Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release] Only 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress

 PITTSBURGH—Mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular way for people to improve their mental and physical health, yet most research supporting its benefits has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice – 25 minutes for three consecutive days – alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress.

“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” said lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.

Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.

The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.

“When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task,” said Creswell. “And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.”

Creswell’s group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.

 

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In addition to Creswell, the research team consisted of Carnegie Mellon’s Laura E. Pacilio and Emily K. Lindsay and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Kirk Warren Brown.

The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund supported this research.

For more information, visit http://www.psy.cmu.edu/people/creswell.html.

July 11, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Male, stressed, and poorly social

Male, stressed, and poorly social.

Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women

Stress, this enemy that haunts us every day, could be undermining not only our health but also our relationships with other people, especially if we are men. In fact, stressed women apparently become more “prosocial”. These are the main findings of a study carried out with the collaboration of Giorgia Silani, from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste. The study was coordinated by the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Unit of the University of Vienna and saw the participation of the University of Freiburg.

“There’s a subtle boundary between the ability to identify with others and take on their perspective – and therefore be empathic – and the inability to distinguish between self and other, thus acting egocentrically” explains Silani. “To be truly empathic and behave prosocially it’s important to maintain the ability to distinguish between self and other, and stress appears to play an important role in this”.

Stress is a psycho-biological mechanism that may have a positive function: it enables the individual to recruit additional resources when faced with a particularly demanding situation. The individual can cope with stress in one of two ways: by trying to reduce the internal load of “extra” resources being used, or, more simply, by seeking external support. “Our starting hypothesis was that stressed individuals tend to become more egocentric. Taking a self-centred perspective in fact reduces the emotional/cognitive load. We therefore expected that in the experimental conditions people would be less empathic” explains Claus Lamm, from the University of Vienna and one of the authors of the paper.

More in detail…

The surprise was that our starting hypothesis was indeed true, but only for males. In the experiments, conditions of moderate stress were created in the laboratory (for example, the subjects had to perform public speaking or mental arithmetic tasks, etc.). The participants then had to imitate certain movements (motor condition), or recognise their own or other people’s emotions (emotional condition), or make a judgement taking on another person’s perspective (cognitive condition). Half of the study sample were men, the other half were women.

“What we observed was that stress worsens the performance of men in all three types of tasks. The opposite is true for women” explains Silani.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 7.20.07 AM

Why this happens is not yet clear. “Explanations might be sought at several levels”, concludes Silani. “At a psychosocial level, women may have internalized the experience that they receive more external support when they are able to interact better with others.

This means that the more they need help – and are thus stressed – the more they apply social strategies. At a physiological level, the gender difference might be accounted for by the oxytocin system. Oxytocin is a hormone connected with social behaviours and a previous study found that in conditions of stress women had higher physiological levels of oxytocin than men”.

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March 28, 2014 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

BBC – Future – Body bacteria: Can your gut bugs make you smarter?

BBC – Future – Body bacteria: Can your gut bugs make you smarter?.

Excerpts from the 21 February 2014 article

The bacteria in our guts can influence the working of the mind, says Frank Swain. So could they be upgraded to enhance brainpower?

I have some startling news: you are not human. At least, by some counts. While you are indeed made up of billions of human cells working in remarkable concert, these are easily outnumbered by the bacterial cells that live on and in you – your microbiome. There are ten of them for every one of your own cells, and they add an extra two kilograms (4.4lbs) to your body.

Far from being freeloading passengers, many of these microbes actively help digest food and prevent infection. And now evidence is emerging that these tiny organisms may also have a profound impact on the brain too. They are a living augmentation of your body – and like any enhancement, this means they could, in principle, be upgraded. So, could you hack your microbiome to make yourself healthier, happier, and smarter too?

..

“Diet is perhaps the biggest factor in shaping the composition of the microbiome,” he says. A study by University College Cork researcherspublished in Nature in 2012 followed 200 elderly people over the course of two years, as they transitioned into different environments such as nursing homes. The researchers found that their subjects’ health – frailty, cognition, and immune system – all correlated with their microbiome. From bacterial population alone, researchers could tell if a patient was a long-stay patient in a nursing home, or short-stay, or living in the general community. These changes were a direct reflection of their diet in these different environments. “A diverse diet gives you a diverse microbiome that gives you a better health outcome,” says Cryan.

