'Let it go' may be good advice for health

April 13, 2018 by Amy Norton, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—The advice to "let go" of negative feelings is repeated in yoga classes and self-help books. Now a new study suggests it really brings a lasting health benefit.

The study, of more than 1,100 middle-aged adults, found that those who had a hard time getting over daily stressors typically had more physical health problems a decade later.

And it wasn't just that people who were less healthy to begin with had more .

The researchers accounted for any physical health conditions study participants had at the outset—and the ability to "let go" was still tied to better health 10 years later.

The findings, published recently in the journal Psychological Science, don't prove that getting over a bad mood will boost your physical well-being.

But they do add to evidence that our reactions to stress take a physical toll, said James Maddux, a researcher who was not involved in the study.

"What's interesting here is that the researchers looked at the 'day-after' effects," said Maddux. He is a senior scholar at George Mason University's Center for the Advancement of Well-Being in Fairfax, Va.

If you tend to ruminate over daily hassles—running through every "what if" and "if only"—it amplifies the impact of a minor event, Maddux said.

"You probably find you feel even worse after a night of ruminating," he said.

If that cycle is repeated over time,

"there's an accumulation of physiological responses that will wear you down," Maddux explained.

The study results are based on 1,155 people who took part in a national health study. They kept track of their daily hassles and their emotional responses to them for about a week.

Each day, participants described their mood changes over the past 24 hours—estimating how much time they spent feeling nervous, sad, angry or upset, for example. So the researchers were able to look at whether people were still out of sorts the day after an everyday stressor, like an argument or a bad day at work.

Ten years later, participants rated their physical well-being—including whether they had , trouble exercising or limitations in daily tasks, such as climbing stairs or carrying groceries.

Those issues were common: By the 10-year mark, only 17 percent of were free of physical health conditions, and only 20 percent had no complaints about physical limitations.

But those problems were more common among people who had reported letting negative emotions linger in response to daily hassles, the findings showed.

And it's the "lingering" part—versus short-lived aggravation—that's key, according to lead researcher Kate Leger. She is a doctoral student in psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

People can be prone to prolonged bad moods for various reasons, Leger said. For some, anxiety or depression could be driving it. Many others naturally have a more-anxious disposition or are drawn to ruminate.

But even if it's your nature to hold onto negative vibes, that can be changed, she suggested.

"Yes, it's hard to 'let go,' " Leger said. But, she added, people can cultivate that skill through practices like "mindfulness" and meditation, in which you train the mind to focus on the present, rather than worries about the past.

"Focusing on the present, especially on things you are grateful for, has been shown to have several benefits, including improved mood and well-being," Leger said.

Maddux agreed that meditation can help. Plus, he said, the premise behind standard mental "talk therapies" is that people can, in fact, learn to change ingrained ways of thinking.

"Some people believe that worrying can actually prevent bad things from happening," Maddux said. So it can be hard for them to see that same mindset as a source of problems, rather than solutions. But, he said, it's possible.

"You can start to see that maybe the problem is in the way that you think—and not in what other people are doing," he said. "Anyone can learn to better manage their emotions."

Explore further: Lingering negative responses to stress linked with health a decade later

More information: Kate Leger, M.A., Ph.D. student, psychology and social behavior, University of California, Irvine; James Maddux, Ph.D., senior scholar, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, and professor emeritus, psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.; March 19, 2018, Psychological Science, online

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has more on the health benefits of meditation.

Related Stories

Lingering negative responses to stress linked with health a decade later

April 9, 2018
People whose negative emotional responses to stress carry over to the following day are more likely to report health problems and physical limitations later in life compared with peers who are able to "let it go," according ...

Positive outlook may help heart disease patients heal

October 16, 2015
(HealthDay)—Heart disease patients with a sunny disposition are more likely to exercise, stick with their medications and take other steps to ward off further heart trouble, a new study suggests.

Senior years may truly be golden for happiness

August 24, 2016
(HealthDay)—In a culture that values youth, aging can seem like a dismal prospect. But a new study suggests that older adults are generally less stressed and happier with their lives than younger people are.

Chronic illnesses, functional limitations a risk in older adults with heart failure

April 5, 2018
Heart failure affects more than 6 million people in the U.S.—most of whom are older adults. Roughly half the older adults who have heart failure also live with five or more other chronic health conditions. This group of ...

Negative emotions in response to daily stress take a toll on long-term mental health

April 2, 2013
Our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict our long-term mental health, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Dying may not be as awful an experience as you think

July 7, 2017
(HealthDay)—Does the very idea of death worry and frighten you? There may be reassurance from a new study that finds those fears might be exaggerated.

Recommended for you

Research reveals stronger people have healthier brains

April 19, 2018
A study of nearly half a million people has revealed that muscular strength, measured by handgrip, is an indication of how healthy our brains are.

Overcoming bias about music takes work

April 18, 2018
Expectations and biases play a large role in our experiences. This has been demonstrated in studies involving art, wine and even soda. In 2007, Joshua Bell, an internationally acclaimed musician, illustrated the role context ...

Study suggests we can recognize speakers only from how faces move when talking

April 18, 2018
Results of a new study by cognitive psychologist and speech scientist Alexandra Jesse and her linguistics undergraduate student Michael Bartoli at the University of Massachusetts Amherst should help to settle a long-standing ...

Scientists disconfirm belief that humans' physiological reaction to emotions are uniform

April 18, 2018
How do you feel when you're angry? Tense? Jittery? Exhausted? Is it the same every time? Is it identical to how your best friend, co-worker, or barista feel when they experience anger? In all likelihood the answer is no, ...

How mental health diagnosis should be more collaborative

April 18, 2018
Mental health diagnosis should be a collaborative and useful process, not a meaningless label - according to new research from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) and the University of East Anglia.

Does pot really dull a teen's brain?

April 18, 2018
Pot-smoking teens may not be dooming themselves to a destiny of dim-wittedness, a new review suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.