All this month we’ve been looking at the effect of emotions on our heart health and have discovered some really great things. Unfortunately, with the positive, also comes the negative or reverse image.
While happiness provides a bounty of benefits for our heart, negative emotions such as anxiety, worry, depression and stress, increases our risk of developing heart disease. What about toxic relationships? Are they harmful?
Where do relationships fit into the picture when it comes to our heart health? Can our emotions, either positive or negative, in our closest personal relationships put us at an increased risk for developing heart disease?
Whether or not negative, personal relationships affect our risk for developing heart disease was examined by the Whitehall II study. The long-term study began in 1985 and followed a group of more than 10,000 participants for an average of 12.2 years. Participants consisted of both men and women and ranged in age from 35 – 55 years old. Researchers controlled for psychosocial factors (depression, anxiety, worry, stress) as well as lifestyle, social demographics (age, marital status, sex, employment status,) and biological factors (high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cholesterol levels).
During the course of the study, participants were given questionnaires designed to evaluate the negative aspects of their closest personal relationships. Although the questionnaire allowed participants to respond with a maximum of four close relationships, researchers only evaluated the relationship which was identified as being the closest by the participant. Researchers divided responses into those where the closest relationship identified was the spouse or partner versus non-spouse, non-partner. Sixty-four percent of all first close personal relationships identified were spouses. Responses were also evaluated by the type of relationship: confiding/emotional support (confides in close relationship, self-esteem builder, shares values or interests) or practical support (i.e. actual practical support or help provided by the closest personal relationship to the participant).