Lingering Negative Responses to Stress Affect Your Long Term Health

Anxiety, Depression: Mind, Body & Spirit

In general, science has tended to focus on the impact major events stress events have on our health and well-being. A recent study compared people who carry stress over to the next day in comparison to those who were able to “let it go.”

The study found those who carried it 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 to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Our research shows that negative emotions that linger after even minor, daily stressors have important implications for our long-term physical health,” says psychological scientist Kate Leger of the University of California, Irvine.

“When most people think of the types of stressors that impact health, they think of the big things, major life events that severely impact their lives, such as the death of a loved one or getting divorced,” Leger says. “But accumulating findings suggest that it’s not just the big events, but minor, everyday stressors that can impact our health as well.”

Evidence from previous studies suggests a clear association between same-day responses to stress and long-term well-being, but the impact of lingering emotional response remained unclear. That is, does it make a difference if a stressor – such as a flat tire, a bad grade, or an argument—leads to negative emotions that spill over into the following day?

To find out, Leger and colleagues Susan T. Charles and David M. Almeida analyzed data from the Midlife in the United States Survey, a nationally representative, longitudinal study of adults.

As part of the study, participants completed an 8-day survey of negative emotion; each day, they reported how much of the time over the previous 24 hours they had felt a variety of emotions (e.g., lonely, afraid, irritable, and angry). They also reported the stressors that they experienced each day.

In a subsequent part of the study that took place 10 years later, the participants completed surveys that assessed their chronic illnesses and functional limitations. Participants reported the degree to which they were able to carry out basic and everyday tasks, such as dressing themselves, climbing a flight of stairs, carrying groceries, and walking several blocks.

As expected, people tended to report higher negative emotion if they had experienced a stressor the previous day compared with if they hadn’t experienced any stressor the day before.

Critically, analyses revealed that lingering negative emotions in response to a stressor were associated with a greater number of health problems, including chronic illnesses, functional impairments, and difficulties with everyday tasks, a decade later.

These associations emerged independently of participants’ gender, education, and baseline health and they held even after the researchers took participants’ same-day emotional responses and average number of stressors into account.

“This means that health outcomes don’t just reflect how people react to daily stressors, or the number of stressors they are exposed to – there is something unique about how negative they feel the next day that has important consequences for physical health,” explains Leger.

Leger and colleagues hypothesize that this link could play out through activation of stress-related systems or through health behaviors, two potential mechanisms that offer avenues for future research.

“Stress is common in our everyday lives. It happens at work, it happens at school, it happens at home and in our relationships,” says Leger. “Our research shows that the strategy to ‘just let it go’ could be beneficial to our long term physical health.”


Kate A. Leger et al, Let It Go: Lingering Negative Affect in Response to Daily Stressors Is Associated With Physical Health Years Later, Psychological Science (2018). DOI: 10.1177/0956797618763097

Protect Your DNA

A new study reveals a remarkable link to the power of positive emotions and reducing/reversing damage caused by stress to our genes and DNA. At the end of every strand of DNA is a caplike structure called a telomere that prevents the loss DNA from unraveling.  Every time your cells divide, your telomeres shorten.

Researchers evaluated the effect of the Loving-Kindness Meditation on the length of telomeres. Fifteen practitioners were compared with 22 people in a control group. They shared around the same age. Each person had their telomeres measured.

Researchers examined relative telomere length in a group Loving-Kindness Meditation practitioners, a practice which utilizes a focus on unselfish kindness and warmth towards all people, and control participants who did not meditate. Their age, gender, race, education, or exposure to trauma, were similar, but the non-meditating control group had a higher mean body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of past depression.

Loving-Kindness meditation focuses on positive intentions, kindness, and compassion towards all people, in other studies was found to produce positive effects in individuals who practice it, including increasing positive emotions and sense of purpose, and bringing about improvement in physical symptoms including headaches, nasal congestion, and weakness.

The practitioners had longer telomeres in comparison to the control group at the trend level.  Also, the women practitioners had significantly longer telomeres than controls. This difference remained significant even after controlling for BMI and past depression.  While the study size is small, these results suggest that Loving-Kindness Meditation practice, especially in women, might alter telomere length, which is a biomarker associated with longevity.