Beyond a healthy and varied diet, though, it still remains to be discovered whether certain food combinations could alter the microbiome to produce a cognitive boost. In fact, Cryan recommends that claims from probiotic supplements of brain-boosting ought to be taken with a pinch of salt for now. “Unless the studies have been done, one can assume they’re not going to have any effect on mental health,” he says. Still, he’s optimistic about the future. “The field right now is evolving very strongly and quickly. There’s a lot of important research to be done. It’s still early days.”

 

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March 13, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Nutrition, Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press Release] American Psychological Association Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults

From the 12 February 2014 Full Text Reports item

American Psychological Association Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults
Source: American Psychological Association

American teens report experiences with stress that follow a similar pattern as adults, according to a new survey released today by the American Psychological Association (APA). In fact, during the school year, teens say their stress level is higher than levels reported by adults in the past month. For teens and adults alike, stress has an impact on healthy behaviors like exercising, sleeping well and eating healthy foods.

Findings from Stress in America™: Are Teens Adopting Adults’ Stress Habits?, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive Inc., (on behalf of APA) among 1,950 adults and 1,018 teens in the U.S. in August 2013, suggest that unhealthy behaviors associated with stress may begin manifesting early in people’s lives.

Teens report that their stress level during the school year far exceeds what they believe to be healthy (5.8 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and tops adults’ average reported stress levels (5.8 for teens versus 5.1 for adults). Even during the summer — between Aug. 3 and Aug. 31, 2013, when interviewing took place — teens reported their stress during the past month at levels higher than what they believe is healthy (4.6 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale). Many teens also report feeling overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent) as a result of stress. More than one-third of teens report fatigue or feeling tired (36 percent) and nearly one-quarter of teens (23 percent) report skipping a meal due to stress.

Despite the impact that stress appears to have on their lives, teens are more likely than adults to report that their stress level has a slight or no impact on their body or physical health (54 percent of teens versus 39 percent of adults) or their mental health (52 percent of teens versus 43 percent of adults).

 

 

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February 13, 2014 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Job Strain Helps Explain Adverse Effects of Workaholism

From the 4 November 2011 ScienceDaily article

Workaholics work hard, but still have poor job performance — mainly because of high mental and physical strain, according to a study in the November Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Alexander Falco, PhD, and colleagues of University of Padova, Italy, analyzed survey responses from a sample of more than 300 private-sector workers. Workaholism is defined as working excessively and working compulsively — workaholics “work hard, rather than smart.”

The workers in the study had “moderate” levels of workaholism overall. Workaholics showed evidence of high job strain, with physical and mental symptoms such as digestive, memory, and sleep problems.

In turn, high strain was associated with worse job performance — thus workaholism led indirectly to decreased performance, via increased mental and physical strain. After accounting for strain, there was no direct link between workaholism and job performance.

 

Read entire article here

 

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Workplace Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pain in Infancy Alters Response to Stress, Anxiety Later in Life

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

From the 30 October 2013 ScienceDaily article

 

Early life pain alters neural circuits in the brain that regulate stress, suggesting pain experienced by infants who often do not receive analgesics while undergoing tests and treatment in neonatal intensive care may permanently alter future responses to anxiety, stress and pain in adulthood, a research team led by Dr. Anne Murphy, associate director of the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University, has discovered.

n estimated 12 percent of live births in the U.S. are considered premature, researchers said. These infants often spend an average of 25 days in neonatal intensive care, where they endure 10-to-18 painful and inflammatory procedures each day, including insertion of feeding tubes and intravenous lines, intubation and repeated heel lance. Despite evidence that pain and stress circuitry in the brain are established and functional in preterm infants, about 65 percent of these procedures are performed without benefit of analgesia. Some clinical studies suggest early life pain has an immediate and long-term impact on responses to stress- and anxiety-provoking events.

The Georgia State study examined whether a single painful inflammatory procedure performed on male and female rat pups on the day of birth alters specific brain receptors that affect behavioral sensitivity to stress, anxiety and pain in adulthood. The findings demonstrated that such an experience is associated with site-specific changes in the brain that regulate how the pups responded to stressful situations. Alterations in how these receptors function have also been associated with mood disorders.

The study findings mirror what is now being reported clinically. Children who experienced unresolved pain following birth show reduced responsiveness to pain and stress.

 

 

 

Read the entire article here

 

 

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, Consumer Safety | , , , | Leave a comment

We face an epidemic of excessive busyness

 

From the 11 August 2013 KevinMD.com article

 

In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or x-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness. It’s one with which, as a fellow sufferer, I empathize especially.

Being excessively busy has become so much a part of our culture that we’ve developed an extended vocabulary for it, like Eskimos and snow: tapped out, laid flat, on overload, crazy busy, fried. The other day, while discussing an interesting potential project with me, a colleague asked if I “had the bandwidth” to take it on.

