Some friends and family can be bad for blood pressure

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A study from Brigham Young University shows that frenemies, frustrating friends or family that we care about, can be bad for blood pressure. The type of ambivalence that some people bring to our life can hurt the cardiovascular system, leading to high blood pressure.

According to study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, “The type of friend we are talking about is someone we may really love or care about. However, they can also at times be unreliable, competitive, critical or frustrating. Most people have at least a few friends, family members or co-workers that fit the bill.”

The psychologist found that blood pressure readings become higher from socializing with individuals that fail to provide support in times of stress or who are overly critical, compared to being around people we really don’t like at all.

John Cacioppo, president of the Association for Psychological Science and a University of Chicago professor says, “This research demonstrates that a more sophisticated conceptualization of our social relationships provides richer information about their impact on our health.” Socializing with ambivalent friends may actually lead to poor cardiovascular health and clogged arteries.


Hold-Lunstad found that half of most social networks could be considered unhealthy. The researchers studied 100 individuals who were asked to complete a roster of friends, answering questions about how upsetting they can be in different situations.

Next the study participants were asked to either bring a supportive friend or one who causes conflict into the lab. The pairs discussed what they do in a typical day then listed five positive and five negative important experiences. The researchers measured the cardiovascular response of the study participants.

“As an experimenter, I did not know who had been assigned to bring a supportive friend and who had brought an ambivalent friend, but in most cases I could tell immediately just by watching,” Holt-Lunstad said. Visual clues like avoiding eye contact and fidgeting and sarcastic comments while one friend talked about a negative experience at work produced higher blood pressure readings. Friends who produced conflict also lead to higher heart rates showing that it is impossible to relax in the presence of “frenemies”.

“Most of the research out there has focused on the positive aspects of relationships and in fact indicates that social relationships are beneficial psychologically and physically,” Holt-Lunstad said. “However, not all relationships are positive and some relationships may actually be sources of stress.”

The study shows that some friends, family and even co-workers are bad for blood pressure. Over time, “frenemies” can lead to poor health. Hanging out with ambivalent friends who merely create conflict could lead to heart disease.