Trying to figure out a trick to keep mental stress in check? It turns out just thinking about your romantic partner during a stressful situation may help keep your blood pressure under control just as effectively as actually having your significant other in the room with you.
As part of a recent study, 102 participants were asked to complete a stressful task which included submerging one foot into 3 inches of cold water ranging from 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The participants, all of whom were in committed romantic relationships, were randomly assigned to one of three conditions when completing the task.
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* They either had their significant other sitting quietly in the room with them during the task.
* They were instructed to think about their romantic partner as a source of support during the task
* Or they were instructed to think about their day during the task.
Those who had their partner physically present in the room or who thought about their partner had a lower blood pressure response to the stress of the cold water than the participants in the control group, who were instructed to think about their day.
Heart rate and heart rate variability did not vary between the three groups.
The effect on blood pressure reactivity was just as powerful whether the partner was physically present or merely conjured mentally.
“And it appears that thinking of your partner as a source of support can be just as powerful as actually having them present,” said Kyle Bourassa, lead researcher of the study.
“Life is full of stress, and one critical way we can manage this stress is through our relationships – either with our partner directly or by calling on a mental image of that person,” Bourassa said. “There are many situations, including at work, with school exams or even during medical procedures, where we would benefit from limiting our degree of blood pressure reactivity, and these findings suggest that a relational approach to doing so can be quite powerful,” he added.
With the help of these findings, researchers suggested that being in a romantic relationship might support people’s health by allowing them to better cope with stress and lower levels of cardiovascular reactivity.