Romantic thoughts reduce stress

Thinking of the partner protects against stress-induced blood pressure increase

If you have love - even in your thoughts - with you, you can deal better with stress. © Kamisoka / istock
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Relaxing thoughts: Just thinking about our loved ones can apparently mitigate physical stress reactions. This is how an experiment shows: who has the partner mentally with him, in which the blood pressure increases in stressful moments less strongly. This effect is surprisingly as great as if the partner were actually present.

Stress puts a strain on the body in many ways. For example, mental stress can increase blood pressure, dampen the immune response, and ultimately promote obesity. Scientists have been searching for factors that can alleviate the physical stress response and thus counteract negative health effects.

As an effective means has thereby emerged social support. Studies show, for example, that touches by the partner can significantly reduce stress. And even the mere presence of a loved one can seem to mitigate the body's stress response. But does this work even if the partner is only present in our thoughts?

Mental support

That's exactly what Kyle Bourassa from the University of Arizona at Tucson and his colleagues have been investigating. For their study, they recruited 102 college students with a mean age of 19, all of whom were in a happy love affair, and put them in a stressful situation: participants should keep their feet in three to four degrees Celsius cold water.

However, not all volunteers received the same mental and moral support: One third of them was lucky that the partner was sitting quietly with them in the room. On the other hand, a second group was only allowed to think about the beloved person, and a third one was forbidden to do so. Subjects from this control group should instead remember what their day had been during the assignment. display

The same effect

Which participants would be the least stressed to react to the cold water? The researchers tested this by measuring the patients' heart rate and blood pressure before, during and after the experiment. The result: who had his partner with him, showed significantly lower stress responses than the participants from the control group, especially in terms of blood pressure.

Surprisingly, however, the team observed the same effect among the subjects who had only thought of their partners. They also reacted with a much lower blood pressure increase. The effect was as strong as a physical presence of the loved one, as the team reports.

Health factor relationship

These results now provide further explanation of why people living in a romantic relationship are often healthier than singles and especially lonely individuals. "One way a love relationship promotes good health is apparently its effect on stress. It helps people cope better with stressful situations and leads to fewer cardiovascular reactions, "says Bourassa.

"It seems that thinking about the partner is just as strong a source of support as actually having that person with them, " he adds. Further studies will now show whether the observed effect is also effective in people of other age groups. (Psychophysiology, 2019; doi: 10.1111 / psyp.13324)

Source: University of Arizona

- Daniel Albat