Stressing Out And Your Love Hormone

The job scene in most countries is bad – unless you are among the 1% of course – and the stress of applying for jobs and waiting to get turned down only gets worse when you get the invitation to the dreaded job interview. On the day, you stress over how you should look – not too formal, yet not too casual – and rehearse replies to likely questions. Of course, you checked out the prospective employers website and try and remember those intelligent questions to ask if there is one of those awkward pauses that cry out to be filled.

Maybe you have the luxury of a sympathetic partner who can calm you down. Their interest and empathy can help that critical flow of oxytocin, which makes the world look better. Oxytocin is a large molecule that is made up of nine amino acids and seeks out your oxytocin receptors (OXTR) to bind tightly to them. Those in your central nervous system modulate your anxiety and stress levels, enhances empathy and quiet you aggression.

Hopefully you won’t have the rs53576 polymorphism in your OXTRs or you're out of luck. Those kind words won’t work too well as the binding of your oxytocin isn’t too good and it runs to waste. Chen et al in this week’s early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy have just published the study to clarify that idea (1).

The experiment was to put 184 young guys through a moderate stress job interview situation and measure the cortisol levels in their saliva to see how stressed they were. Half the group had 10 minutes of their female friends doing their best to calm them with as much support as they could muster – just the situation to release lots of oxytocin and reduce their stress levels.

Results? Those participants that received social support and had regular OXTRs had half the level of cortisol of the guys with no support. 29 of the guys had the rs53576 polymorphism and those who had their support group with them had just as much stress as those without.

Fortunately, the rs53576 polymorphism is recessive, but there are a lot of us out there who won’t benefit from lots of hugs and kind words as we go into a stressful situation. Maybe that’s the time for a good slug of whisky a few minutes before we take on the interview panels. Be careful though, too big a slug of “Dutch courage” could be counter-productive.

  1. PNAS Early Edition  doi/10.1073/pnas.1113079108

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