Those who perceive the glass as half-full rather than half-empty tend to be better at regulating stress, according to a new study published in the journal Health Psychology.
Researchers at Concordia University's Department of Psychology followed 135 adults ages 60 years and older over the course of six years, collecting saliva samples five times a day to measure their levels of cortisol, the "stress hormone."
This age group was chosen because of the many age-related stressors older adults face and the high cortisol levels associated with those stressors. Participants reported their day-to-day stress levels and whether they identified as optimists or pessimists.
If you think the next step was for researchers to compare the stress levels of optimists to those of pessimists, think again. Each individual's stress levels were measured against their own average.
"For some people, going to the grocery store on a Saturday morning can be very stressful," said Joelle Jobin, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology who co-authored the study. "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 results: Pessimists had a higher stress baseline than optimists and struggled to regulate their system in high-stress scenarios.
“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,” Jobin said.