Are you saying "Ho ho ho!" or "Bah, humbug!" more this holiday season? Pretending to be jolly when you’re in a foul mood can seem phony and sometimes there's no reason for a good mood. That said, negative affectivity may trigger more inflammatory cytokines than " Positive Affectivity ."
New research ( Graham-Engeland et al., 2018 ) has identified a correlation between negative moods and inflammation. This paper, “Negative and Positive Affect as Predictors of Inflammation: Timing Matters,” was recently published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity .
For this study, the researchers had participants self-assess positive or negative moods throughout the day using a questionnaire. They also took blood samples throughout the day to measure fluctuating concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP) and seven peripheral inflammatory cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6, TNF-α, IL-8, IL-4, IL-10, and IFN-γ).
This Penn State psychophysiology-based research team was led by principal investigator Jennifer Graham-Engeland . Notably, the researchers found that positive moods are associated with less inflammation in some people, whereas negative moods—such as feeling angry, grumpy, or gloomy—are associated with higher levels of inflammation across the board.
Inflammation and Immune Response Are Intertwined
These findings add to previous research linking depression and hostility with higher inflammation. According to the researchers, this is the first study to identify a correlation between negative affect and higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers. Countless other studies have found a correlation between chronic inflammation and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and diabetes.
Play with your children. Let them choose the activity, and don't worry about rules. Just go with the flow and have fun. That's the name of the game.
The design of this study is unique because researchers used questionnaires which asked participants to recall their feelings over a period of time and they also asked participants how they were feeling in the moment. These self-assessments were then compared to blood work samples that matched each time-date stamp in the questionnaire.
The Penn State researchers are quick to point out that this study has some limitations, such as its cross-sectional design and self-reported questionnaires. Before drawing firm conclusions on these initial findings, the authors warn that more research is needed. Hopefully, these preliminary findings will inspire more clinical research that pinpoints targeted ways that individuals can learn to avoid negative moods from minute-to-minute, day-to-day, and across a lifespan.
As an ultra-marathon runner, Christopher Bergland learned how to avoid negative moods while competing under adverse racing conditions. In this photo, he is running 135-miles nonstop through Death Valley in July where temperatures can reach 130-degrees Fahrenheit. Source: Courtesy of Kiehl's Since 1851
We have a long time to wait for these study results to help guide us, but numerous researchers, such as Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ revised guidelines on screen time, Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and professor at San Diego State University and author of iGen, and Dr. Sherry Turkle, an psychologist at MIT and author of Reclaiming Conversation, offer strong words of caution regarding the effects of screens.
Anecdotally, the findings of this study resonate with me as an ultra-endurance athlete. Early in my long-distance running career, it became clear that negative moods create physiological changes in my body that cause me to run slower. Because I was often running 100+ miles at a stretch in grueling conditions (such as 130-degree temperatures in Death Valley), there was a lot of time to play around with fine-tuning my emotion regulation to avoid negative affect. Through trial-and-error, I was able to identify a sweet spot of “pragmatic optimism” that felt authentic and boosted my mental toughness.
Brooke Shields (mom of two girls Rowan and Grier): “Trust me when I tell you I’m on my girls. And every time I am, I know from the outside it looks like I’m an overbearing, controlling parent. But I don’t think we are responsible to anybody but our kids and ourselves.”
For example, if my feet were covered in blisters and I still had a couple marathons to run, I wouldn’t pretend that everything was hunky-dory, if it actually sucked. But, I also wouldn’t allow myself to dwell on negativity or physical pain. Dialing into the sweet spot between being a hopeless pessimist or a delusional optimist—in a way that feels genuine and wholehearted—can be tricky.
Ultimately, although it's painfully cliché, I believe that pragmatic optimism boils down to making a conscious decision to always view the proverbial glass as half-full. Again, this doesn't mean you have to be a phony, Styrofoam Pollyanna. But, even in the direst situation, you can make an effort to look on the bright side and find a tiny sliver of silver lining.
The Evidence on Elder Wisdom
Along this same line, when I was at the top of my game, I knew that I didn’t necessarily need to feel blissful or ecstatic to move swiftly and achieve peak performance. However, on the flip side, the millisecond I allowed a negative affect to take hold of my mind, I could instantaneously feel a tectonic shift inside my body that made it impossible to run really fast. The moment this phenomenon occurred, I knew there was no way I was going to win the race.
After reading the latest findings from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development , I have a hunch that what I was experiencing as an athlete was the mind-body link between negative moods and inflammation. Inflammatory cytokines hinder peak athletic performance.
Let them read what they want. Kids who read for pleasure excel academically—not only in language arts but, as recent research from the Institute of Education, in London, found, in math as well. So while you wish he would pick up Dickens, don't make him feel bad about a graphic novel. "A 'junky' series can be good if it gets kids hooked on the habit of reading," says Mary Leonhardt, a former high school English teacher and the author of Parents Who Love Reading, Kids Who Don't.
Based on my road-tested, anecdotal experience and the latest empirical evidence by Graham-Engeland et al., it makes sense that positive moods don’t necessarily reduce inflammation. I'd make an educated guess that we don't have to be happy all the time to prevent inflammatory cytokines from skyrocketing. The key in both sport and life seems to be staying out of the "no man's land" of all-consuming negative moods. This is a generous psychobiological design. Avoiding a negative affect feels more sustainable than trying to pretend you're happy all the time.
While researchers continue to amass data indicating this connection, the actual direction of the relationship remained unclear: Is it that depressed and lonely people are more likely to seek out social media and use it more often than others, or does social media use directly contribute to people’s experience of more negative mental health symptoms?
As a real-time example, if I imagine myself as the character wearing a suit in the stock photo at the top of this page, I can visualize the sweet spot between a positive and negative affect. As you can see, he's holding an alter-ego curled up in the fetal position under a frowning rain cloud with a lightning bolt in his right hand; and another alter-ego jumping for joy under a bright, sunny sky in his left hand. The "Pragmatic Optimist" balances positive and negative affect and finds a sweet spot that is smack-dab in the middle between these two extremes. This state of mind would be marked by his hands being perfectly level against the gray background.
found online is correct, accurate or relevant. Show your child how to check information they find by comparing it to alternative sources on the same topic. Show them trusted sites they can use to compare information.
In my opinion, the main takeaway of this research is that in order to keep your inflammatory cytokines in check, you don’t have to maintain a gleeful mood 24/7, but you should make a consistent and concerted effort to minimize the amount of time you spend in a negative mood throughout the day.
"We hope that this research will prompt investigators to include momentary measures of stress and affect in research examining inflammation, to replicate the current findings and help characterize the mechanisms underlying associations between affect and inflammation," Jennifer Graham-Engeland said in a statement. "Because affect is modifiable, we are excited about these findings and hope that they will spur additional research to understand the connection between affect and inflammation, which in turn may promote novel psychosocial interventions that promote health broadly and help break a cycle that can lead to chronic inflammation, disability, and disease."