Mental and emotional stress can create pain and other negative responses in the body, including lessened immunity and cardiovascular disease, and is one of many reasons clients turn to massage therapy.

New research shows a person’s emotional response to challenging situations can predict how his body responds to stress.

“People who reported high levels of anger and anxiety after performing a laboratory-based stress task showed greater increases in a marker of inflammation, than those who remained relatively calm,” said Dr. Judith Carroll, who conducted the study at the University of Pittsburgh, in a press release from Elsevier, the publisher of the journal in which the research ran.

“This could help explain why some people with high levels of stress experience chronic health problems,” she added.

The investigators asked healthy, middle-aged individuals to complete a speech in the laboratory in front of video camera and a panel of judges, the press release noted. During the speech, they monitored the physical responses to the task and then afterwards asked participants about the emotions they had experienced.

“Most people show increases in heart rate and blood pressure when they complete a stressful task,” explained Carroll, “but some also show increases in a circulating marker of inflammation known as interleukin-6. Our study shows that the people who have the biggest increases in this marker are the ones who show the greatest emotional responses to the task.”

The results raise the possibility that people who become angry or anxious when confronting relatively minor challenges in their lives are prone to increases in inflammation, explained lead author Dr. Anna Marsland, an associate professor of psychology and nursing at the university.

“Over time, this may render these emotionally-reactive individuals more vulnerable to inflammatory diseases, such as cardiovascular disease,” she said.

“Negative affective responses to a speech task predict changes in interleukin (IL)-6” was published in in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Volume 25, Number 2 (February 2011), published by Elsevier.

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