Dwelling On Stressful Events Can Make You Sick

University of Ohio researchers have found that when people “were asked to dwell on stressful events, their levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of tissue inflammation, rose”. This is the first study to directly measure the physical effect that obsessing on negative events has on our bodies. “Much of the past work on this subject has looked at this in non-experimental designs. Researchers have asked people to report their tendency to ruminate, and then looked to see if it connected to physiological issues (ie cortisol levels). It’s been correlational for the most part,” said lead researcher, Dr. Peggy Zoccola.


In this new study, Dr. Zoccola et al recruited 34 healthy young women and “asked each to give a speech about her candidacy for a job to two interviewers in white laboratory coats, who listened with stone-faced expressions”.

Half of the group was asked to contemplate their performance in the public speaking task, while the other half was asked to think about neutral images and activities, such as sailing ships or grocery store trips. The researchers drew blood samples that showed that the levels of C-reactive protein were significantly higher in the subjects who were asked to dwell on the speech. For these participants, the levels of the inflammatory marker continued to rise for at least one hour after the speech. During the same time period, the marker returned to starting levels in the subjects who had been asked to focus on other thoughts.

What does this mean to you?

  • C-reactive protein is produced as part of the immune system’s initial inflammatory response. It rises in response to traumas, injuries or infections in the body. In these short-term situations, it’s a good thing.

However, in when elevated levels of C-reactive protein become a chronic, day-to-day kind of thing…it’s not so good. “More and more, chronic inflammation is being associated with various chronic disorders and conditions, such as….heart disease, cancer, dementia and autoimmune diseases.” Conclusions

  1. The result of a single study should always be judged with a critical eye. More research is necessary before mainstream science and medicine will get on board.
  2. You don’t have to wait for mainstream medical approval to make use of this research. We all have stressful situations in our lives…lots of opportunities to obsess and dwell on how we were screwed over by our bosses or that jerk on the highway.

The next time you find yourself dwelling over some crappy event in your life…pay CLOSE ATTENTION to how your body feels.

  • Pay attention to your breathing – are you holding your breath?
  • Pay attenting to your temperature – do you feel warm, cold, normal? Are your hands sweaty, clammy?
  • Pay attention to your heartbeat
  • Look at your face in the mirror…what do you see
  • Pay attention to your muscles – tight or relaxed?
  • Listen to your emotions – anger, sadness, calm, happy?

And after you have collected all that data, ask yourself a question…

  • Is dwelling on this particulary stressful event good or bad for YOU?




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One comment

  1. Ah, this is a good example of why I distrust the social ‘sciences’. As is true for far too many social science experiments, the data is valid, but the premise they’ve based their conclusions on – and more importantly their recommendations – is probably false, and at minimum unproven.

    For some reason I’ve yet to understand, the psychological and psychiatric profession seems bound and determined to have everyone ‘just whistle a happy tune’. In their truncated and strangely non-pragmatic world, rape, murder, genocide, infanticide, serial killing, armed robbery, kidnapping, torture, etc… just don’t exist. Or, if they do, aren’t valid things to ‘ruminate’ on.

    They’re awful things to think about. So let’s not. Let’s not, for heaven’s sake, as a profession ever consider to THINK ABOUT what HAS ACTUALLY HAPPENED to vast numbers of disadvantaged people. But not us, apparently. So no reason to actually spend any brain cells thinking about that awful, icky, nasty stuff. So, let’s just everybody be happy, or we’ll wag our finger of disapproval at you – “It’s not good for your health, you know!”

    Except – didn’t Lincoln ruminate on how to deal with slavery? Martin Luther King on racism? Rosa Parks on segregation? Mandela on apartheid? Banting and Best on diabetes? Mdm. Curie on radiation? Winston Churchill on Hitler and Nazism?

    Neville Chamberlain seemed bound and determined to whistle a happy tune. Look at where that got everyone!

    The truth is, one of the biggest factors determining whether someone who has gone through life-threatening trauma will go on to develop PTSD or not – is not whether or not they’ve gone through a trauma (hard as that is to believe). It’s not even whether or how much they ‘ruminate’ on it (psychiatrists/psychologists don’t like to acknowledge it, but your thinking mind has little to nothing to do with it by that point – your body/brainstem dictates your response). One of THE biggest factors is whether or not you are met with SUPPORT or rejection by your friends/family/community AFTER the trauma. How might that look in an experiment? Hmmm, I don’t know, perhaps by having people around you in authority looking “stone-faced” while you recount a stressful experience? The experimenters would have you believe that ‘dwelling on stressful events can make you sick’. Perhaps. But logic, should we care to step back into the real world, might just tell us that that makes no sense. That in the real world figuring out WHY something bad happened to us, and HOW we can avoid it in future, might just have some real value to our survival. And, oh I don’t know – perhaps our mental health? Perhaps even our physical well-being? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19618990

    C-Reactive protein goes up when our bodies are in danger, you say?

    Perhaps, just perhaps, the experimental conditions of having someone describe (or go through) a stressful situation with someone sitting stone-faced and unempathetic in front of them throughout might *just* mean to your real-world body: THIS PERSON IS ACTING LIKE THE ENEMY AND YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED BECAUSE – FOR THE LOVE OF GOD – YOU’RE STILL IN DANGER BECAUSE YOU’RE SITTING IN FRONT OF A COLD-BLOODED UNCARING PSYCHOPATH?


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