Chronic stress and anxiety can not only wear down your mental and emotional state, but can cause your physical well-being to break down as well. Stress has been linked to fatigue, chronic pain, muscle tension, and even chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and obesity/diabetes. The more stressed out you are, the greater your mortality risk — and the lower your quality of life.

We all experience stress at some point, and many of us are probably stressed out this very moment. Here’s the good thing: New research suggests that our response to stress — whether calmness, anger, or positivity — can have just as much of an impact on our health as the stress itself. This seems to put more control in our own hands, giving us the reigns to handle our stress the best way possible.

Increased inflammation, a weakened immune system, altered DNA in our cells, and shortened telomeres — these are all the adverse effects of chronic stress on a biological level. Can we really learn to avoid these effects if we put on a smile through all of our stressful events?

That’s what a new study out of Penn State University finds. Published in Health Psychology, the study discovered that adults who maintained cheerfulness during minor stresses of daily life had lower inflammation levels. Women in particular were at a higher risk of inflammation if they failed to stay positive during stress.

“A person’s frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress,” Nancy Sin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthy Aging and Department of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State, said in the press release. “It is how a person reacts to stress that is important. Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked.”

In the study, the researchers analyzed 872 adults from the National Study of Daily Experiences, who reported their daily stresses as well as their emotional reactions for eight days. In addition, participants had blood samples taken to measure inflammatory markers. Some of the daily stresses included arguments at work, school, or home; discrimination; or indirect stresses that occur to people who are close to the participant. People who were more negative on the days they were stressed out had elevated levels of an inflammatory marker, log IL-6.

Affective Reactivity

The way people respond to daily stresses is called affective reactivity — something that can help researchers learn more about the effects of long-term stress and inflammation on the body. One 2013 study concluded that the way people responded to daily stressors was “predictive of future health conditions.”

But is positive thinking really as useful as everyone says it is? One study from the University of Calgary found that positive thinking, especially through meditation and mindfulness, actually changed the DNA of breast cancer patients — keeping telomeres, which are associated with cellular health and aging, lengthy rather than short (which was helpful to the patients). Another 2013 study found that heart disease patients who had better moods were 58 percent more likely to live longer than people with negative perspectives.

Others, however, don’t buy into the positive thinking scheme, but rather believe that for certain personalities, pessimism and having low expectations for oneself is actually more helpful. Of course, there isn’t much research on whether pessimism improves health outcomes; so far, all the studies seem to point to optimism to being the winner. So while it may seem cheesy at first, smiling through your daily problems may improve your health and keep you resilient.

Source: Sin N, Graham-Engeland J, Ong A, Almeida D. Affective Reactivity to Daily Stressors Is Associated With Elevated Inflammation. Health Psychology, 2015.