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Both High and Low Levels of Negative Emotions Are Associated with Higher Blood Pressure: Evidence from Whitehall II Cohort Study

  • Nadya DichEmail author
  • Naja Hulvej Rod
  • Stacey N. Doan
Full length manuscript

Abstract

Background

Previous studies of negative emotions and blood pressure (BP) produced mixed findings. Based on the functionalist and evolutionary perspective on emotions, we hypothesized that the association between negative emotions and BP is U-shaped, i.e., that both very high levels of negative emotions and the absence thereof are related to high BP.

Methods

Data from 7479 British civil servants who participated in Phases 1–11 (years 1985–2013) of the Whitehall II cohort study was used. Negative emotions were operationalized as negative affect and depressive and anxiety symptoms. Negative affect was measured at Phases 1 and 2. Anxiety and depressive symptoms were assessed at each phase. BP was measured at every other phase. For each negative emotion measure, an average across all phases was computed and used as a predictor of PB levels throughout the follow-up period using growth curve models.

Results

Very high values of anxiety and depressive symptoms, but not negative affect, were associated with higher levels of systolic BP. However, low to moderate levels of all negative emotions were associated with lower blood pressure than the absence of negative emotions.

Conclusions

The article offers a theoretical explanation for a previously observed inverse association between negative emotions and blood pressure and underscores that moderate levels of negative emotions that naturally occur in everyday life are not associated with risks of heightened blood pressure.

Keywords

Negative emotions Anxiety Depression Blood pressure 

Notes

Funding Information

This work was supported by a grant from the Danish Research Council (DFF 4183–00474) to ND.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Statement of Informed Consent

The Whitehall II study is approved by the London-Harrow Research Ethics Committee and the Scotland Research Ethics Committee. All participants who had clinical examination were asked to give written informed consent.

Supplementary material

12529_2019_9844_MOESM1_ESM.docx (46 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 46 kb)

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Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyClaremont McKenna CollegeClaremontUSA

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