The pervasiveness of busyness is such that we may not even notice it anymore. A patient of mine wanted to be tested for anemia–why else could she be so tired? It didn’t occur to her that working full time, going to school, and caring for a severely disabled child might have something to do with her exhaustion.

….

For the poor, as this recent editorial by science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff points out, stress has a particularly pernicious effect on health. Velasquez-Manoff points out that it’s not busyness itself, but lack of control and resources to deal with stress that busyness engenders that makes poor people less healthy than rich people. He writes:

It’s not necessarily the strain of a chief executive facing a lengthy to-do list, or a well-to-do parent’s agonizing over a child’s prospects of acceptance to an elite school. Unlike those of lower rank, both the C.E.O. and the anxious parent have resources with which to address the problem. By definition, the poor have far fewer.

 

 

 

Read the entire article here

 

 

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, Psychology | , , | 1 Comment

Even Mild Stress Can Make It Difficult to Control Your Emotions

From the 26 August 2013 Science Daily article

Even mild stress can thwart therapeutic measures to control emotions, a team of neuroscientists at New York University has found. Their findings, which appear in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, point to the limits of clinical techniques while also shedding new light on the barriers that must be overcome in addressing afflictions such as fear or anxiety.

“We have long suspected that stress can impair our ability to control our emotions, but this is the first study to document how even mild stress can undercut therapies designed to keep our emotions in check,” said Elizabeth Phelps, a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science and the study’s senior author. “In other words, what you learn in the clinic may not be as relevant in the real world when you’re stressed.”

In addressing patients’ emotional maladies, therapists sometimes use cognitive restructuring techniques — encouraging patients to alter their thoughts or approach to a situation to change their emotional response. These might include focusing on the positive or non-threatening aspects of an event or stimulus that might normally produce fear.

 

Read the entire article here

 

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Repost] Personality and social psychology highlights from the 2013 APA Convention

From the 2 August 2013 Medical News Today article

From how secrets influence our emails to personality traits that increase the risk ofobesity – a guide to some talks with new research in personality and social psychology at the APA Convention in Honolulu, July 31 – August 4, 2013 …

Linguistic Fingerprints of Secrets[1]

Keeping a secret not only burdens someone with the guilt of withholding information but also changes the way the person interacts with others, according to new research. In two studies, researchers looked at linguistic changes in the emails of people harboring secrets. They found that interactions with friends became more deceptive and detached, while interactions with acquaintances became more superficially positive and frequent.

Judging Health Based on Behavior, Personality[2]

Can you accurately size up someone’s health just by watching them? In a recent set of studies, researchers sought to answer this question by filming research participants and asking research assistants to assess their health or behavior. In one study, researchers judged participants on 15 health dimensions – including general health, tobacco use, alcohol use, physical activity, sleep quality, cholesterol, and blood pressure – based on just 5 minutes of film. They found that intuitive snap judgments of health can be surprisingly accurate.

Personalty Traits That Increase Risk of Obesity[3]

A complex mix of biological and social factors affects a person’s likelihood of becoming obese. Across four studies that looked at more than 8,900 people, researchers have found significant links between personality traits and obesity – showing that that high neuroticism and low conscientiousness, among other traits, are consistently associated with increased risk for obesity. These associations are similar across samples that vary in ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status.

The Benefits of Confronting Bias[4]

Confronting discrimination may boost your well-being, according to new research. In three studies, researchers found that while experiencing discrimination is associated withdepression, confronting that bias gives people more autonomy, which helps to moderate the stressful situation. These results were true not only for minorities but also for Whites.

Being Grateful Trains Our Brains for the Good[5]

Feeling grateful can train us to feel better, finds a new study. Asking people daily for one week to write about three good things that made them grateful increased their well-being after the week, and even five weeks later. Researchers think that the gratitude exercise trains the brain for cognitive processes that support well-being, such as increasing attention so that individuals are more likely to notice benefits in their lives.

Two Hormones Together Explain Status-Seeking[6]

Looking at only testosterone as a hormonal measure of status-seeking behaviors is incomplete, argues new research. Testosterone’s influence on status-related behavior critically depends on levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Six studies suggest that researchers must consider the effects of testosterone and cortisol together. The studies show that a profile of high testosterone and low cortisol is associated with leadership, social dominance, risk-taking, emotional stability, and monetary reward maximization. On the other hand, a hormone profile of high testosterone and high cortisol is associated with subordinate behaviors, socioemotional sensitivity, anxiety, and monetary loss.

