According to the researchers, a state of gratitude can provide a unique protective buffer against acute psychological stress.
In a study involving 68 adults, researchers from Irish universities discovered that gratitude has a unique stress-buffering effect against both the initial reactions to and recovery from acute psychological stress. This special ability may play a role in improving cardiovascular health.
Given that stress can adversely affect human health and well-being, including causing high blood pressure and increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, it is essential to understand our individual responses to stress and identify potential factors that can act as effective stress buffers.
In the paper, which was recently published in the Journal of Psychophysiology, Brian Leavy, Brenda H. O’Connell, and Deirdre O’Shea propose that, although previous research suggests that gratitude and affect-balance play key stress-buffering roles, to date little, has been known about the impact of these variables on cardiovascular recovery from acute psychological stress.
That was the focus of the study by the researchers from the Universities of Maynooth and Limerick in Ireland, who also sought to find out whether affect balance moderates the relationship between gratitude and cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress.
The research carried out at the Irish University of Maynooth involved 68 undergraduate students (24 male and 44 female), aged between 18 and 57 years. This study used a within-subjects experimental design with lab tasks in which stress was induced on participants and then cardiovascular reactivity and recovery in response to this was measured.
The results showed that state gratitude predicted lower systolic blood pressure responses throughout the stress-testing period, which means that the state of gratitude has a unique stress-buffering effect on both reactions to and recovery from acute psychological stress. It was also found that affect balance amplifies the effects of state gratitude.
These findings have clinical utility as there are several low-cost gratitude interventions which can contribute to well-being (Wood et al., 2010). For example, previous research has shown how cardiac patients who make use of gratitude journals have better cardiovascular outcomes than those who do not (Redwine et al., 2016). Combined with the results of this study and previous work, gratitude may thus constitute a useful point of intervention for the improvement of our cardiovascular health.
Reference: “Gratitude, affect balance, and stress buffering: A growth curve examination of cardiovascular responses to a laboratory stress task” by Brian Leavy, Brenda H. O’Connell, and Deirdre O’Shea, 25 November 2022, International Journal of Psychophysiology.
The study was funded by the BIAL Foundation.