The Surprising Link Between Your Emotions and Inflammation Levels

Emotions

The Surprising Link Between Your Emotions and Inflammation Levels & a mature happy woman on swing

The Surprising Link Between Your Emotions and Inflammation Levels

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Have you ever experienced a painful inflammatory process in your body, or a disease condition that involved inflammation? Chances are you would do just about anything to stop that from happening (again), right? After all, systemic inflammation is linked to serious chronic diseases including diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer, as well as increased risk of premature death.

It might surprise you to learn that according to a study published in the Feb 2018 issue of the journal “Emotions” [1] simply cultivating a wide range of positive emotions can actually help to decrease inflammation levels in the body!

The research was conducted between 2007-2012 and involved 175 participants, aged 40 to 65. Each participant submitted diaries woman holding journal and thinkingof their emotions, including such details as the number of different emotions they felt, how often they felt the emotions, and how strongly they experienced them. Researchers refer to this range or diversity of emotions as “emodiversity.” The participants were asked to assess 16 positive emotions which included:

  • Determination
  • Enthusiasm
  • Inspiration
  • Interest
  • Excitement
  • Amusement
  • Alertness
  • Activity
  • Strength
  • Pride
  • Attentiveness
  • Happiness
  • Relaxation
  • Cheerfulness
  • Ease
  • Calmness

They also assessed 16 negative emotions, including: 

  • Fright
  • Fear
  • Upset
  • Distress
  • Jittery
  • Nervousness
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Tiredness
  • Sluggishness
  • Sleepiness
  • Feeling blue
  • Sad
  • Drowsy

As part of the study participants had their blood drawn at two different intervals which were analyzed for three different inflammatory markers: IL-6, CRP, and fibrinogen.

What the researchers found is that even after accounting for age, gender, anti-inflammatory medications, BMI, medical conditions, personality, and mean levels of positive and negative emotions… the people with the lowest inflammation rates were the ones who noted a wider range of positive emotions. Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, experiencing a wider RANGE of positive emotions seemed to matter more than simply feeling happy.

And what about the negative emotions? Did those participants who experienced a wider range of negative emotions have higher levels of inflammation? You might think so, but that did not prove to be so. The researchers found that there was no association between negative emodiversity (meaning a greater range of negative emotions) and increased inflammation.

Emotional Diversity Linked to Better Overall Health

Other studies have previously investigated this idea of emotional diversity and found that variety is indeed the spice of emotional life – and an indicator of good health. One study in particular, termed the Emodiversity Project [2, 3], involved researchers from six leading universities in four countries. They undertook two studies involving more than 37,000 respondents in total. They found emodiversity to be an independent predictor of mental and physical health.

group-of-cheerful-diverse-friends-in-the-parkThe first study, comprising over 35,000 participants, found that people who experienced a high range of overall emotional diversity – not just positive emotions but negative ones as well as a mix of both – were less likely to suffer from depression than people who rated highly in positive emotions alone.

The second and smaller study involving 1,300 people found that people with higher overall emotional diversity also had better diets, exercised more, smoked less, had less need for medications, had lower health care costs, and spent less time in the hospital.

One of the project’s lead authors, Jordi Quoidbach, a psychology professor at Barcelona University, likens emotional diversity to environmental biodiversity. In an interview with “Discover magazine” [4] Prof Quoidbach stated:

“[Just as] biodiversity increases resilience to negative events because a single predator cannot wipe out an entire ecosystem, emodiversity may prevent specific emotions – in particular detrimental ones such as acute stress, anger, or sadness – from dominating the emotional ecosystem.”

In essence, these two studies seem to be rather convincing that expressing a wide range of human emotions makes us healthier overall than those who endeavor to be positive more often than not. However, other research studies have found that cultivating positive emotions does have very real and beneficial effects.

The Argument for Positive Emotional Diversity

Barbara L Fredrickson, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, and author of the book “Positivity” [5], has spent years investigating the role of positive emotions. Her studies have led her to believe that positive emotions help to function as efficient antidotes, helping to correct or undo the lingering after-effects of negative emotions. She and her colleagues have termed this the “undoing hypothesis.”

Prof Fredrickson believes that negative emotions like fear and anger close down our minds and our hearts, whereas deeply felt positive emotions do quite the opposite. They open up our hearts and minds, improve our mindsets, and even our biochemistry.

Fredrickson is often quoted due to her studies in positivity. She also formulated a theory called the Broaden-and-Build Theory, which holds that positive emotions are evolved psychological adaptations that helped to increase our ancestors’ odds of survival and reproduction.

In effect, in contrast with negative emotions, which assisted our ancestors to adapt in life-threatening circumstances, the benefits of broadened thought–action repertoires emerged over time and carried indirect and long-term ability to adapt because they helped to build social connections, coping strategies, and environmental knowledge [6].

The Emotional Tipping Point: A 3:1 Ratio

mature female volunteer at parkProf Fredrickson’s studies have found that there is a tipping point between positive and negative emotions. She explains that in order to reap the benefits of positive thinking, we need three positive emotions to help uplift us and open us up, as opposed to every one negative (as she terms it, “gut-wrenching”) emotion we may experience. According to her studies, this 3:1 ratio separates those who merely get by in life from those who truly flourish [7].

Fredrickson says that most people clock in at ratios of 2:1 (positive to negative emotions) and even 1:1, so these people tend not to enjoy the benefits of positivity. And while pressuring or forcing yourself to increase the positivity in your life will more than likely backfire, causng what she terms “toxic insincerity,” Prof Fredrickson does have some tips for helping to improve genuine, heart-felt positivity.

9 Ways to Improve Your Positive Emotions

#1. Cultivate an attitude of openness and let go of rigid expectations.

