Angry? Aggressive? All You Need Is a Prayer

Pisa%20-%20Piazza%20dei%20Miracoli%20-%202Pray for Those Who Mistreat You: Effects of Prayer on Anger and Aggression is the descriptive title of a study published a few days ago in the peer-reviewed journal, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. According to its authors, Dr. Ryan H. Bremner of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Dr. Sander L. Koole of VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Dr. Brad J. Bushman of Ohio State University at Columbus, prayer has a surprisingly strong and near instantaneous effect in reducing anger and aggression.

The study consisted of three experiments, which tested the hypothesis that the act of intentionally praying for others can significantly reduce anger and aggression after a provocation. In the first experiment, provoked participants who prayed for a stranger reported feeling their anger subside, whereas other participants who just focused their thoughts on a stranger did not report any lessening of their anger.

People often turn to prayer when they’re feeling negative emotions, including anger. We found that prayer really can help people cope with their anger, probably by helping them change how they view the events that angered them and helping them take it less personally.—Brad Bushman, Ohio State University.

In the second experiment, provoked participants who prayed for the individual who had angered them were less aggressive toward that person than were participants who just thought about the person who had angered them. In the third experiment, provoked participants who prayed for a friend in need reported acting less aggressively and feeling less anger than did people who simply thought about a friend in need.

These results are consistent with recent evolutionary theories, which suggest that religious practices can promote cooperation among unrelated people or in situations in which reciprocity would be highly unlikely. Also consistent with these findings are those previously published on Stresshacker about the connection between faith and stress, and that between longevity and spirituality.

Marriage Reduces Level of Stress Hormones

Venice at Stresshacker.com It is a well-established fact that being married can improve health outcomes. Now, new research findings get more specific and suggest that a long–term bond between two people can also reduce the production of hormones associated with stress. This is according to Dr. Dario Maestripieri, Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago and lead researcher, who published the results of the study in the August 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Stress.

To measure the effects of a committed relationship on stress levels, Dr. Maestripieri and his team monitored changes in salivary concentrations of testosterone and cortisol in response to a mild psychosocial stressor (a set of computerized decision-making tests) on a sample of over 500 participants. The aim of the study was to investigate any gender differences in hormonal responses to psychosocial stress; the relationship between pre-test hormone levels and stress-induced hormonal changes; and any possible sources of same-gender variation in pre-test hormone levels as compared to hormonal responses in a larger human subject population. 

The results show that males had higher concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol than females both before and after the test. After the stress-test was administered, cortisol level increased in both sexes but the increase was larger in females than in males. Single males without a stable romantic partner had higher testosterone level than males with stable partners, and both males and females without a partner showed a greater cortisol response to the test than married individuals with or without children.

It would appear from the test results of this study that married individuals, when faced with a new stressor, respond with a lower production of stress hormones. This can have two major benefits: it can permit a more deliberate response to the stressor (as the system is not overloaded with a debilitating and hormone-filled stress reaction), and it can, over time, reduce the accumulation of allostatic load on the organism—two good things that help married people confront challenges in more supportive, less stressful, and more effective ways.

A New Stressor: Cell Phone Waves Affect Brain

cellphone_brainLess than one hour on the cellphone has been shown to significantly increase brain activity, especially in the area closest to the phone’s antenna. Is this good or bad? In a study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD and Brookhaven National Laboratories in Upton, NY presented convincing evidence of this localized increase, but could not say whether the findings may have any clinical significance. At issue was whether exposure to cell phone radiofrequency signals has any noticeable and, most importantly, any dangerous effects on the human brain.

One of the measures that best indicates brain activity levels is brain glucose metabolism. In a randomized crossover study conducted between January 1 and December 31, 2009, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, 47 healthy individuals were asked to use their cell phone during a period of 50 minutes. Using positron emission tomography (a PET scan) to detect levels of the biological marker 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose, brain glucose metabolism was measured with the cell phone activated (sound muted) for 50 minutes (switch in the “on” position) and with the cell phone deactivated (“off” position). Statistical tools were used to compare brain glucose metabolism between on and off conditions, and to verify the association of brain glucose metabolism and the estimated amplitude of radiofrequency-modulated electromagnetic waves emitted by the cell phones.

The results of the tests indicate that glucose metabolism throughout the whole brain did not differ between on and off conditions. However, glucose metabolism in the region of the brain closest to the cell phone antenna (corresponding to the orbitofrontal cortex and the temporal area) was significantly higher when the phone was on (35.7 vs. 33.3 μmol/100g per minute). The increase in brain activity appeared to be directly correlated with the estimated electromagnetic field amplitudes.

The researchers conclude that, compared with no exposure at all, a 50-minute cell phone conversation is associated with increased brain glucose metabolism in the region closest to the antenna. Short of any evidence that this increase is harmful, the study authors concluded that this finding “is of unknown clinical significance.”

What Is Brain Glucose Metabolism?

Brain glucose metabolism is the use of glucose (sugars) to create energy for neural activation, as the brain requires a continuous supply of glucose carried to it by blood circulation to meet its metabolic requirements. The central nervous system is dependent upon a continuous supply of blood and the viability of brain cells depends upon the immediate and constant availability of oxygen and glucose.

