A recent study determined how emotion regulation may alter negative health effects due to family stress.
The human body responds to psychological stress through chronic and acute symptoms. Facing chronic stress at an early age has been identified to increase susceptibility to depression, cardiovascular disease, a weaker immune system, and overall poorer health. An individual’s emotional outlook on stressful situations may have an impact on how their body chooses to respond physiologically.
The biological effects of stress vary between individuals
Psychological stress leads to dysregulation of metabolism, hormones, and inflammation. Although the correlation between physiological response and chronic stress is evident, it varies between individuals. To account for this variance, researchers at Pennsylvania State University in the United States published a study in Psychosomatic Medicine that assesses the contribution of emotional moderation on the relationship between stress and the resulting physiological responses.
The study incorporated data from 261 adolescents aged 13 to 16 years old. All participants were able to communicate in English and were not diagnosed with any chronic diseases. 53% of the individuals were female and the racial profiles consisted of 36% Asian descent, 49.4% European descent, and 14.6% were of other descent. Measurements of chronic family stress and emotional regulation were determined through an interview and a questionnaire respectively. Physiological indicators including blood pressure, waist-to-hip ratio, cytokine production and glucocorticoid sensitivity were monitored.
Emotion regulation helps to lessen the negative health effects of stress
Researchers found that emotional regulation had a moderation role on the correlation between stress and the resulting biological responses. However, the effects were deemed insignificant within the parameters of the study. At higher stress levels, teenagers who engaged in cognitive reappraisal, a strategy humans use to regulate emotions, reported lower blood pressure and waist-hip ratios, but no change was identified in the production of immune cells or stress hormones. Cognitive reappraisal involves reinterpreting the meaning of the emotional stimulus.
Adolescents who suppressed emotions witnessed greater production in immune cells and lower sensitivity to stress hormones. The study concluded that emotional regulation may play a moderative role in biological responses to chronic family stress.
With the rise of mental health awareness, interdisciplinary studies that assess psychological and physiological overlaps in response to stress are highly valuable for health professionals. Similar to many chronic illnesses, when detected at an early stage, chronic stress can be managed through lifestyle changes to reduce future adverse effects.
Although the measurements of the study were not numerically significant, their impact may be amplified over a longer period. Further research with a longer time frame and a larger number of participants will offer increased accuracy in results and a better understanding of the impact of chronic stress on adolescent health.
Written by Shrishti Ahuja, HBSc
- How teens deal with stress may affect their blood pressure, immune system. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2019, from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-12/ps-htd121318.php
- Jones, E. J., Lam, P. H., Hoffer, L. C., Chen, E., & Schreier, H. M. (2018). Chronic Family Stress and Adolescent Health. Psychosomatic Medicine, 80(8), 764-773. doi:10.1097/psy.0000000000000624