#2. Begin being more mindful. Try to live in the moment. How are you right this very minute? If you’re okay, just appreciate that. Try not to focus on past events or worry about future events.

#3. Work with expanding your awareness. Be curious about things and allow for other ideas.

#4. Begin to be more appreciative and grateful for small blessings.

#5. Be kinder to yourself and to others.

#6. Be real and sincere.

#7. When feeling negative, question the mental habits that may be feeding the flame of negativity. Try not to jump to conclusions or expect bad things to happen.

#8. Discover what things make you come alive and then give those activities higher priority in your life.

#9. Focus on the things that bring you joy, peace, serenity, and even deep curiosity.

As a useful tool to help people to track their positivity ratio, Fredrickson created a two-minute test which can be taken on the website: www.PositivityRatio.com. (Click on “Take the Test.”)

She recommends taking the test at the end of each day for two weeks to get a sense of your personal ratio. This is important because efforts to cultivate positive emotions today, Fredrickson tells us, make us better today, tomorrow, and next season than we would be otherwise.

So, which research resonates more with you? The Emodiversity Project’s findings that a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative, keeps us healthier? Or will you prefer to cultivate a more positive way of thinking by tweaking your positive thoughts toward the 3:1 ratio, as described by Prof Fredrickson?

Either way, it appears that not letting any single emotion, or set of emotions, dominate your life helps you to flourish. To flourish means to be functioning optimally, and be embracing goodness, growth, good health, and resilience during life’s ups and downs. And certainly, isn’t that what life is about?


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Sources:

  1. [1] Emodiversity and Biomarkers of Inflammation
  2. [2] Emodiversity and the Emotional Ecosystem
  3. [3] IN A SAMPLE OF 30,000+ PEOPLE, EXPERIENCING DIVERSE EMOTIONS PREDICTS MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
  4. [4] Emodiversity: A Mix of Emotions Is Healthiest?
  5. [5] Positivity
  6. [6] The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology - The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions
  7. [7] Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing

Article Summary

  • Systemic inflammation is linked to serious chronic diseases including diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer, as well as increased risk of premature death.

  • Cultivating a wide range of positive emotions can actually help to decrease inflammation levels in the body.

  • Researchers found people with the lowest inflammation rates were the ones who noted a wider RANGE of positive emotions.

  • Researchers also found emotional diversity (aka emodiversity) to be an independent predictor of mental and physical health.

  • People with higher overall emotional diversity also had better diets, exercised more, smoked less, had less need for medications, had lower health care costs, and spent less time in the hospital.

  • In order to reap the benefits of positive thinking, we need three positive emotions opposed to every one negative emotion we may experience.

  • It’s important not to let any single emotion, or set of emotions, dominate your life.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. With the world in constant turmoil, and the media spewing lies and hatred on a daily basis it’s almost impossible to maintain a positive attitude or outlook on life unless perhaps you withdraw from society and become a survivalist in the outback of Australia or somewhere in remote Alaska! The world is so divided particularly our own country (US) it’s difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Maintaining positive emotions continually is virtually impossible. Those that can are nothing short of heroic! The stress of pure existence in our volatile world is the reason for the skyrocketing rise of inflammation among the general population! That said, I’m sure there are a world of benefits for those who can embrace “the power of positive thinking.” Easier said then done!

    • Thank you for sharing your input on this topic, Roger. We believe in taking small steps towards applying positive thinking into your daily life. Definitely not easy, but somehow not impossible. We wish you the best!

    • Roger,
      I agree to a point. I sometimes find myself dwelling on all the negative news. And I get anxious. Then when I’m in a clearer state of mind, I see all the good around me. The day to day goodness of a caring doctor, or the neighbor who drags my garbage cans up off the street when I forget, or my sister who calls to chat when she’s on her way hone. Then I realize the world is full of people like that with daily positive interactions. Those aren’t highlighted in the news. They aren’t newsworthy, so our perception of the world is skewed. Don’t let the media persuade you to see the world as a negative place.

      • Another idea is to reduce listening time to the news or stop listening all together. I have done that and I try to limit my intake of it like junk food. It really helps me!

        • I agree with you Melinda. I agree with you Melinda. I’ve made it a practice not to watch the news after 10 am so that I do not have all that negative energy before falling asleep. We just have to be conscious of our thoughts and not allow the negative to consume our thoughts.

          • Hi I like your practice!what I have done is-and some people do not belive is posible-I gave away my TV!few years now-more than 5!!and I can be soooo HAPPY.Try if you can for a week,you’ll here news from frinds or neighbours etc

    • Thank you for your interest with Organixx, Sherry. We do have a range of supplements that do not contain turmeric and kale, which you can browse at shop.organixx.com. Let us know if you any questions!

  2. Oh my I just experienced this as old trauma came up and my body got inflamed. Thank you so much I knew there was a connection. So important to heal our body and the old trauma and emotions held in our cells; not only for the individual but also for the collective trauma. Each of us are responsible if we want to bring peace and non violence into both our personal and collective worlds. So grateful for this article. So supportive of my journey. Love and grace to all everywhere!

    • Hi Careena, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Sending you back love, peace and happiness!

  3. very truthful and it makes a after things are barrel of scence! It’s unhealthy to have my stomach in knots, or end up with a splitting headache when things don’t go as planned. Any tension causes more problems physically. Even the trips to the bathroom increase when we allow ourselves to be uptight bout something. Scripture says a merry heart is good medicine.

    • You got that right, Gretha! Thank you for taking the time to leave this comment, we definitely enjoyed reading it.

  4. This is where the God of the universe comes in. He said in this world you will have tribulation, but He said…I have overcome the world. Yes,I have problems and trials. But this is not the end.. Jesus said, trust me!

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