Handle Stress Better – Be Optimistic
A new joint US and Canadian study has found that optimistic people have a better biological response to stress than pessimists. The “stress hormone” cortisol tends to be more stable in those with more positive personalities than those with negative personalities. The simple conclusion from that is that optimism helps you handle stress better. In particular, the new study found that pessimists tend to have a higher stress baseline than optimists and that they generally have trouble regulating their sympathetic nervous system when they go through stressful experiences.
Previous research has shown that optimists are more likely than pessimists to adjust successfully to stressful life circumstances and maintain their physical health. The new study finds that pessimists have an inability to look on the bright side and on days where they experience higher than average stress, they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down whilst optimists, by contrast, are better in stabilizing their cortisol levels.
A cortisol level is a blood test that measures the amount of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland. Cortisol, is considered by some health experts, as public health enemy number one because scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels can interfere with learning and memory, cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, and also increase the risk for mental illness, depression, and lower life expectancy.
Tests to Handle Stress Better
In the new study, for six years, the researchers tracked 135 older adults (all older than 60 years old), and collected five saliva samples daily from each subject (to monitor cortisol levels). The study participants were asked to report on the level of stress they perceived in their day-to-day lives, and identify themselves along a continuum as optimists or pessimists. Each person’s stress levels were then measured against their own average and self-identified along a continuum. Measuring the stress levels against participants’ own average provided a real-world picture of how individuals handle stress better because individuals can become accustomed to the typical amount of stress in their lives.
Five saliva samples were collected from the study participants throughout the day: at awakening, 30 min after awakening, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and bedtime. The exact time of day of each sample collected was recorded by the study participants and the saliva samples were stored in the participants’ home refrigerators until they were returned to the lab 2–3 days after collection was completed for cortisol analysis. A total of 7,815 cortisol saliva samples were ultimately collected from the 135 study participants (96.48% of possible samples).
Technical Aspects of Stress
The NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response is a term used to describe the process that our bodies use to identify and react to stressors, internal and external. This process takes root at the base of our brains in the hypothalamus from which it signals the pituitary glands and finally the adrenal glands. There are several connection which are made to ensure the body’s survival in times of stress and danger.
Let’s take a moment to focus on self inflicted or internal stressors. There are certain things that are out of our control which also tend to cause us stress. It is vital that we don’t dwell on things we can’t control because they can cause us to experience long periods of stress. This is where the optimistic mindset comes in. When you can maintain a positive mindset, you will experience lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
Earlier we referenced cortisol as being a player with negative outcomes when related to stress. This hormone is manufactured by the adrenal glands which are located on top of the kidneys. It’s fine and quite necessary for cortisol to be released during stressful times as it is one of the key factors that prepares our body for intensive physical activity at a moment’s notice. One of the negative things that can happen because of excess stress levels is that the adrenal glands cannot produce enough cortisol because of Adrenal Fatigue. Once this happens there is only one direction that things normally go and that is towards Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Learning how to handle stress better is key.
AFS does not mean that things are hopeless, that is far from the case. There are many things you can do to help yourself recover from adrenal fatigue and an important technique is maintaining a positive mindset. Despite those of us who may suffer from clinical depression and other ailments, mindset is something that we can all work on which will promote a more healthy stress response and bring us closer to optimum wellness.
Source: May 2013 Health Psychology