Friday, January 12, 2007

Your Body Knows: Gives Cortisol Boost After a Sad Night

news you may not know

Are You

Lonely Tonight?

Growing older is a rough and tumble business. Just ask Pete Johansson, a 63-year-old lumberjack living in British Columbia. His is a tale of eager young love mellowing over the years into constant companionship and, finally, the daily struggle against a disease that would not be silenced. After 39 years of love and laughter, peace and peril, trials and tears - after 39 years of sharing his very soul with his true love, he laid his Emma to rest a year ago November.

The nights come faster now and the cold seems more brutal than in years past. Nights of conversation in front of a soothing fire have given way to unspoken thoughts, unrealized dreams. The comforting creak of Emma's rocker no longer echoes about their simple home, food has lost taste and Pete can't remember when he's felt so tired all the time. He's always been fit and active, but now...

Pete is not alone in his loneliness - millions of aging adults find themselves in similar situations. But, exactly how does being sad or lonely or overwhelmed affect us physically? Researchers at Northwestern University recently found the body "knows" when you're feeling sad at night and compensates the following morning by increasing the amount of cortisol in your system.

Cortisol is the stress hormone that regulates the body's response to both physical and psychological stressors. Produced by the adrenal cortex, cortisol is critical in the regulation of blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The body also secretes additional cortisol to deal with short-term needs, as in the fight or flight response.

In the case of loneliness and other negative emotional experiences, scientists suggest the additional boost of cortisol in the morning prepares both the body and the mind to meet the challenges of a new day. Though not yet fully understood, it appears cortisol and emotional experiences interact in a unique interplay. Negative emotions result in higher levels of cortisol the following day - the higher levels of cortisol ease the stress and, as a result, the cortisol levels fall. The following day, the interplay begins anew.

Researchers hope their studies will offer insight into the impact of emotions on physical wellbeing. The research cannot progress rapidly enough for Pete Johansson and the others...

While the scientists go about their complicated task, there is no lack of work to be done by the less scientifically adept among us. There are telephone calls to make, pies to bake and lazy strolls to take. Science may one day find a magic pill that will curb the curse of loneliness. In the meantime - it's up to us...

To read more about this study, see this from ScienceDaily.


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