Positive Anticipation Helps Overcome Stress[7]

Past research has shown that eliciting positive emotions immediately to offset stress can ameliorate the negative effects of the stressor. Now researchers are testing the effects on stress of anticipating positive events – as that more realistically mirrors how people use emotion to regulate stress in daily life. In two studies, they found that anticipating a positive event leads to improved recovery after stress and is more effective in coping with stress than experiencing a positive event just prior to being stressed.

Recognizing that Life is Meaningful[8]

In our never-ending quest to understand the meaning of life, social psychologists are bringing a different perspective: urging us to think of meaning as an experience that involves seeing, recognizing, and noticing rather than something to search for or struggle to create. Simply maintaining a positive mood, for example, can facilitate meaning in our everyday lives and connect us more to the world.

The convention program is here

August 2, 2013 Posted by | Psychiatry, Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

Stress May Hamper Worker Performance and Health (& rebuttal article)

Yes, this is just anecdotal, but I believe there is more to this than an either/or debate.
My husband took high blood pressure medicine for years. And he often complained about the stress at work.
Within a month of changing jobs to an organization that was less stressful, his blood pressure went down and he no longer needed the blood pressure medication.

 

From the 14 September article at news@JAMA

Some bad news for workers facing stress on the job and elsewhere in their life, suggested by 2 studies published this week: stress may contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and may impair short-term memory.

Workers who encounter substantial demands at work and have little control over their situations have an elevated risk of developing heart disease compared with individuals who don’t have to face such psychological stress in the workplace, according to results of  an analysis published in the Lancet yesterday…

..

Stress may also impair an individual’s performance, a study published in PLOS Computational Biology suggests. The researchers found that exposure of rats to stress in the form of blasts of sound alter the firing of neurons in the prefrontal cortex. These changes in firing impair the ability of rats to retain short-term memory, hampering their performance in a maze task. Animals under stress completed the task only about 65% of the time compared with 90% of the unstressed rats.

The rebuttal

Don’t Blame Your Employer If You Are Feeling Stressed By Your Job

From the 18 September 2012 article at Medical News Today

Work stress, job satisfaction and health problems due to high stress have more to do with genes than you might think, according to research by Timothy Judge, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. This information has been published two days after a separate study suggesting that work stress increases an employee’s risk of heart attack by 23%.

The lead author of “Genetic influences on core self-evaluations, job satisfaction, work stress, and employee health: A behavioral genetics mediated model,” published inOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Judge studied nearly 600 twins – some identical, some fraternal – who were raised together and reared apart. He found that being raised in the same environment had very little effect on personality, stress and health. Shared genes turned out to be about four times as important as shared environment.

September 16, 2012 Posted by | Workplace Health | , , | Leave a comment

Learn to understand and interpret your body’s language (holiday stress example included)

 

From KevinMD.com article  by SUSAN BIALI, MD on September 9th, 2012

A few weeks ago I was brought in to speak to the staff of a local university. I gave a two hour workshop, which is even more fun for me than giving a keynote as I get to interact personally with the audience and draw their stories out. One of the sections of the workshop was about listening to your body. Every person’s body “speaks” to them in a different way; it’s important to pay attention to and learn to understand and interpret your body’s language.

 

When your life is off track, your body will let you know. It starts small, whispering to you through minor ailments such as suddenly developing a rash like eczema, or getting mild tension headaches. If you don’t pay attention and make adjustments it will get louder. You might start catching every cold that’s around, or end up with pneumonia.

This isn’t to say that you necessarily caused any and every medical condition you might end up with; there will always be some health situations that we have no explanation for. Yet there’s no question that when you’re out of balance in your life it’s perceived by your body as a stressor, and that can lead to all kinds of secondary consequences (and physical alarm bells). It’s essential to pay attention to this.

While speaking at that university, I asked the audience members if they had any examples of a time their body let them know that something in their life had to change. A small, pleasant-faced woman raised her hand.

“I got diabetes,” she told us. “There’s absolutely no history of it in our family. It was purely due to stress.”

Chronic excess stress could trigger diabetes in a variety of ways: reaching for sugary snacks or other poor food choices to temporarily calm and comfort; lack of time to exercise and maintain a healthy weight; being chronically sleep-deprived (even brief sleep deprivation triggers a pre-diabetic state); or having constantly elevated stress hormones that raise blood sugar.

I asked her what the circumstances were that had made her life so stressful.

