A new study has found that optimistic people have a stable cortisol hormone which helps them cope stress better.
Saliva of 135 older adults was collected five times a day for over six years by researchers from Concordia University in Canada.
The reason behind selecting this particular age group is that older adults often face a number of age-related stressors and their cortisol levels have been shown to increase.
Measuring the stress levels against participants' own average provided a real-world picture of how individuals handle stress because individuals can become accustomed to the typical amount of stress in their lives.
Joelle Jobin, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology who co-authored the study with her supervisor Carsten Wrosch and Michael Scheier from Carnegie Mellon University, noted that pessimists tended to have a higher stress baseline than optimists, but also had trouble regulating their system when they go through particularly stressful situations.
"On days where they 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. Optimists, by contrast, were protected in these circumstances," said Jobin.
Along with confirming the researcher’s hypothesis, the study gave a surprise finding as well. It reported that optimists, who generally had more stressful lives, secreted higher cortisol levels than expected shortly after they awoke.
Jobin said there are several possible explanations, but also noted that the finding points to the difficulty of classifying these complex hormones as good or bad.
"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 said.
The study was published in the American Psychological Association's Health Psychology journal.
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