Physical closeness eases stress by emotional ‘load sharing’

Toronto, Sep 15 (IANS) A strong relationship with your loved ones can help ease stress when placed in difficult social situations by emotional “load sharing”, new research suggests.

A team from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, found that physical closeness allowed the participants to manage their stress more efficiently.

However, when physical contact was removed from the equation, only the participants who reported higher relationship quality showed signs of emotional “load sharing”.

“We wanted to test a new evolutionary theory in psychology called ‘Social Baseline Theory’ which suggests that humans adapted to be close to other humans. The idea is that individuals function at a relative deficit when they are farther away from people they trust,” explained study co-author Jessica Lougheed.

In their study, the team measured the stress levels of 66 adolescent girls during a spontaneous speech task.

During the speeches, researchers tracked the participants’ level of stress.

The researchers found that physical closeness helped participants cope up with stress more efficiently, regardless of how close the mother-daughter pair reported being.

“Our results suggest that we are better equipped to overcome challenging situations when we are closer – either physically or in terms of how we feel in our relationships – to people we trust,” Lougheed noted.

Higher physical or relationship closeness helped the daughters feel like they could overcome the challenging situation.

Participants who had reported the lowest level of mother-daughter relationship closeness and lacked physical contact during the task were the least efficient in managing emotional stress.

“We were somewhat surprised to find that mothers’ stress did not vary by physical closeness. After all, it can be stressful for parents to watch their children perform but being able to offer physical comfort might have lessened the mothers’ stress,” the authors added.

The results, published in the journal Emotion, suggest that physical contact can overcome some difficulties associated with relatively low relationship quality.

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