“I’m a victim of the sandwich generation,” she said. “I was taking care of my kids, my parents, and everybody else. When I got diagnosed with diabetes, I knew something had to change. I was the person who everyone else came to for Thanksgiving, Christmas, everything. The year I got my diagnosis I told them that if they wanted to eat turkey they could make it themselves, I wasn’t lifting a finger. They didn’t like it at first, but I had no choice. Everything’s so much better now. I made lots of positive changes that were way overdue, and my blood sugar has gone back to normal.”

 

 

 

September 11, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health, Psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giving Time Can Give You Time

If you want to feel as if you have more time, try giving it away by volunteering to do things for others, suggests a new U.S. study.

If you want to feel as if you have more time, try giving it away by volunteering to do things for others, suggests a new U.S. study. (iStock)

From the 16 July 2012 article at Medical News Today

Many people these days feel a sense of “time famine” – never having enough minutes and hours to do everything. We all know that our objective amount of time can’t be increased (there are only 24 hours in a day), but a new study suggests that volunteering our limited time – giving it away – may actually increase our sense of unhurried leisure.

Across four different experiments, researchers found that people’s subjective sense of having time, called ‘time affluence,’ can be increased: compared with wasting time, spending time on oneself, and even gaining a windfall of ‘free’ time, spending time on others increased participants’ feelings of time affluence. …

July 16, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Mildly Stressful Situations Can Affect Our Perceptions In The Same Way As Life-Threatening Ones

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the 14 June 2012 Medical News Today article

Financial loss can lead to irrational behavior. Now, research by Weizmann Institute scientists reveals that the effects of loss go even deeper: Loss can compromise our early perception and interfere with our grasp of the true situation. The findings, which recently appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, may also have implications for our understanding of the neurological mechanisms underlying post-traumatic stress disorder.

The experiment was conducted by Dr. Rony Paz and research student Offir Laufer of the Neurobiology Department. Subjects underwent a learning process based on classic conditioning and involving money. They were asked to listen to a series of tones composed of three different notes. After hearing one note, they were told they had earned a certain sum; after a second note, they were informed that they had lost some of their money; and a third note was followed by the message that their bankroll would remain the same. According to the findings, when a note was tied to gain, or at least to no loss, the subjects improved over time in a learned task – distinguishing that note from other, similar notes. But when they heard the “lose money” note, they actually got worse at telling one from the other.

Functional MRI (fMRI) scans of the brain areas involved in the learning process revealed an emotional aspect: The amygdala, which is tied to emotions and reward, was strongly involved. The researchers also noted activity in another area in the front of the brain, which functions to moderate the emotional response. Subjects who exhibited stronger activity in this area showed less of a drop in their abilities to distinguish between tones.

Paz: “The evolutionary origins of that blurring of our ability to discriminate are positive: If the best response to the growl of a lion is to run quickly, it would be counterproductive to distinguish between different pitches of growl. Any similar sound should make us flee without thinking. Unfortunately, that same blurring mechanism can be activated today in stress-inducing situations that are not life-threatening – like losing money – and this can harm us.”

That harm may even be quite serious: For instance, it may be involved in post-traumatic stress disorder. If sufferers are unable to distinguish between a stimulus that should cause a panic response and similar, but non-threatening, stimuli, they may experience strong emotional reactions in inappropriate situations. This perceptional blurring may even expand over time to encompass a larger range of stimuli. Paz intends to investigate this possibility in future research.

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , | 1 Comment

Who’s stressed in the US? Carnegie Mellon researchers study adult stress levels from 1983-2009

Distributions of Psychological Stress in the United States from 1983, 2006 & 2009: Sex

Caption: Until now, comparing stress levels in individuals across the United States over time was not possible due to a lack of historical data that tracks stress using accepted comparable measures. New research from Carnegie Mellon University’s Sheldon Cohen and Denise Janicki-Deverts used telephone survey data from 1983 that polled 2,387 US residents over the age of 18 and online surveys from 2006 and 2009 that polled 2,000 American adults each. All three surveys used the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), a measure created by Cohen to assess the degree to which situations in life are perceived as stressful. In all three surveys, women reported more stress than men.

Results show women report more stress, stress decreases with age, and the recent economic downturn mostly affected white, middle-aged men with college educations and full-time jobs

From the 11 June 2012 EurekAlert

Until now, comparing stress levels in individuals across the United States over time was not possible due to a lack of historical data that tracks stress using accepted comparable measures.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University’s Sheldon Cohen and Denise Janicki-Deverts used telephone survey data from 1983 that polled 2,387 U.S. residents over the age of 18 and online surveys from 2006 and 2009 that polled 2,000 American adults each….

