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Feelings of gratitude reduce the negative effects of stress

Scientists have long known that stress can significantly affect humans, impacting their health and well-being by causing high blood pressure and increasing the risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular morbidity. Thus, better understanding our reactions toward stress and finding out if there are any factors that can play key stress-buffering roles is crucial for improving cardiovascular health. Now, a team of scientists led by the Maynooth University and the University of Limerick in Ireland has found that gratitude has a major stress-buffering effect on both reactions to and recovery from acute psychological stress. 

Although previous research suggested that gratitude and affect-balance play important stress-buffering roles, the impact of these variables on cardiovascular recovery from acute psychological stress has been less understood. To clarify whether affect balance moderates the relationship between gratitude and cardiovascular reactions to stress, the experts enrolled 68 undergraduate students (24 male and 44 female) aged 18 to 57, and used an experimental design with laboratory tasks in which stress was induced to participants and then cardiovascular reactivity and recovery in response to increased stress levels were measured.

The analyses revealed that experiencing gratitude predicted lower systolic blood pressure responses during the testing period, meaning that feelings of gratitude have unique stress-buffering effects on both reactions to and recovery from acute psychological stress. Moreover, the researchers discovered that affect balance generally amplifies the positive effects of gratitude.

These findings could have major clinical implications by showing that several low-cost gratitude interventions can contribute positively to our health and well-being, and help us smoothly recover from cardiovascular issues acute stress can induce. For instance, as previous research has shown, cardiac patients who make use of gratitude journals have better cardiovascular outcomes than those who do not. Combined with the recent findings, this shows that gratitude may constitute a useful point of intervention for the improvement of our health.

The study is published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology. 


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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