The working environment can at times be very stressful ,and this can affect the quality of life, contributing to overall mental and physical health. The current subjective measures of psychological stress have their limitations and may result in over or under estimation of the levels of stress. There are various biological markers, which could be used to measure the stress levels. If reliable biomarkers can be found in saliva then this is perhaps the least invasive of the biological samples and thus may provide an objective measure of stress. Salivary cortisol and α-amylase are potential stress biomarkers, as they reflect hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and sympathoadrenal medullary activity respectively.
In this study we investigated the stress levels of university technical staff on two different days, one on a regular working day and the other during a demanding intensive school period. The aim was to measure the change in salivary cortisol and α-amylase levels from a normal working day to that of a high intensity working day. This was carried out by collecting the saliva sample at three times of the day (9 am, 1 pm and 5 pm) along with a subjective stress assessment questionnaire, to correlate perceived stress and the salivary cortisol and α-amylase data.
Our preliminary results show that there was no significant difference in cortisol concentrations between the two groups ant any time point despite the questionnaire showing elevated stress levels on the high intensity work day. Salivary α-amylase was significantly elevated on the morning of the high intensity day but not at the other time points. The consistent variation between individuals at any time point was high suggesting that gene (α-amylase ) copy number could be an important factor. In summary it would appear that perceived stress is not reflected by the biological markers and further study is required.