Feeling Stressed? Think About Your Love
Heart lies both metaphorically and physiologically at the core of all things relational. The heart is first to “break” when we get hurt by someone we love. Countless heart-wrenching poems exist purely devoted to describing the pain associated with break ups. On the flip side, love fills the heart with joy as well.
Though love might be a double-edged sword when it comes to matters of the heart, scientists announce it as a stress buffer – when it is satisfying of course.
A new study finds that thinking about a romantic partner during a stressful situation helps to reduce blood pressure reactivity.
Health benefits of having close relationships have been well documented in previous research findings. For instance, researchers have observed that people’s blood pressure is lower when they interact (e.g, hand holding) with a loved one. Strong social ties and quality marriages are also associated with longevity.
Kyle Bourassa, a clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Arizona and colleagues did a study examining the effects of thinking about a romantic partner on blood pressure and pain perception during an ice bucket stress test.
The researchers randomly assigned 102 participants to three groups: 1) Partner present 2) Mental activation 3) Control. The majority of the participants were female and 19 years old on average.
In the first group, the participant’s partner was present in the room while he/she did the cold water soak. The researchers instructed the second group participants to imagine their partner as vividly as possible for 30 seconds. They were then asked to keep the mental image of their partner in their minds during the stress test. The control group, on the other hand, were simply instructed to think about their day during the task.
The participants in all groups had to soak their foot in a 3-4℃ cold water bucket that was around 7 cm deep.
The findings revealed reductions in blood pressure reactivity for participants in both partner present and mental activation groups. According to the researchers, blood pressure reactivity to a cold stress test is associated with disease progression. Thus, quality intimate relationships can be a buffer in times of acute stress.
Bourassa and colleagues also found that partner presence reduced perceptions of pain in participants by 12%. Mentally imagining a partner during the stress task, however, was not enough to significantly reduce pain in participants.
So, if you find yourself under stress and your loved one is far away, try to imagine them as vividly as possible. Then, perhaps give them a call to hear their voice.
- 1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/psyp.13324
- 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11382269