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The Lingering Effects of Stressors on Affect and Their Associations with Physical Health

  • Author(s): Leger, Kate
  • Advisor(s): Charles, Susan T
  • et al.
Abstract

Affective responses to life’s daily stressors shape our health and well-being. When studying an individual’s affective response to stress, research has primarily focused on the effects of initial reactivity to stressful events. Researchers have further theorized that a person’s ability to recover from a stressful experience is also an important contributor to health and well-being, but research supporting this claim is scarce. This dissertation examines lingering affect in response to both naturalistic and controlled laboratory-based stressors and its associations with physical health. This dissertation further examines how positive emotions influence lingering negative emotions following stress, and the relationship between lingering affective change in response to stress and sleep behavior. The first study found that next day lingering negative affect in response to a minor stressor predicted poor physical health in an assessment 10 years later (Chapter 2). The next study revealed that positive emotions play a role in how much lingering negative affect people experience. On stressor days when people experienced greater levels of positive emotions, they reported less lingering negative affect on the following day (Chapter 3). The final study used a laboratory-based design to examine the association between prolonged affective recovery from a stressor and sleep behavior. This study found that prolonged affective, but not physiological, recovery was related to worse reports of sleep quality and efficiency (Chapter 4). Findings from this dissertation demonstrate that emotions that linger following a stressful event are important for shaping physical health. These results point to the importance of emotion regulation strategies that focus on hastening affective recovery from stressful events and managing emotions that linger in the time following a stressful event.

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