Emotional inertia and well-being of people living with HIV
The tremendous progress made in the field of medical control of HIV infection has changed the standard course of the illness: from being fatal to a state where it is merely a chronic health problem. Despite this, for many reasons, people living with HIV still experience various negative emotional states (sadness, anger) daily, which – in the long run – may lead to challenges in their everyday lives (e.g., they may trigger depression). This phenomenon has been described as emotional dysregulation. Nowadays, it is mainly associated with the social stigma of specific health conditions such as HIV.
In our research, we analyzed a specific aspect of this dysregulation, referred to as emotional inertia. High emotional inertia means that a person’s emotional state persists over time and does not change dynamically in response to the situational context. In other words, a high level of emotional inertia is the ”lingering” of emotions, indicating that they are more difficult to be adequately regulated, and therefore may be associated with reduced well-being and the risk of depressive symptoms. On the other hand, a low level of emotional inertia means that the emotional state of a person is more flexible in terms of their response to a change in the situational context and the methods of self-regulation used.
Therefore, in our project, we analyzed whether the emotional inertia observed across 5 consecutive days predicts changes in psychological well-being among HIV-positive people in the long run (after 1.5 years). Contrary to our research hypotheses, it turned out that there was no significant connection here. Regardless of whether emotional experiences are more or less inert during a short diary examination, forecasting long-term changes in well-being on this basis is not justified. In other words, we can say that with a high level of emotional inertia, a person who had a higher level of negative emotions one day will also have them the following day, but this does not mean that in the next 18 months we will observe a decrease in their mood and satisfaction with life.
Also, the day-to-day relationship between the lingering of negative emotions and ruminating about them (meaning: deliberating about why something happens to me and why I feel the way I do), was far from obvious. It turned out that emotional inertia is negatively related to inertia in rumination, namely the higher the emotional retention, the lower the tendency to deliberate about these negative emotions. However, emotional inertia was associated with the fact that a high level of negative emotions one day was associated with an increase in rumination on the next day. On the other hand, inertia in rumination was associated with the fact that ruminating one day was associated with an increase in negative emotions on the following day. Thus, it can be seen that the inertia regarding negative emotions and the ability to control them through rumination indicates difficulties in effective self-regulation.
However, research carried out earlier suggests that the dynamics itself is not necessarily inevitably related to psychopathology. There are probably other factors, both in terms of interpersonal differences (e.g., extraversion or neuroticism) and in the context of functioning (e.g., high social stigmatization), which may play a protective role or contribute to the deterioration of psychological well-being among people living with HIV, despite well-adjusted antiviral treatment.
Rzeszutek M., Gruszczyńska E., & Firląg-Burkacka E. (2021). Daily Emotional Inertia and Long-Term Subjective Well-Being Among People Living With HIV. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 19, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12955-021-01752-6.
Rzeszutek, M., & Gruszczyńska, E. (2021). Inertia, innovation, and crosslagged effects in negative affect and rumination: daily diary study among people living with HIV. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping. Advanced online publication (DOI: 10.1080/10615806.2021.1887481).