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Effect of Chronic Stress Associated With Unemployment on Salivary Cortisol: Overall Cortisol Levels, Diurnal Rhythm, and Acute Stress Reactivity

Ockenfels, Margit C. MA; Porter, Laura MA; Smyth, Joshua MA; Kirschbaum, Clemens PhD; Hellhammer, Dirk H. PhD; Stone, Arthur A. PhD

Original Article

This study examined the effect of chronic stress associated with unemployment on the magnitude of salivary cortisol excretion, on the diurnal rhythm of cortisol, and on cortisol reactivity to acute naturalistic stressors using Experience Sampling Methodology (ESM).Employed (N = 60) and unemployed (N = 60) subjects were studied for 2 days. Subjects were beeped 6 times per day by a preprogrammed wristwatch to assess acute stressors; 25 minutes after each ESM-beep, subjects were beeped a second time for saliva samples. The groups did not differ in their overall cortisol excretion or in cortisol reactivity to acute daily stressors. Compared to employed subjects, unemployed subjects had a diurnal pattern of cortisol excretion with relatively higher morning and lower evening levels. Subjects' daily activities and their locations were associated with diurnal rhythm differences.

From the University of Trier (M.C.O., C.K., D.H.H.); Department of Psychiatry (A.A.S.), State University of New York at Stony Brook (L.P., J.S.).

Address reprint requests to: Margit Ockenfels, Dipl.-Psych., St. Franziska-Stift, Franziska-Puricelli-Str. 3, 55543 Bad Kreuznach, Germany or Arthur A. Stone, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, SUNY at Stony Brook, Story Brook, NY 11794-8790.

Received for publication February 4, 1994; revision received August 15, 1994.

Copyright © 1995 by American Psychosomatic Society
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