Exploring day-to-day dynamics of daily stressor appraisals, physical symptoms and the cortisol awakening response

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Gartland, Nicola ; O'Connor, Daryl ; Lawton, Rebecca ; Bristow, Matt (2014)

Stress is associated with the secretion of cortisol throughout the day, but less is\ud known about the dynamic effects of stress on the cortisol awakening response (CAR). More widely, knowledge of the causal factors and functions of the CAR are also not fully understood. This study explored: (1) the effects of daily stressors on the next day CAR and; (2) the effects of the CAR on same day physical and affective outcomes. Sixty-four participants completed a daily diary, reporting on the occurrence of daily stressors and stress appraisals, physical symptoms, and affect. Cortisol was measured at 0, 15, 30, and 45 min after awakening to provide measures of the CAR on 3 consecutive work days. Stress appraisal was found to negatively predict the CAR, such that where stressors were appraised as more stressful (where perceived demands exceeded resources), the CAR increased less the following morning. Furthermore, the CAR significantly predicted same-day physical symptoms such that a lower CAR was associated with more physical symptoms. This study provides evidence for a pathway through which daily stressors may influence physical wellbeing, and highlights the importance of appraisals for future stress-based cortisol research.
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