Stress, heart strain: Just thinking about your love protects your heart and your health

When faced with a stressful situation, thinking about your lover can help control your blood pressure just as effectively as having them in the same room as you. This is revealed by a study carried out by psychologists at the University of Arizona and published in the journal Psychophysiology.

A stressful experience with her lover nearby or just present in thought

In this study, 102 participants were asked to perform a stressful task: submerge one foot in 3 inches of cold water ranging from 3 to 4°C. The researchers measured the participants’ blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability before, during, and after the task.

The participants, who were all engaged in romantic relationships, were randomly assigned to one of the following three conditions when completing the task. They either sat quietly in the room with their partner during the task, asked them to think about their partner as a source of support during the task, or asked them to think about their day during the task.

Blood pressure less reactive to stress with a lover present or in thought

Those who had their partner physically present in the room or who thought about their partner had less reactive blood pressure to cold water stress than participants in the control group, who were asked to think about their day. Heart rate and heart rate variability did not vary between the three groups.

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The effect on blood pressure was equally powerful whether the partner was physically present or simply visualized in thought.

Although previous studies have suggested that the presence of a partner or the visualization of a partner can help manage the body’s physiological response to stress, this new study, led by Dr. Kyle Bourassa, suggests that both things are also effective – at least when it comes to blood pressure responsiveness.

The findings may help explain, in part, why quality romantic relationships are consistently associated with positive health outcomes in the scientific literature.

Better health with a better love or relationship situation

“This suggests that one of the ways to improve people’s health in a romantic relationship is to allow them to better cope with stress and reduce their cardiovascular reactivity to stress throughout the day,” he adds. he. “And it seems that thinking of your partner as a source of support can be as powerful as having your partner present.”

Life is full of stress, and one of the key ways to deal with that stress is to build rapport, either directly with our partner or by appealing to a mental image of that person. There are many situations, including at work, in school exams or even during medical procedures, where we would benefit from limiting our degree of blood pressure responsiveness, and these results suggest that a relational approach in this regard can be quite powerful.

Kyle J. Bourassa: The impact of physical proximity and attachment working models on cardiovascular reactivity: Comparing mental activation and romantic partner presence journal Psychophysiology (DOI: 10.1111/psyp.13324).

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