..

the results show that women, individuals with lower income and those with less education reported more stress in all three surveys. They also show that as Americans age, they experience less stress and that retirees consistently report low levels of stress, indicating that retirement is not experienced as an adverse event.

“We know that stress contributes to poorer health practices, increased risk for disease, accelerated disease progression and increased mortality,” said Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology within CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences who is a leading expert on the relationship between stress and disease. “Differences in stress between demographics may be important markers of populations under increased risk for physical and psychological disorders.”..

..

“It’s hard to say if people are more stressed now than before because the first survey was conducted by phone and the last two were done online,” Cohen said. “But, it’s clear that stress is still very much present in Americans’ lives, putting them at greater risk for many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders.”

June 12, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health | , | Leave a comment

Stressed Men Are More Social

I don’t have my hands on the articles now…but recently I have read that men and women really are more alike than they are different..including their psychology…quite different from the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” model….

Obviously, from the related articles below, gender differences (or lack of) is an ongoing research topic in many circles with differing research results.

 

From the 21 May 2012 Science News Daily article

 Freiburg researchers have refuted the common belief that stress always causes aggressive behavior.

A team of researchers led by the psychologists and neuroscientists Prof. Markus Heinrichs and Dr. Bernadette von Dawans at the University of Freiburg, Germany, examined in a study how men react in stressful situations — and have refuted a nearly 100-year-old doctrine with their results. According to this doctrine, humans and most animal species show the “fight-or-flight” response to stress. Only since the late 1990s have some scientists begun to argue that women show an alternate “tend-and-befriend” response to stress — in other words, a protective (“tend”) and friendship-offering (“befriend”) reaction. Men, in contrast, were still assumed to become aggressive under stress. Von Dawans refuted this assumption, saying: “Apparently men also show social approach behavior as a direct consequence of stress.”….

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

Understanding How Stress Affects Humans Through The Study Of Social Stress That Molds The Monkey Immune System

Rhesus macaques on Qianling Shan in the outski...

Rhesus macaques on Qianling Shan in the outskirts of Guiyang. ‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Rhesusmakaker på Qianling Shan i utkanten av Guiyang. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the 11 April Medical News Today article

If a monkey’s social status changes, her immune system changes along with it say researchers who conducted the study with rhesus macaques at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. This finding may have implications for how the stress of low socioeconomic status affects human health and how individuals’ bodies adapt after a shift in their social environment. The results are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition…

The full text of this article is free at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/04/03/1202734109.full.pdf+html

 

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

What are friends for? Negating negativity

(Although the study was on children, wondering if this can be extended to adults, and to some degree, being in community – whether physical or mental or spiritual)

 

What are friends for? Negating negativity

From the 26 January Science Daily article

‘Stand by me’ is a common refrain when it comes to friendship but new research from Concordia University proves that the concept goes beyond pop music: keeping friends close has real physiological and psychological benefits.

The presence of a best friend directly affects children going through negative experiences, as reported in the recent Concordia-based study, which was published in the journal Developmental Psychology and conducted with the collaboration of researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Feelings of self-worth and levels of cortisol, a hormone produced naturally by the adrenal gland in direct response to stress, are largely dependent on the social context of a negative experience.

“Having a best friend present during an unpleasant event has an immediate impact on a child’s body and mind,” says co-author William M. Bukowski, a psychology professor and director of the Concordia Centre for Research in Human Development. “If a child is alone when he or she gets in trouble with a teacher or has an argument with a classmate, we see a measurable increase in cortisol levels and decrease in feelings of self-worth.”

A total of 55 boys and 48 girls from grades 5 and 6 in local Montreal schools took part in the study. Participants kept journals on their feelings and experiences over the course of four days and submitted to regular saliva tests that monitored cortisol levels.

Although previous studies have shown that friendships can protect against later adjustment difficulties, this study is the first to definitively demonstrate that the presence of a friend results in an immediate benefit for the child undergoing a negative experience.

