East TN researcher links family relationships to long-term health impacts

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A local team of researchers found that there’s a link between family relationships and your long-term health.

The study focuses on understanding the connection with your family and how it creates positive and negative effects.

Dr. Patricia Roberson, an assistant professor at University of Tennessee’s College of Nursing, looked at data of nearly 3,000 people over 20 years and their well-being.

“People who had reported having high strain in their family relationships reported more symptoms of chronic illnesses and poor health. They just felt worse,” she said.

Dr. Roberson and her colleagues found people reported worse health within a 10-year evaluation. They feel the link comes down to your stress reaction.

“When your body is exposed to repeated stress over time, you have a physiological response to that stress which increases your inflammation and makes it a lot harder for your immune system to fight off infection or disease,” explained Dr. Roberson.

So how can you resolve family conflict?

“One thing to try and start doing, especially this holiday season, is make a point to listen. Make a point to listen to try and understand rather than try to change your family member,” said Dr. Roberson.

She says when talking, come from a place of curiosity rather than criticism and accusation.

“That can really help change the dynamic of these conversations and try and lift the strain from these relationships,” Roberson said. “But people should also remember these relationships have developed over time. So, even if you’re trying hard to change them, be patient with yourself.”

Rebuilding a relationship can be very very difficult. Dr. Roberson says if it’s too tense, try bringing in a counselor.

“So building that foundation, it’s not like the hard conversation is going to come up five minutes later,” she said. “It could come months later and that foundation that you build of support, love and trust could take years to build up.”

Dr. Roberson says most importantly it’s never too late: “Your family members and yourself, you guys are going to make mistakes. It’s not going to be perfect the first time out but keep trying and eventually you will get there.”

Researchers in this study say a supportive and well-maintained relationship with your loved ones creates positive influences on your health. They say to focus and nurture those relationships as well.

Dr. Roberson with her colleagues Sarah Woods with University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Jacob Priest with University of Iowa all discuss relationship issues on a podcast. You can listen to each episode by clicking here.

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