*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on PsychCentral.
How a teen handles chronic stress — whether they bottle up their emotions or put a positive spin on things — can affect processes in the body like blood pressure and how immune cells respond to bacterial invaders, according to new research published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
For the study, Penn State researchers looked at whether the strategies adolescents use to deal with chronic family stress can impact various metabolic and immune processes in the body.
Two notable strategies used by teens in the study were cognitive reappraisal (trying to think of the stressor in a more positive way) and suppression (inhibiting the expression of emotions in reaction to a stressor).
The findings reveal that when faced with chronic family stress, teens who used cognitive reappraisal had better metabolic measures, such as blood pressure and waist-to-hip ratio — a measurement used as an indicator of health and chronic disease risk.
Teens who were more likely to use suppression tended to have more inflammation when their immune cells were exposed to a bacterial stimulus in the lab, even in the presence of anti-inflammatory signals.
The results suggest that the coping skills teens develop by the time they are adolescents have the potential to impact their health later in life.
“These changes are not something that will detrimentally impact anyone’s health within a week or two, but that over years or decades could make a difference,” said co-author Dr. Hannah Schreier, assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State.
“That may be how small changes in metabolic or inflammatory outcomes may become associated with poorer health or a greater chance of developing a chronic disease later in life.”
The results show that under conditions of greater chronic family stress, the immune cells of teens who were more likely to use suppression also tended to produce more pro-inflammatory cytokines, molecules that signal to other cells that there is a threat present and that the body’s immune system needs to kick into gear.
Meanwhile, the researchers found that teens who more often used cognitive reappraisal to deal with family stress had smaller waist-to-hip ratios and lower blood pressure.