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It seems reasonable that those who focus on the silver lining would have less stressful lives – the Pollyannas among us. But the phenomenon hadn’t been tested until recently.
New research from Concordia University’s Department of Psychology is bringing more understanding to how optimists and pessimists handle stress. In fact, they found that the hormone related to stress, cortisol, is more stable in those with a rosier disposition.
Participants reported their stress levels on a day-to-day basis and identified on a continuum whether they were optimists or pessimists. Stress levels were measured against their own averages. This provided a real-world picture of how people handle stress since individuals can become immune to the typical amount of stress they have.
“For some people, going to the grocery store on a Saturday morning can be very stressful, so that’s why we asked people how often they felt stressed or overwhelmed during the day and compared people to their own averages, then analyzed their responses by looking at the stress levels over many days,” explained Joelle Jobin, PhD candidate in clinical psychology, who co-authored the study with her supervisor Carsten Wrosch and Michael Scheier from Carnegie Mellon University.
“On days where [pessimists] experience higher than average stress, that’s when we see that the pessimists’ stress response is much elevated, and they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down,” explained Jobin. “Optimists, by contrast, were protected in these circumstances.”
One surprising finding was that optimists who generally had more stressful lives secreted higher cortisol levels than expected shortly after they awoke.
“The problem with cortisol is that we call it ‘the stress hormone,’ but it’s also our ‘get up and do things’ hormone, so we may secrete more if engaged and focused on what’s happening,” Jobin explained.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Health Psychology
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