Posts tagged with "Cortisol"

Read this and weep: Crying may help to regulate breathing

August 13, 2019

Most of us feel better after a “good cry”—and it turns out, there may be a medical reason for that. Crying may aid in the regulation of breathing during stressful situations, according to findings of a study conducted at the University of Queensland in Australia, reported by PsyPost.

The study sought to better understand the functions of human crying — and whether crying had any physiologically soothing effects.

“We became interested in this topic when trying to understand the different possible ways [in which] crying might function to help us, and to try to get a different perspective on why crying is so widely associated with feeling better,” explained study author Leah Sharman, a Ph.D. student in the Psychology department of the university.

Indeed, she said, “… Crying is often thought [to drain us of] toxins or [to bring] about some kind of biological change that helps us to deal with stressful or painful situations. So we thought it would be interesting to try to test that.”

For the study, 197 female undergraduate students were randomly assigned to either watch sad or emotionally neutral videos for about 17 minutes. About half of the participants who watched the sad videos began crying. The participants then underwent the Cold Pressor Stress Test, in which they placed their hand in nearly freezing cold water.

During the experiment, the participants’ heart and respiration activity were monitored. They also provided saliva samples so that the researchers could measure their cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

Contrary to expectations, participants who cried were not able to cope with the Cold Pressor Stress Test for a significantly longer period of time than those who didn’t. There also was no significant difference observed in cortisol levels between those who cried and those who did not.

However, the researchers did find some evidence that participants who cried were more capable of regulating their breathing.

Based on the test results, Sharman said, “Crying doesn’t seem to provide any change to [the level of our] stress hormones—or [to] our ability to cope with physical stressors to a degree that might be meaningful if you hurt yourself.

However, i “Crying seems to assist in keeping our body stable and calm by slowing down and regulating our breathing and our heart rate,” Sharman told PsyPost.

Like all research, the study includes some limitations: “The major caveat with this research is that we don’t know if these reactions are typical in real-world settings where you might be crying because of grief or loss, for example, or if there are differences if someone else is present with you when you cry,” Sharman said.

“It’s also important to note that, because of the nature of this research, we can’t force people to cry, so it’s also possible that there might be something different about people who are more likely to cry, especially in a laboratory setting, that makes them more likely to respond in this way.

“Crying can be just as harmful as it is perceived helpful. In many situations people also believe that crying makes them feel judged, embarrassed, and ashamed. So if you believe [hat crying] makes you feel worse, these physiological changes are probably not going to make you feel better overall,” Sharman added.

The study, Using Crying to Cope: Physiological Responses to Stress Following Tears of Sadness, was recently published in the journal, Emotion.

Research contact: @PsyPost

Lonely? Relief is ‘right under your nose’

August 31, 2018

Are you all by your lonesome while your partner is out-of-town?  Just sniffing an item recently worn by your partner may bring comfort and stress relief when you have to be apart, according to a results of a study conducted at the University of British Columbia.

The study, published in the January edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that women feel calmer after being exposed to their male partner’s scent. Conversely, being exposed to a stranger’s scent had the opposite effect and raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when [he or she] is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors,” explains Marlise Hofer, lead study author and a graduate student in the university’s Department of Psychology, in a release from the university. “Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent, alone, even without [his or her] physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.”

Researchers studied 96 opposite-sex couples, with the women acting as the “smellers”—because, in case you weren’t aware, they typically have a stronger sense of smell.

Men were asked to wear a clean tee-shirt for 24 hours and to avoid deodorants, scented body products, smoking, and eating certain foods that might impact their natural scent. The T-shirts were then frozen to maintain the scent.

The women were randomly assigned to smell a tee-shirt that was either totally clean, or had been worn by their partner or a stranger. They were not told which one they had been given. The women underwent a stress test that involved a mock job interview and a mental math task, and also answered questions about their stress levels and provided saliva samples used to measure their cortisol levels.

The researchers asked women to act as the “smellers” because they tend to have a better sense of smell than men.

They found that women who had smelled their partner’s shirt felt less stressed—both before and after the stress test. Those who both smelled their partner’s shirt and also correctly identified the scent also had lower levels of cortisol, suggesting that the stress-reducing benefits of a partner’s scent are strongest when women know what they are smelling.

Meanwhile, women who had smelled a stranger’s scent had higher cortisol levels throughout the stress test. The authors speculate that evolutionary factors could influence why the stranger’s scent affected cortisol levels.

“From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that leads to elevated cortisol,” said Hofer. “This could happen without us being fully aware of it.”

Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the UBC department of psychology, said the findings could have practical implications to help people cope with stressful situations when they’re away from loved ones.

“With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities,” said Chen. “Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you’re far from home.”

The research was supported by an American Psychological Foundation Visionary Grant, as well as by a UBC faculty of arts humanities and social sciences grant, and a UBC faculty of arts graduate student research grant.

The study was co-authored by Hanne Collins and Ashley Whillans while they were at UBC.

Research contact: thandi.fletcher@ubc.ca