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Causes of Stress
Symptoms of Stress
Effects of Stress
Benefits of Exercise


Optimists are better at Regulating Stress than Pessimists

New research from Concordia University’s Department of Psychology is improving our understanding of how optimists and pessimists each handle stress by comparing them not to each other but to themselves. Results show that indeed the “stress hormone” cortisol tends to be more stable in those with more positive personalities. Carsten Wrosch, psychology professor and member of the Centre for Research on Human Development (left), and Ph.D. candidate Joelle Jobin coauthored the study on stress and optimism.

The study tracked 135 older adults (aged 60+) over six years. They collected saliva samples five times a day to monitor cortisol levels. This age group was selected because older adults often face a number of age-related stressors and their cortisol levels have been shown to increase.

People in the study were asked to report on the level of stress they perceived in their day-to-day lives, and self-identify along a continuum as optimists or pessimists. Each person’s stress levels were then measured against their own average. 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, says “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.”

She also said 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. She reported that on days where the participants experienced higher than average stress, was when they saw that the pessimists’ stress response is greatly elevated, and they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down. Optimists, on the other hand, 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 (cortisol peaks just after waking and declines through the day). Jobin says there are several possible explanations, but also notes that the finding points to the difficulty of classifying these complex hormones as good or bad. She say that 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.

Helpful Tips to Reduce Stress Daily

Stress does not make us feel good and of course the effects of stress can be absolutely debilitating. In fact, millions of people land up with all sorts of symptoms and ailments like headaches, migraines, muscle spasm, sleeping problems, getting upset easy and it even hurts your immune system. When you have chronic stress your body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response is compromised, which can lead to disease. Its not always easy to guide everything that happens in your life on a daily basis, but here are some suggestions to help relieve your daily tensions so that they don’t build up.

1. Take a walk outside.

Whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, leave the space you’re in and take a walk. Get some fresh air if you can. A short break from your current environment and possibly some fresh air and sunlight can be just enough to change your point of view and give you a new perspective.

2. Act of Kindness to others.

Volunteering has been shown to relieve stress. It makes you feel good as well as make someone else feel good. Studies show this really works. Try it.

3. Move your Body and burn off some steam.

Exercise! Running, yoga, lifting weights, and playing sports are all great ways to get your mind off of the things that you find stressful and do something healthy for your mind and body. Exercise decreases stress hormones and increases endorphins, which are often referred to as the body’s “feel-good chemicals.” Physical activity releases endorphins and can help boost your mood and energy.

4. Express your frustration in writing

Sometimes its good to make a list of all the things that are bothering you.
Read it through, correct it until it sounds exactly what you mean and then tear it up and throw it away. Its often a great way to get rid of negative feelings.

5. Take a few DEEP breaths.

Breathe in and out from your abdomen, regular breaths, deep breaths, fill up your lungs and allow your autonomic nervous system to regulate itself with no for effort from you, other than to take regular deep breaths. This is a very effective way of calming your mind.

Five Tips to Help Manage Stress

The American Psychological Association suggests these 5 easy steps to help manage stress – Try them out!

Stress occurs when you perceive that demands placed on you–such as work, school or relationships–exceed your ability to cope. Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines.

However, an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences, affecting the immune, cardiovascular, and neuro-endocrine and central nervous systems, and take a severe emotional toll.

Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.

But by finding positive, healthy ways to manage stress as it occurs, many of these negative health consequences can be reduced. Everyone is different, and so are the ways they choose to manage their stress. Some people prefer pursuing hobbies—gardening, playing music, creating art, while others find relief in more solitary activities, such as meditation, yoga, and walking.

Here are five healthy techniques that psychological research has shown to help reduce stress in the short- and long-term.

Take a break from the stressor. It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby, or a growing credit card bill. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you let yourself have time to do something else, which can help you have a new perspective or practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed. It’s important to not avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime), but even just 20-minutes to take care of yourself is helpful.

Exercise. The research keeps growing – exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. We keep hearing about the long-term benefits of a regular exercise routine. But even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session in the midst of a stressful time can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours.

Smile and laugh. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions. When people are stressed, they often hold a lot of the stress in their face. So laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension and improve the situation.

Get social support. Call a friend, send an email. When you share your concerns or feelings with another person, it does help relieve stress. But it’s important that the person whom you talk to is someone whom you trust and whom you feel can understand and validate you. If your family is a stressor, for example, it may not alleviate your stress if you share your works woes with one of them.

Meditate. Meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress. Much like exercise, research has shown that even meditating briefly can reap immediate benefits.