“Biological components of stress have direct implications for a number of major disorders,” says Slavich. “The way you think about the world can have very serious implications for your personal health and well-being.”

Researchers say they believe this is the first study to show which neurocognitive pathways may be involved in the body’s inflammatory responses to strong social stress. 

They also say their findings raise the question of why neural sensitivity to social rejection is linked to inflammation.  

It may be that social rejection involves a component of pain, for example, or because social and physical threats are often connected, rejection may be causing the body to anticipate a physical injury by increasing proteins that drive inflammation.

Slavich says this increased inflammatory activity isn’t likely to be a big deal if it only happens occasionally. But if it is chronic or frequent, that could be more serious.  

“If it happens a lot, you may have that reaction many times during the day or week and that’s when it becomes problematic because many of these major disorders have inflammation as a core component of the disorder,” Slavich explains.

Slavich says it can also be a problem if you are having these psychological and biological responses in the absence of a real threat.

“Nothing has happened yet, it’s just that you are predicting the worse can happen. But all the while you are having a biological response as if you are in the presence of danger, when all you are doing is imagining it,” Slavich explains.

He says the take away message for patients is – if your thoughts are getting the better of you, it could have a direct and negative effect on your body.

“When people were told they had to give the speech and do the math test, many showed increases in inflammatory activity and experienced that as distressing. But at the same time you could experience that as a challenging set of circumstances and a chance to show your strengths and virtues,” Slavich explains. “A lot of the time we live in our own realities and those realities are constructed by our minds.”

“I would say don’t treat your thoughts as facts. Treat your thoughts as hypotheses or guesses and collect information on whether or not the thoughts you have were or are accurate or not,” Slavich continues. “When those thoughts are accurate, then that’s useful information for you. But at the same time, when you are having thoughts that aren’t accurate, use that information to revise your beliefs.”