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Picturing your partner while stressed keeps blood pressure low – study



When facing a stressful situation, just thinking about your other half helps stop your blood pressure running high, a study suggests. 

Researchers asked more than a 100 volunteers to put their feet in chilly water, in order to trigger ‘internal stress’.

They found that imaging their loved ones was enough to prevent temporary hypertension. 

The researchers hope simply reflecting on your other half may help people cope when it all gets too much, such as during an exam or before an operation. 

The research was carried out by the University of Arizona (UA) and led by psychology doctoral student Kyle Bourassa.

‘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.

‘These findings suggest a relational approach to doing so can be quite powerful.’ 

Nearly half of adults in the US – 103million – have high blood pressure, which puts them at risk of heart disease and stroke, statistics from the charity Heart reveal.

And one in four adults in the UK – 12.5million people – had hypertension in 2015, according to Government data. 

The NHS defines high blood pressure as a reading of 140/90mmHg or above, with the ideal being between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.

To test how our other half influences our risk of hypertension, the researchers analysed 102 volunteers in committed relationships while they completed the cold pressor task. 

This involved the participants placing a foot in cold water ranging from 3.3°C (38°F) to 4.4°C (40°F) for around a minute.   

Cold water causes nerves to trigger a reaction that makes blood vessels narrow, leading to temporary hypertension and a fast heart rate. 

During the task, the volunteers were randomly assigned to either have their partners present, think about their other halves or simply reflect on a typical day in their lives.

Results revealed those who had their partners present – or even just thought about them – had lower blood pressure than the volunteers who mused on their day-to-day lives. 

And those with ‘relationship satisfaction’ benefited most. 

These findings may explain why people in happy relationships are often healthier than their miserable counterparts or singletons, Bourassa said.

‘This suggests that one way being in a romantic relationship might support people’s health is through allowing people to better cope with stress and lower levels of cardiovascular reactivity to stress across the day,’ he said.

‘And it appears that thinking of your partner as a source of support can be just as powerful as actually having them present.’

Results further revealed the volunteers who had their loved ones by their side also felt less pain while in the chilly water. 

But heart rates did not differ between the participants. 

The volunteers were undergraduates at the UA. The researchers hope future studies will look at members of the public of varying ages.

If the same results occur, these trials could lead to therapies that help people cope with day-to-day stress, they add. 

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