Are Negative Emotions Bad for Our Health? Not as Much as We Think

From the angry CEO in the movies who has a heart attack to the numerous articles on WebMD suggesting why people should control their anxiety, negative emotions are commonly seen as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). While research has shown this is indeed the case for more intense negative emotions, the findings have been somewhat unclear for mild, everyday negative emotions. New research from Dr. Doan and colleagues suggests the relationship between negative emotions and CVD is more complicated.

The researchers gathered information from a large dataset where over 7400 British civil servants were tracked for 28 years. They looked at how negative emotions, such as depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and negative affect, influenced blood pressure at multiple points in time. The found that, as expected from previous research, high levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms were associated with higher blood pressure (with the exception of negative affect). However, and just as important, they also found evidence that the absence of negative emotions also contributes to higher blood pressure as compared to self-reported moderate levels of negative emotions.

Thanks to this research, which was just published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, we now know that you don’t want to completely shove away those negative emotions to avoid cardiovascular disease. Some of those mild, daily, negative emotions are a natural part of life and experiencing and being aware of them may be beneficial for health. This research gives more encouragement in looking at the whole person when preventing CVD, not just simple cut-off points, and clears the way for more informed interventions in the future.

Read more about research from the Berger Institute.