According to new research, optimists are better able to regulate stress levels than their pessimist peers. The research from Concordia University’s Department of Psychology has confirmed that cortisol—the “stress hormone”—tends to remain stable in people with upbeat personalities, resulting in better stress management.
The study tracked 135 adults aged 60 or older over the course of six years. Older adults were the focus of this study because they face particular age-related stressors and they have higher cortisol levels. The participants indicated their level of optimism or pessimism along a continuum. They also collected saliva samples five times daily (so cortisol levels could be measured) and reported their daily stress levels. Stress levels were measured against the subject’s own average, which provided a comprehensive view of how stress levels are regulated.
By measuring stress against the participants’ personal averages, the researchers were able to control for the fact that events that are stressful to one person may not be stressful for another. Study co-author and Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology Joelle Jobin, stated, “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.”
The researchers discovered that pessimists have higher stress baseline than optimists. Furthermore, pessimists do not regulate stress as effectively as optimists. On a day when a pessimist encounters a stressful situation, it is difficult for his or her cortisol levels to return to normal. Optimists, however, are safeguarded from this.
One quirk that the researchers discovered is that optimists tend to have a burst of cortisol when they wake up in the morning, but the cortisol levels quickly return to normal. Since cortisol is not strictly related to stress (it is also “our ‘get up and do things’ hormone,” according to Jobin), this may help optimists become engaged and focused.
This study is published in the American Psychological Association’s Heart Psychology journal.
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