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , | 2 Comments

Stress in America 2011

From the 3 February Full Text Report summary

Source:  American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association’s (APA) newly released report, Stress in America™: Our Health at Risk, paints a troubling picture of the impact stress has on the health of the country, especially caregivers and people living with a chronic illness such as obesity or depression.
The Stress in America survey, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of APA among 1,226 U.S. residents in August and September, showed that many Americans consistently report high levels of stress (22 percent reported extreme stress, an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale where 1 is little or no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress). While reported average stress levels have dipped slightly since the last survey (5.2 on a 10-point scale vs. 5.4 in 2010) many Americans continue to report that their stress has actually increased over time (39 percent report their stress has increased over the past year and 44 percent say their stress has increased over the past 5 years). Yet stress levels exceed people’s own definition of what is healthy, with the mean rating for stress of 5.2 on a 10-point scale— 1.6 points higher than the stress level Americans reported as healthy.
While 9 in 10 adults believe that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity, a sizeable minority still think that stress has only a slight or no impact on their own physical health (31 percent) and mental health (36 percent). When considered alongside the finding that only 29 percent of adults believe they are doing an excellent or very good job at managing or reducing stress, APA warns that this disconnect is cause for concern.
“America has a choice. We can continue down a well-worn path where stress significantly impacts our physical and mental health, causes undue suffering and drives up health care costs. Or we can get serious about this major public health issue and provide better access to behavioral health care services to help people more effectively manage their stress and  prevent and manage chronic disease,” says psychologist Norman B. Anderson, PhD, APA’s CEO and executive vice president. “Various studies have shown that chronic stress is a major driver of chronic illness, which in turn is a major driver of escalating health care costs in this country. It is critical that the entire health community and policymakers recognize the role of stress and unhealthy behaviors in causing and exacerbating chronic health conditions, and support models of care that help people make positive changes.”

February 8, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health, Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Economic Realism and Resilience

From the 3 February 2012 blog post at Science is Everyone’s Story: An Urban Environmental Blog

……

f our instincts can lead us toward physical safety, maybe they can also lead us toward happiness and survival. Selective perceptioncan help us succeed; if we wake up in the morning determined to seek out positive outcomes and be flexible in that process, that decision may lead us toward better choices.

Being Resilient in an Altered Economy

The recession and the fast pace of technological change can be very stressful for workers seeking to adapt to the altered economy. In my field, working with social media and multimedia requires perpetual self-education.

But in this environment of rapid change, we can still work from core values. Rather than making outside economic forces responsible for our happiness, we can choose how we respond to the recession.

Wikipedia’s entry on resilience says:

The American Psychological Association suggests “10 Ways to Build Resilience”, which are:

(1) maintaining good relationships with close family members, friends and others;

(2) to avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems;

(3) to accept circumstances that cannot be changed;

(4) to develop realistic goals and move towards them;

(5) to take decisive actions in adverse situations;

(6) to look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss;

(7) developing self-confidence;

(8) to keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context;

(9) to maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished;

(10) to take care of one’s mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one’s own needs and feelings and engaging in relaxing activities that one enjoys. Learning from the past and maintaining flexibility and balance in life are also cited.

That’s where I disagree with Ehrenreich’s conclusion. In adverse environmental and economic situations, we can still take responsibility for improving our lives, given the tools we have at hand. We don’t have to wait for larger social movements to solve our problems. On a local and personal scale, we can help the people around us be resilient.

 

On a personal note, I have found my religion to be a good foundation for resilience building. It isn’t perfect by any means, but aspects as seeing a bigger picture and being with people rooted similarly (but with different gifts and insights) are inspiring.
I do hope all who read this have found ways to ground themselves and grow through being in community or communities which foster thriving.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

The Consequences Of Co-Worker Rudeness Are Far-Reaching

From the 18 Aug 2011 Health News Today article

A co-worker’s rudeness can have a great impact on relationships far beyond the workplace, according to a Baylor University study published online in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. Findings suggest that stress created by incivility can be so intense that, at the end of the day, it is taken home by the worker and impacts the well-being of the worker’s family and partner, who in turn takes the stress to his/her workplace…

Read the article

August 18, 2011 Posted by | Workplace Health | , | Leave a comment

A change in perspective could be all it takes to succeed in school

line art drawing of Adrenal gland, cleaned up ...

Image via Wikipedia

From the 9 August 2011 Eureka news alert

Study finds stress boosts performance for confident students, but holds back those with more anxiety

Knowing the right way to handle stress in the classroom and on the sports field can make the difference between success and failure for the millions of students going back to school this fall, new University of Chicago research shows.

“We found that cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, can either be tied to a student’s poor performance on a math test or contribute to success, depending on the frame of mind of the student going into the test,” said Sian Beilock, associate professor in psychology at UChicago and one of the nation’s leading experts on poor performance by otherwise talented people.

She is the author of “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To,” released this month in paperback.

In a new paper published in the current issue of the journal “Emotion,” Beilock and her colleagues explore the topic of performance failure in math and show, for the first time, that there is a critical connection between working memory, math anxiety and salivary cortisol.

Working memory is the mental reserve that people use to process information and figure out solutions during tests. Math anxiety is fear or apprehension when just thinking about taking a math test. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and associated with stress-related changes in the body; it is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”

Read this entire Eureka news alert

August 9, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

City Living and Stress

Greater Tokyo Area, the world's most populous ...