It’s critical to understand that you have a chronological age, which is the length of time you’ve lived on earth. While your physiological age, your body’s true age is affected by your diet, lifestyle, emotional distress, attitude … and clearly love, kindness, and compassion. An unhealthy lifestyle tends to age your body faster.

Your telomeres are affected by many factors, including your cellular environment. It’s been demonstrated that stress can accelerate telomere shortening and lead to early cellular aging. Telomere length reflects not only the presence of stress but also your body’s response to it at a cellular level. Shortened telomere length is linked to aging, cancer, and heart disease.

Telomeres have become popular because they’re closely linked with the age of the body. Short telomeres tend to mean faster ageing.


12 Ways to Become More Positive and Improve Your Health!

Did you know that positive emotions broaden our thinking and enhance our health, mental flexibility and coping skills?   Even temporary experiences of positive emotions can have lasting consequences. They give us a solid foundation upon which to allow the birth of new internal resources that will support our well-being on an ongoing basis. They also counteract the brain’s innate tendency to engage in negativity, thus promoting internal balance, lowering the body’s stress response, helping us recover from stress more rapidly, and granting greater functioning after stress.

Optimists, live an average of seven years longer than pessimists.

Having a grim or pessimistic view of the future, which means having an expectation of negative results or fewer positive results, has been shown to lead to earlier death and a more rapid progression of the diseases of aging. Being optimistic and expecting good things to happen relates to better health. Positive emotions help us to develop hardiness and resilience (the ability to transcend our challenges) when they are firmly grounded by self-awareness and acceptance. They allow us to not only survive but thrive.

Psychologist, Barbara Frederickson, Ph.D., is famous for her ‘broaden and build’ theory on positive emotions. Fredrickson’s research shows that the more we focus on, and build, our repertoire of positive emotions, the broader the application of our positive emotions and their benefits become.

Here’s a twelve step tool kit that can help increase your level of positivity.


The Twelve Step Toolkit

Supporting you in your quest to build positive emotions, Fredrickson suggests an easy to use toolkit  of twelve techniques to help cultivate positive emotions. Which of the twelve suggestions appeals most to you?

Tool 1: Be open

Fredrickson urges us to adopt the motto “be open”. This first tool invites us to temporarily put expectations and judgments aside and allow ourselves to be mindfully present in the moment. For example, on your morning walk, ignore the mental to-do list and practice being open to nature.

Tool 2: Create high-quality connections

Fredrickson suggests we connecting with others in a meaningful way. She cites the work of Jane Dutton, cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan) who’s research points to four ways to build these high-quality connections.

  1. Be present, attentive and affirming by fully focusing on others &encouraging their endeavors.
  2. Show support for what the other person is doing – do what you can to help them succeed.
  3. Demonstrate trust – believe that the person can meet your expectations (and let it show).
  4. Allow time for ‘play’ – spend time with this person occasionally with no outcomes in mind.

Tool 3: Cultivate kindness

Commit five acts of kindness every day. You can do this by assessing what those around you need the most and find positive ways to make a difference to them.

Tool 4: Develop distractions

Distractions break the grip of negativity. The goal here is to shift your focus away from anxieties and troubles. Fredrickson suggests making two lists, one of healthy distractions and the other list of unhealthy distractions. Healthy distractions might include going for a bike ride, walking your dog, playing a game with your child or a friend, reading a novel, etc. Unhealthy distractions to avoid might include excessively eating, drinking alcohol, or playing video games for hours. Aim for any activity from the list of healthy distractions.

Tool 5: Dispute negative thinking

This exercise is adapted from Martin Seligman’s work into depression prevention at Pennsylvania University and teaches us to dispute our negative thoughts. On a set of index cards write your typical negative thoughts, such as “I always do this wrong, how will I ever get any better at this?”, “why hasn’t she called by now? Doesn’t she care about me?” Whatever your typical negative thoughts are, make sure they are included on the cards. Once you have written your set of cards shuffle them and pick one out at random. Read it out loud. Next, as quickly and thoroughly as possible, dispute it out loud. What are the facts? When you are satisfied that you’ve dismissed the negative thought, move on to a different card. Negative thoughts can be automatic; the purpose of this exercise is to ensure they are nipped in the bud as quickly as they occur.

