MAYNOOTH, Ireland — People often say we can’t control everything that happens in life, but we can control how we react to it. It may sound like a cliché, but new findings out of Ireland show that perspective matters when life throws us unexpected and stressful curveballs. Researchers say gratitude offers a “unique stress-buffering effect” when it comes to both reacting to, and recovering from, acute psychological stress. Study authors add that adopting a more thankful worldview can even promote better cardiovascular health.

While stress is an unavoidable aspect of life, studies continue to show too much can have a detrimental impact on both health and well-being. More specifically, excess stress can lead to high blood pressure, increasing cardiovascular morbidity and coronary heart disease risk. With all that in mind, study authors from the Universities of Maynooth and Limerick set out to better understand how reactions to stressful events impact our future health, as well as if there are any factors that can play key stress-buffering roles.

The research team suggests that while prior research has shown that gratitude and affect-balance (balance of positive to negative emotions) play key stress-buffering roles, up until now there has been woefully few studies examining the impact of these variables on cardiovascular recovery from acute psychological stress. Study authors chose to focus on this consideration, as well as whether or not affect-balance moderates the relationship between gratitude and cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress.

Being grateful lowers blood pressure

The actual research portion of this project took place at Maynooth University and encompassed a total of 68 undergrad students (24 men, 44 women) between the ages of 18 and 57.

The experiment featured lab tasks which induced stress among the participants, while researchers measured cardiovascular reactivity and recovery in response to the stress.

The ensuing results reveal that a state of gratitude predicts lower systolic blood pressure responses throughout the stress-testing period.

This means, study authors say, that gratitude promotes a unique stress-buffering effect on both reactions to and recovery from acute psychological stress. The team also found that affect-balance amplifies the effects of grateful feelings.

In conclusion, study authors believe these findings hold clinical usefulness. There are numerous low-cost gratitude interventions that can help promote improved well-being. For instance, one earlier study found cardiac patients who make use of gratitude journals have better cardiovascular outcomes than those who do not. Those earlier projects, in combination with these latest findings, strongly suggest that gratitude is a useful tool in the fight against stress and poor cardiovascular health.

The study is published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology.

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