Holding on to stress-related emotions negatively effects health a decade later

by PRI Affiliate David Almeida

Stress and an individual’s reaction to it are known to impact health, yet less is known about whether lingering emotions after a stressor effects long-term health.This was the focus of a recent study by NIA-funded investigators.

Analyses were conducted using data from 1,155 participants of the Midlife in the United States II (MIDUS II) study. Participants answered questions about daily stressors and negative emotions for eight consecutive days. After a follow-up period of 10 years, participants were asked about their current physical health and functional status.

Participants who reported more stressors were more likely to be younger, female, and have a higher education. At baseline 25% of participants reported four or more chronic conditions, increasing to 38% at 10 year follow-up. Participants experienced increased negative affect in the days following a stressor, and lingering negative affect was found to significantly predict the number of chronic conditions and decline in functional status 10-years later. These results suggest how individuals recover from a stressful event is just as important as the initial reaction to the stressor. Future studies may be needed to explore the mechanisms by which post-stress emotional reponse impacts an individual’s chronic health both acutely and chronically.

Leger KA, Charles ST, Almeida DM. 2018. Let it go: Lingering negative affect in response to daily stressors is associated with physical health years later. Psychol Sci. doi: 10.1177/0956797618763097.