Stress Hormones Drop When Partners Engage in These Support Techniques

You come home from an impossibly rough day at work feeling tired, glum and stressed. How your partner reacts to and engages with you at that time can affect whether your stress levels soften or continue to rise. While we all understand that being supportive to our loved ones when they’re going through a rough time is essential, we may still not know exactly how to demonstrate that support in a productive way.

Jennifer Priem, a professor at Wake Forest University, studies relationships and interpersonal communication. She points out that partners have the power to reduce certain stress hormones, such as cortisol, in their partners by engaging in certain supportive techniques. Saliva samples can determine the increase and decrease of cortisol levels, giving a unique look into how certain interactions affect its rise and fall.

“The fastest stress recovery comes from explicit messages,” she says. “When a partner is stressed they are unable to focus on interpreting messages well. Clarity and eye contact help.” Other direct, nonverbal communication can assist in letting a partner know they are being heard, such as nodding and gentle touches.

Verbally, partners who outright acknowledge what their significant other is experiencing without dismissing it are able to help reduce their loved one’s stress. Saying “don’t worry about it” or the dreaded “calm down” comment are very unhelpful to the cause. The message received is: “They understand I’m upset and are telling me to be silent about it, that what I’m feeling is not important to them.” Instead, simple acknowledgement can go a long way. “This has been such a rough week for you” is more effective at creating a connection than “We all have rough weeks – this will pass.”

And not all communication has to be driven toward a solution or even saying the “right” thing. When people are stressed, they’re not necessarily looking for sage advice; more often than not they want someone to hear and understand what they’re going through, to assist them in processing their feelings. A partner who asks questions to further their understanding is actively lowering stress in their other half.

Priem also offers the reminder that it’s okay to evaluate your supportive approach and change direction, if needed. “Stress creates a frame through which messages are interpreted,” she says. “Support that is clear and explicit in validating feelings and showing interest and concern is most likely to lower cortisol levels and increase feelings of wellbeing and safety. If you aren’t seeing improvement in your partner’s anxiety, you may need to change your approach.”

Lowering cortisol levels when they are soaring out of control is essential for lowering risk of sleep impairments, concentration issues, and even chronic illnesses such as heart disease. Not only can making these adjustments help improve the in-the-moment wellness of one’s partner, but it can also strengthen the bond between two people. Healthy communication in a relationship is a powerful weapon against the wear and tear of daily life.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

39 comments

Jaime J
Jaime Jyesterday

Thank you!!

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Cate S
Cate S2 days ago

thanks

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Angela J
Angela J7 days ago

Thanks

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Leo C
Leo C9 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Anna R
Anna R9 days ago

thank you

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Mike R
Mike R10 days ago

Thanks

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Chad A
Chad A10 days ago

Thank you-working on refining communication.

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Past Member
Past Member 11 days ago

Thanks.

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s11 days ago

Thank you

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Angela J
Angela J11 days ago

Thanks

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