What’s Love Got to Do with It: Stress Management & Buffering

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu

Aloha Colleagues!

As nurses, we know that patients who have supportive relationships do better than those who don’t. A caring family or partner can make all the difference in helping people live longer, better lives.

This concept is well-documented in empirical research.

The buffering theory states that the “presence of a social support system helps buffer, or shield, an individual from the negative impact of stressful events”. There is a huge volume of research that supports the idea that social support systems lengthen a person’s longevity, health, and wellness.
Multiple studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between strong social support systems and the ability to fight cancer and avoid Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular illness.

Since people are social creatures, it only makes sense that a strong social support system would have a positive impact on mental and physical health. But there’s current research that takes this idea a step further:

Just THINKING about the person you love can make you resistant to pain & the associated cardiovascular stress.

Dr. Kyle Bourassa, a prominent
researcher in the area of human relationships at the University of Arizona in Tucson, recently published a study that suggests that being in the presence of your partner can help you cope with stress and that, more intriguing still, even just THINKING about your significant other can have the same positive effects.

The research appeared in the journal Psychophysiology in January, 2019. In it, 102 voluntary participants immersed their lower extremities ice-water and had their stress response monitored. All of
the study participants were in long-term romantic relationships. The volunteers were divided into three experimental groups:
The people in the first group had their romantic partners sitting quietly with them while they completed the stressful task.
The people in the second group received the instruction to simply imagine receiving support from their partners while completing the task.
The third group was asked to think about the events of the day.

The surprising finding: Subjects who thought about their significant others experienced stress buffering equal to those whose partners were present!

“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,” notes Bourassa.

But just THINKING about the loved-one decreased the pain & stress responses.

Could this be one reason why many patients bring family photos with them when they are admitted to the hospital? Could we use this knowledge as a clinical pearl, and encourage patients to talk story about the people they love?

Mahalo for all you do!
Leslie

For more information, visit
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/psyp.13324