Posted on Jul 21, 2023, 4 p.m.
The way that you feel about your close relationships may be affecting the way your body functions, according to a study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science looking at how different types of relations from good to bad affect a person’s health outcomes from day to day, but questions still remain regarding the nature of this connection of how social relationships influence physical health.
"Both positive and negative experiences in our relationships contribute to our daily stress, coping, and physiology, like blood pressure and heart rate reactivity," says lead author Brian Don of the University of Auckland. “Additionally, it's not just how we feel about our relationships overall that matters; the ups and downs are important too."
This study involved 4,005 participants who completed daily check-ins over the course of 3 weeks via their smart devices and provided assessments of their blood pressure, stress levels, heart rate, and how they were coping. Additionally, every 3 days the participants shared their personal reflections about their closest relationships to provide details on positive and negative experiences.
According to the researchers, on average those with more positive experiences and fewer negative experiences reported lower stress levels, better coping, and lower systolic blood pressure reactivity which contributed to having better physiological functioning in day-to-day life. On the flip side, experiencing variability or daily ups and downs in negative relationship experiences such as conflict was especially predictive of worsened day-to-day outcomes such as stress, coping, and overall increased systolic blood pressure.
"Since the COVID-19 pandemic, relationships have been facing unprecedented challenges, turbulence, and change," says Dr. Don. "What this means is that the COVID pandemic may have health implications not just because of the virus itself, but also indirectly as a result of the impact it has on people's relationships. That is, because the COVID-19 pandemic has created considerable strain, turbulence, and variability in people's relationships, it may indirectly alter stress, coping, and physiology in daily life, all of which have important implications for physical well-being."
Broader implications of this study were noted to be that it is important to consider how outside stressors can affect relationships, and therefore physical health. However, the researchers caution against interpreting this study as proof that relationship experiences have physiological effects, instead, the findings contain associations from daily life that demonstrate how relationships and physical health can be intertwined.
To gain a fuller understanding of how relationships may affect health Dr. Don said that "It would be useful to examine other physiological states, such as neuroendocrine or sympathetic nervous system responses as outcomes of daily positive and negative relationship experiences, which may reveal different patterns of associations.”
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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References/Sources/Materials provided by:
Study: Don, Brian P.; Gordon, Amie M.; Mendes, Wendy Berry. The Good, the Bad, and the Variable: Examining Stress and Blood Pressure Responses to Close Relationships. Social Psychological and Personality Science.https://doi.org/10.1177/19485506231156018