Stress, Emotion Regulation, and Immunity: A Systems Perspective on Healthy Aging
Stressful experiences can ‘get under our skin’ to influence immune processes implicated in age-related health and disease outcomes. However, our abilities to effectively regulate and manage emotions in response to stress may mitigate negative health outcomes. I will present my research into a biopsychosocial model I’ve developed over the past few years. This model is guided by a dynamic systems perspective and by research and theory in emotion regulation, aging, and health. The model proposes that stress is associated with the following factors: 1) emotion dynamics maladaptive for health, 2) markers of immunological aging, including inflammation and immunosenescence, that are central to morbidity and mortality, and 3) individual and interpersonal emotion regulation (e.g., emotional acceptance and dyadic coping) that buffer negative associations between stress and immune health. I conclude with a discussion of future research directions to further test and extend my proposed model. This work may offer new insights into dynamic biopsychosocial pathways and protective factors that influence age-related immune dysregulation and ultimately promote healthy aging.