Getty: Thomas Berwick

Getty: Thomas Berwick

Whether you decide to “let go and let God,” or find another path to peace, new research reveals that freeing your soul from stress is one of the keys to a longer, healthier life.

Stress—generated by economic woes, racism, or the other challenges of everyday life—plays and outsize role in black women’s lives. Increasingly, scientists, psychologists and other health experts are finding that managing stress in ways minimize the harm it can have on your body is essential to staying healthy.

This latest study from Penn State and Columbia University adds more evidence that how stress effects your heart and researchers think they now know more about why.

Negative emotions may disturb the natural cycle of the autonomic nervous system—the body’s mechanism for regulating your heart beat.

By measuring heart rate variability—the time between heartbeats—and your body’s ability to regulate your heart rate after a stressful event, researchers were able to measure the impact of stress on the heart.

“Higher heart rate variability is better for health as it reflects the capacity to respond to challenges,” said Nancy L. Sin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthy Aging at Penn State in an interview conducted by Penn. “People with lower heart rate variability have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.”

Why Reactions Count

Given this possible link between negative emotions and heart health, Sin and her team analyzed data from 909 study participants ages 35 to 85, measuring their reactions during daily telephone interviews, over eight consecutive days, along with an electrocardiogram (a test that measure heart activity).

The study focused on talking to study participants about their reactions to everyday stresses—common, unavoidable events, rather than unusual stresses, such as divorce or the loss of the loved one. Very few stress studies have looked at reactions to constant, moderate form of stresses.

Study participants were asked to report their stressful events and whether they felt the events were “not at all,” “not very,” “somewhat” or “very” stressful. They were also asked if they felt angry, sad or nervous on each day.

The research team found that a people who reported a lot of stressful events in their lives were not necessarily those who had lower heart rate variability. But, the people who saw the events as more stressful and therefore experienced more negative emotions had lower heart rate variability, meaning they likely had a higher risk of developing heart disease.

“These results tell us that a person’s perceptions and emotional reactions to stressful events are more important than exposure to stress per se,” Sin said. “This adds to the evidence that minor hassles might pile up to influence health. We hope these findings will help inform the development of interventions to improve well-being in daily life and to promote better health.”

Look at it this way, the next time someone throws shade your way, take a deep breath, exhale, and walk away. You’ll be protecting your heart and your health.