Could Talking About Your Feelings Improve Heart Health?

Do you ever feel your heart beat faster when you’re stressed or angry? It’s natural for a strong emotion to elicit a physiological response, but some new research is showing how connected emotional and cardiovascular health can be. A study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE has shown that describing emotional situations can have a significant effect on heart rate, particularly during times of anger and stress.


The study, which was carried out by researchers at both Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California San Francisco, has raised awareness of the value of emotion research in relation to physiological responses. The research involved participants attempting a challenging maths task whilst being watched by evaluators, who were directed to give negative feedback to the participants throughout the task. The negative feedback for was intended to invoke anger in some of the participants, and shame in the others. When the task was finished the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire, with some participants receiving neutral questionnaires, and some receiving emotional assessment questionnaires; these questionnaires would ask about their feelings in that moment. For the participants who were being conditioned to feel anger, the ones who completed the emotional response questionnaire had a significantly different physiological response to those who had completed the neutral questionnaire. It was found that the condition group who were prompted to describe their feelings had a smaller increase in heart rate than those who did not. The researchers thus found that, in stressful emotional situations, the ability to describe emotions aided cardiovascular regulation by preventing heart rate increase.


What this research shows us is how important talking can be. If the group of participants in the study felt the physiological benefits of talking in a single situation, then it’s not difficult to see how long-term stress and anger issues could be resolved by being able to talk or describe your feelings. Being angry or stressed too often can have a negative impact on heart rate, potentially making it frequently abnormal. But this study shows that we can help ourselves to regulate cardiovascular health either by talking to loved ones or therapists, or describing feelings in writing. This will help protect both mental and physical health.

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