Holding in Emotions After Spouse’s Death Linked to Greater Inflammation
When facing the grief of losing a spouse, a new study suggests it may be better for your health to let your emotions flow and not try to hold them in, particularly in the beginning.
“There has been work focused on the link between emotion regulation and health after romantic breakups, which shows that distracting oneself from thoughts of the loss may be helpful,” said Dr. Christopher Fagundes, an associate professor of psychology at Rice University and the principal investigator for the grant that funded the study.
“However, the death of a spouse is a very different experience because neither person initiated the separation or can attempt to repair the relationship.”
For the study, the researchers surveyed 99 grieving spouses to assess how they were coping with their loss. On a scale of 1 to 7, participants rated how closely they agreed with statements about certain coping strategies. (For example, they were asked to agree or disagree with a statement saying, “When I’m faced with a stressful situation, I make myself think about it in a way that helps me stay calm.”)
Meanwhile, the participants had their blood drawn so the researchers could measure the levels of inflammatory markers called cytokines.
“Bodily inflammation is linked to a host of negative health conditions, including serious cardiovascular issues like stroke and heart attack,” Fagundes said.
Overall, the results show that people who generally avoided expressing their emotions suffered more bodily inflammation than those who expressed their emotions freely.
“These findings really highlight the importance of acknowledging one’s emotions after the death of a spouse rather than bottling them up,” Fagundes said.
“The research also suggests that not all coping strategies are created equal, and that some strategies can backfire and have harmful effects, especially in populations experiencing particularly intense emotions in the face of significant life stressors, such as losing a loved one,” added Dr. Richard Lopez, an assistant professor of psychology at Bard College and lead author of the study.
In the future, the researchers plan to assess the traits of people who do not have considerable and prolonged physical and mental health problems at six months and 12 months following the death of a spouse.
The researchers say that expressing emotions immediately after the loss may promote better physical and mental health outcomes; however, after a certain amount of time has passed, if one is still doing so, it may reflect severe and prolonged mental and physical health problems, they said.
The study is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Source: Rice University
Pedersen, T. (2020). Holding in Emotions After Spouse’s Death Linked to Greater Inflammation. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/02/06/holding-in-emotions-after-spouses-death-linked-to-greater-inflammation/154021.html