Can Emotional Responses to Stressors in Everyday Life Predict Long-Term Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms?

Research Paper Title

Emotional Responses to Stressors in Everyday Life Predict Long-Term Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms.

Background

Individuals’ emotional responses to stressors in everyday life are associated with long-term physical and mental health. Among many possible risk factors, the stressor-related emotional responses may play an important role in future development of depressive symptoms.

The current study examined how individuals’ positive and negative emotional responses to everyday stressors predicted their subsequent changes in depressive symptoms over 18 months.

Methods

Using an ecological momentary assessment approach, participants (n = 176) reported stressor exposure, positive affect (PA), and negative affect (NA) five times a day for 1 week (n = 5,483 observations) and provided longitudinal reports of depressive symptoms over the subsequent 18 months.

A multivariate multilevel latent growth curve model was used to directly link the fluctuations in emotions in response to momentary stressors in everyday life with the long-term trajectory of depressive symptoms.

Results

Adults who demonstrated a greater difference in stressor-related PA (i.e., relatively lower PA on stressor vs. nonstressor moments) reported larger increases in depressive symptoms over 18 months.

Those with greater NA responses to everyday stressors (i.e., relatively higher NA on stressor vs. nonstressor moments), however, did not exhibit differential long-term changes in depressive symptoms.

Conclusions

Adults showed a pattern consistent with both PA and NA responses to stressors in everyday life, but only the stressor-related changes in PA (but not in NA) predicted the growth of depressive symptoms over time.

These findings highlight the important-but often overlooked-role of positive emotional responses to everyday stressors in long-term mental health.

Reference

Zhaoyang, R., Scott, S.B., Smyth, J.M., Kang, J.E. & Sliwinski, M.J. (2019) Emotional Responses to Stressors in Everyday Life Predict Long-Term Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. pii: kaz057. doi: 10.1093/abm/kaz057. [Epub ahead of print].

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