Ginza Area at dusk. View from Tokyo Tower.This image was created by Chris ***

From the 23 June 2011 Medical News Today article

Brain activity and biology behind mood disorders or urbanites

Being born and raised in a major urban area is associated with greater lifetime risk for anxiety and mood disorders. Until now, the biology for these associations had not been described. A new international study, which involved Douglas Mental Health University Institute researcher Jens Pruessner, is the first to show that two distinct brain regions that regulate emotion and stress are affected by city living. These findings, published in Nature may lead to strategies that improve the quality of life for city dwellers.

The above link only contains the abstract to a subscription based article.
Click here for suggestions on how to get the article for free or at low cost.

***http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ginza_area_at_dusk_from_Tokyo_Tower.jpg

June 23, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Public Health | , , , | 1 Comment

Addiction As A Brain Disease

Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse, ...

Image via Wikipedia

From the 29 April 2011 Medical News Today article

One can look at drug addiction as a moral issue, a social ill, or a criminal problem. But Lynn Oswald’s experience studying the neuroscience of addiction tells her that it is something else entirely: a disease of the brain.

“Addiction is a brain disease because differences in the way our brains function make some people more likely to become addicted to drugs than others-just as differences in our bodies make some people more likely to develop cancer or heart disease,” says Oswald, PhD, RN, an assistant professor at the School of Nursing.

However, the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie a person’s risks for alcohol and drug abuse are not well understood by scientists. Oswald is hoping to change this. She is currently at work on a study funded by a five-year $3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that aims to answer questions about why some people become addicted to drugs and others do not.

“There is growing evidence that vulnerability for substance abuse may stem from pre-existing variances in brain function,” she says.

“These variations could be something that a person is born with or the result of changes that take place later on. Like other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, risks for drug use disorders seem to be influenced by both genes and environment. Scientific evidence continues to grow about the effects of environmental stress on the body. We now know that the brain is a very plastic organ and various life experiences, such as severe stress, can also change the way the brain works.”

April 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parents’ social problems affect their children — even in birds

Parents’ social problems affect their children — even in birds

From the December 27, 2010 Eureka news alert

It may come as a surprise to many that quails are able to distinguish one another, let alone that they form close relationships with other quails. Nevertheless, it has long been known that disruption of the birds’ social environment causes them stress. A group within the UMR 6552 at the CNRS-Université de Rennes 1 in France has been studying the influence of adults on the behavioural development of their offspring. Together with scientists in Austria, they have now shown that changing the composition of groups of quails housed together causes the birds to behave more aggressively towards one another. In parallel, the level of steroid hormones (corticosterone) in their blood increases when their group composition is disrupted.

Intriguingly, the eggs they lay were found to have significantly higher levels of testosterone when the mothers were subjected to social stress of this kind. The results are consistent with previous findings from other groups, which showed that House sparrows, American coots and Common starlings lay eggs with more testosterone when they breed in dense colonies than when they nest in isolation. But the new work from the French-Austrian collaboration goes considerably further, showing that the eggs of females under social stress hatch later and the chicks grow more slowly after hatching, at least for the first three weeks. There are also indications that the chicks’ behave differently: they are more cautious and seem more susceptible to disturbance. Furthermore, they tend to move about more, which can be interpreted as increased attempts to escape from threats or to seek more social contact.

The results show how much the growth and behaviour of chicks is influenced by the concentrations of steroid hormones in the eggs from which they hatched. As Möstl says, “We know that stress on female mammals influences the development of their young, which takes place in the womb, but it was a big surprise that social stress causes such changes in the level of hormones in the yolks of birds’ eggs.” The social environment of mother quails thus has a direct effect on the growth and the behaviour of their offspring. It seems, then, that pre-natal nurture is extremely important in birds as well as in mammals and this finding is sure to add fresh fuel to the century-old nature versus nurture debate.

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The paper Social Instability in Laying Quail: Consequences on Yolk Steroids and Offspring’s Phenotype by Floriane Guibert, Marie-Annick Richard-Yris, Sophie Lumineau, Kurt Kotrschal, Daniel Guémené, Aline Bertin, Erich Möstl and Cécilia Houdelier was published in November by PLoS ONE (10.1371/journal.pone.0014069).

December 28, 2010 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Females May Be Naturally More Prone to Stress: Animal Study

A male-only protein found in rats helps control stress signals in the brain, research shows.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | Health News Items | | Leave a comment

   

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