Research has shown that the level of cortisol, the stress hormone, is directly related to the severity of symptoms in people with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Stress causes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to react and release cortisol. This same dynamic occurs when people experience fear. The stress caused by this release of cortisol, whether as a result of fear or anxiety, can elicit overwhelming and often debilitating symptoms that can severely impair one’s quality of life. Because many people with SAD also suffer from depression, researchers wanted to determine if the comorbidity of SAD and major depressive disorder (MDD) resulted in a further elevated stress reaction. K. Lira Yoon of the University of Maine and Jutta Joormann of the University of Miami, enrolled people into a study designed to gauge the relationship between stress and this comorbidity. The study was comprised of individuals with SAD, SAD and MDD, and a control group.
The participants were given five minutes to create a speech arguing their position on the death penalty. Their cortisol levels were assessed before the speech preparation, after the speech delivery, and again 10 and 20 minutes upon completion of the speech. “The current study demonstrates that an individual’s comorbidity status plays a central role in cortisol stress reactivity,” said the researchers. “The results indicate that SAD is associated with increased cortisol responses when the individual is faced with a stressor.” They also discovered some surprising findings. “It is important to note, however, that when individuals have comorbid MDD in addition to SAD, they did not show increased cortisol stress reactivity.” They explained, “That is, comorbid MDD dampened the increased cortisol responses found in SAD.” The team believes that this finding is quite significant. “Participants’ comorbidity statuses are often overlooked,” they said. “Comorbidity, however, can be an important factor in understanding cortisol stress reactivity in SAD.”
Yoon, K. L., & Joormann, J. (2011, August 22). Stress Reactivity in Social Anxiety Disorder With and Without Comorbid Depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025079
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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