Research suggests that positive emotions play an important role in mental and physical health outcomes including combating the effects of stress. Research has also shown that positive emotions decrease autonomic nervous system reactivity and build personal resources, initiating an "upward spiral" of well-being (Frederickson, 2003). Two methods discussed in the literature to increase positive emotions are relaxation (e.g., progressive muscle relaxation; PMR) and gratitude interventions. Both are associated with positive physical and mental health outcomes including increased positive outcomes (e.g., quality of life, relaxation, sense of control, happiness) and decreased negative outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety, health complaints). However, research on both PMR and gratitude interventions is limited in certain respects. Research on PMR focuses primarily on negative physical and mental health outcomes, whereas gratitude research relies heavily on correlational data.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of relaxation and gratitude interventions on physical and mental health outcomes, including reactions to stress. Using a controlled three group experimental, prospective design, 247 college students were randomly assigned to one of three groups (PMR, gratitude, control) for one week. At the end of the intervention, subjects participated in a stress-inducing activity. Baseline, pre-stress induction, post-stress induction and one-month follow up assessments were obtained. Both positive (i.e., life satisfaction, serenity, relaxation, positive affect, perceived control), negative (i.e., depression, anxiety, stress) and health indicators (i.e., physical symptoms) were measured. Results indicated that PMR is an effective intervention: At post-intervention, those in the PMR condition reported significantly more perceived control and serenity than both the gratitude and control groups. Those in the PMR group also had significantly lower negative affect than the control group. Group differences in stress and physical health symptom ratings, although marginally significant, revealed results again in favor of PMR. At follow up (30 days later) the PMR group maintained significantly lowered negative affect than the control group. There were no effects of the gratitude intervention on any outcomes nor were there group differences in stress reactivity. The role of positive psychology interventions in buffering stress and improving mental health functioning is discussed.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2011. Major: Psychology. Advisor:Professor Patricia Frazier. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 94 pages, appendices A-D.
Gavian, Margaret E..
The effects of relaxation and gratitude interventions on stress outcomes..
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