Tool 6: Find nature nearby

Locate a dozen natural spots that you can get to in a matter of minutes that connect you to trees, water, skies or greenery when the weather is good. Connecting with nature has been shown to boost positivity. Make these places a regular destination.

Tool 7: Learn and apply your strengths

You can take a free online strengths test at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center and learn your 24 signature strengths and how to apply them. Once you have established your strengths plan to use them every day. Consider and address the changes you might need to make to do this.

Tool 8: Meditate mindfully

Sit in a quiet place for a few minutes and take several deep breaths. Notice how it feels. Where do you feel your breath? Continue to observe your breath. The goal in attending to your breath here is to practice being present in the here and now. Invariably, your mind will wander. Allow it to wander, don’t chastise yourself for these wandering thoughts, just notice your attention has strayed and return your focus to your breathing to continue to stay present.

Tool 9: Meditate on lovingkindness

Start by focusing on your breath and the region of your heart. Once you are focused here, reflect on a person for whom you have warm, tender or compassionate feelings. Your goal is to connect to warm and natural feelings by visualizing how being with this loved person makes you feel. Once this positivity has been created within you, let go of the image of the individual and hold the feeling.

Tool 10: Ritualize gratitude

Being grateful means you notice gifts and appreciate the people around you. Use this tool to take stock of what is good in your life. Doing so draws your attention to positive events.

Tool 11: Savour positivity

Choose a source of love, joy or pride and a willingness to think differently about these sources. Think of a past moment when you enjoyed an experience or being with someone important to you. Allow yourself to examine the images from all angles. Recognize the value of these good feelings for your mindset and practice savoring them.

Tool 12: Visualize your future

In this journaling exercise, imagine yourself five years from now after everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have accomplished all the goals you set yourself. Write down where you will be and how it will feel when all of your goals have been achieved.

After a week or so, review what you’ve written and from this draw out your life’s mission. What purpose do you want to drive you every day? What’s the meaning of your existence? Contemplate these big questions and put your thoughts in your journal, then distill them into a mission statement. Create a ten year plan to help you meet your mission. Reduce your plan to bullet points to support you in current and future decision making, moving you towards your goals.

Putting the toolkit into practice

You can try just one of the above tools or you can try all of them and see which works best for you. Either way, take the test on Prof. Fredrickson’s website to find your level of positivity before and after using these techniques



Positive Emotions in The Face of Daily Stress is Good For Your Health!

Years ago Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff  was a bestselling hit.  A new study confirms the health benefits of remaining calm in our daily lives.   How are you managing the “small stuff” in your life? 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 chronic stress affects human health, the researchers explained that little is known about how reactivity to daily stressors affects biomarkers of inflammation.

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.”


“Affective Reactivity to Daily Stressors Is Associated With Elevated Inflammation.” Health Psychol. 2015 Jun 1.

Are You Calm or Highly Responsive to Stressful Situations?

How do you react to stressful situations?  Do you pay attention, and make a choice to react calmly, or do you react in a way you feel you have no control?  Discover how your reaction may play a key role in your long-term health, according to researchers.

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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. Also, women can be at heightened risk.

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.

Perception Plays a Key Role  

“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.

First of Its Kind Study

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

Researchers measured reactions to stress and the physiological effects of stress among 872 adults enrolled in the National Study of Daily Experiences.  Blood samples of participants were obtained during a separate clinic visit and assayed for inflammatory markers.  Participants 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.

The team found that those who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life displayed elevated levels of inflammation. Among women, negative reactions to stress associated with higher C-reactive protein.

Inflammation Affected by Emotional Responses

According to the researchers, “Adults who fail to maintain positive affect when faced with minor stressors in everyday life appear to have elevated levels of IL-6, a marker of inflammation,” the study authors warn that: “Women who experience increased negative affect when faced with minor stressors may be at particular risk of elevated inflammation.”

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.

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.

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.

“We calculated reactivity scores to see how participants generally reacted to stressors,” Sin said. “Then we used it to predict two markers of inflammation.”

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.

Stress in Daily Life

“We examined both positive and negative affective reactions to stress and compared the effects of stress exposure with responses to stressors,” Graham-Engeland said. “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.”

Data came from the second wave of the Midlife in the United States Study, a national survey designed to investigate health and well-being in midlife and older adulthood. Its goal is to expand understanding of how daily mood and stressful events may relate to inflammation and health.