Can Negative Emotions Increase Inflammation?

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have found that multiple feelings of anger and sadness over a course of a day are linked to higher levels of inflammation. These findings are important because, while short periods of inflammation fight infections and foster wound healing, chronic inflammation contributes to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Over the years research has continued to emerge showing that negative emotions can strongly affect physical health. For example, stress can elevate blood pressure, and anger can trigger a heart attack. This latest study provides yet more evidence of the mind-body connection.

Blood Tests Suggest Negative Emotions Trigger Inflammation

Authors of the study believe it’s the first investigation to explore the association between recalled mood and inflammation. Participants were required to recall their emotions over a given timeframe, as well as report how they were feeling in the moment several times per day over the course of two weeks. Blood was collected to measure inflammation markers.

Results showed that frequent negative emotions were linked to higher levels of inflammation. Further analysis found that the strongest associations happened when the blood tests were conducted close in time to the incidents of negative emotions. Moreover, among men, momentary positive emotions were linked to a reduction in inflammation.

In an interview with Live in the Now , Dr. Dora Wolfe, psychologist and Clinical Director of Wolfe Behavioral Health, PC , shared her insights. “Negative feelings and thoughts trigger a stress response that releases chemicals into the bloodstream, which increases inflammation. Conversely, positive thoughts release feel-good chemicals. The state of our bodies when we are in a positive emotional place is drastically different than when we are in a negative emotional place.”

The study design differed in some ways from earlier research, according to principal investigator Jennifer Graham-Engeland, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State. In addition to using questionnaires to gauge the participants’ feelings over time, the researchers questioned the individuals on how they were feeling in the moment.

“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,” said Graham-Engeland. “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.”

The findings call for continued research to explore how daily life interventions can boost mood and improve the ability to cope with stress. Results were published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity .

Tips for Reducing Negative Feelings in Your Daily Life

A key thing to remember is Graham-Engeland’s statement that “affect is modifiable,” meaning it’s possible to change our emotions. People with negative feelings can benefit from stress management techniques. And because negative thoughts lead to negative feelings, intentionally setting our minds on positives, such as thinking of things for which we are grateful, will also help.

“We can control what we think about. Shifting from a negative space may seem difficult, but cultivating mindfulness can make all the difference,” said Wolfe. She recommends the following techniques to get into a more positive frame of mind when you’re consumed by angry or depressing thoughts:

  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Watch something funny on TV or YouTube.
  • Look at pictures of a favorite vacation or experience.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at . Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies .

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