The purpose of the present study was to examine whether stress-somatic symptom associations may be more pronounced among individuals whose bodies exhibit higher levels of cardiovascular reactivity to a laboratory social stress task. During an initial laboratory session, participants delivered a 5-min speech and individual differences in cardiovascular reactivity were quantified. The same participants subsequently completed a 15-day experience sampling protocol, in which daily levels of stress and somatic symptoms were assessed. Multi-level modeling was used to assess associations among laboratory cardiovascular reactivity, daily stress and somatic symptoms. Daily symptom reports included a set of commonly experienced physical symptoms reflective of general bodily dysfunction. Individuals displaying high levels of laboratory systolic blood pressure reactivity experienced more somatic symptoms on high-stress days, but this was not the case for individuals low in systolic blood pressure reactivity. The results bridge two hitherto distinct health psychology literatures showing that cardiovascular and somatic reactivity to stress are associated. Stress reactivity individual differences in one system may indicate more general differences in bodily reactivity across systems.
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Other measures not relevant to the current study were assessed at this second laboratory session.
One of the daily stressors involved “health problems or fatigue”. This stressor item clearly refers to bodily symptoms and might therefore inflate stress-symptom associations, though it is difficult to see how this would affect the moderation effects of systolic blood pressure reactivity observed. In any case, it was deemed important to replicate the key multi-level model interaction with this item dropped from the computation of daily stress scores. Indeed, the interaction remained significant when doing so [b = .08, t(567) = 2.26, P < .05].
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Hilmert, C.J., Ode, S., Zielke, D.J. et al. Blood pressure reactivity predicts somatic reactivity to stress in daily life. J Behav Med 33, 282–292 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-010-9256-x
- Cardiovascular reactivity
- Somatic symptoms