Although there is inconsistent evidence that increased brain glucose metabolism is pathogenic, the consensus is that it may be a contributing factor in causing a higher than normal concentration of extracellular potassium (ionic disequilibrium), that it may produce fluctuating levels of extracellular excitatory amino acids, and that it may be responsible for localized brain seizure activity.

Similar to the detrimental effects of too little glucose (hypoglycemia), periods of too high glucose (hyperglycemia) have been shown to worsen neurologic outcomes, i.e., to aggravate any existing brain disorder. More specifically, high glucose can cause isolated seizures and situation-related syndromes, such as fever seizures and seizures due to alcohol, drugs, or complications of pregnancy. In fact, longitudinal neuroimaging studies of alcohol-dependent individuals have revealed increased brain glucose metabolism in the frontal cortex and other studies have revealed that cocaine at doses typically used by drug abusers also significantly increased brain glucose metabolism.

Scans of amphetamine users have shown a 14% increase in whole brain metabolism in abusers as compared to non-abusers. Differences were most accentuated in the parietal cortex, ­ an area of the brain that regulates sensation and coordinates information on space and spatial relations. "This finding was a complete surprise," study author Dr. Volkow says. "Most drug studies have shown decreased metabolism. The increased metabolism we saw is consistent with an inflammatory response. This result, taken together with our other findings, indicates that this is a very toxic drug." The presence of inflammation signals that there is a physical injury to the brain.

tn_reach-outWhile it is premature to conclude that cell phone use is harmful to the human brain, the concern has been around for a while and the possible correlation between electromagnetic waves and brain injuries continues to be studied. That a direct correlation of higher than normal brain activity and cell phone use has been so clearly established may however be sufficient to give many of us a reason for using text messaging and a plain old landline to reach out and touch someone.

Anxiety: Fear Turned Inward

Joanne Weidman, MS, MFTLet’s say on more days than not you feel pretty good about yourself and how you do in most areas of your life. Then one day, you struggle, perhaps at work, perhaps under pressure from a boss who expects more of you at times than you feel capable of achieving. The stress can be overwhelming. On the way home that day the elevator feels particularly confining and the freeway traffic is more irritating than usual, in part because when it stops you feel trapped too far from the next exit. You can’t sleep that night because your heart races and your thoughts are dominated by efforts to figure our out how to solve the problem that came down earlier in the day.

Each of these symptoms can be understood within the broad category of what we call “anxiety.” We throw the word around a lot, but what does it really mean in a psychological sense? Anxiety means more than just the symptoms you feel, though that list is long, including phobias (ex: afraid of flying, elevators, or leaving the house), obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors (ex: counting steps, hand washing), physiological reactions (ex: feeling flushed, racing heart, sweating, dizziness, difficulty sleeping), generic fears (of losing control or going crazy), performance, social and separation anxieties, and the granddaddy of them all, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Different people are inclined to express their anxiety in different ways and to vastly different degrees.

Some understand anxiety symptoms as fear turned inward. But your anxiety thinks it’s being your friend by trying to keep you safe — anxiety issues are all about feeling in control. Some anxieties are what we would call situational, such as a mandatory performance or project, the evaluation of which is out of your control. Some anxiety we would consider chronic. This is common for those who have had neglect or abuse in their lives, and some of this may be unconscious, meaning that sometimes you’re not even sure what you’re frightened about that’s causing the anxiety symptoms. This is especially distressful, because how can you take control of a situation when you aren’t even sure what it’s about?

Your distress means that you are struggling alone, but you don’t have to. Therapy can help you identify your anxiety triggers and acknowledge anxiety’s good intentions to protect you. You and your therapist can identify real solutions for managing or eliminating it.

Guest post by Joanne Weidman, M.S., M.F.T.

eClass 4: Best and Worst Food For Stress

Italy_Tuscany2 How, when, and what we eat tells a lot about who we are. It also says a lot about how well we handle our stress reaction. Food can help or hurt our coping abilities and thus make a difference in how well we respond to stressors.

Food intake is one of the critical factors ensuring adequate growth and development in all species. Just ask my puppy dog where food ranks on his daily list of priorities! In particular, brain development is sensitive to specific nutrient intake such as proteins and fats, which are important for cell membrane formation and myelinization.

A surprising amount of the stress we may experience on a daily basis can be caused by the chemicals we consume in our food. By eating, drinking or inhaling certain substances we can put our bodies under elevated chemical stress. Similarly, if we are eating an unbalanced diet we may be stressing our bodies by depriving them of essential nutrients.

Eating too much of certain high-calorie foods for a long period is a leading cause of obesity. How much food is consumed as a stress reliever? Gaining too much weight puts our heart and lungs under stress, overloads our organs and reduces stamina. It may also significantly shorten our lives.

Stress reactions are a pervasive factor in everyday life that can critically affect our development and functioning. Severe and prolonged exposure to stressors can have a negative effect on our balance mechanisms.

Let’s look at some of the most important effects of food on our psychological state right after the jump.

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The John Lennon Syndrome

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. John Lennon

I love this quote from John Lennon and often share it with clients when they’re feeling frustrated because things haven’t gone the way they planned; they haven’t made as much progress as they’d hoped; or perhaps a goal that was important to them hasn’t been achieved. Quite often this is due to the fact that ‘life’ simply got in the way.

Life Happens and sometimes it can throw up unwanted and unexpected challenges. I’ve experienced this myself in the past couple of months and have found myself having to deal with some very stressful situations. As a Life Coach I try to walk my talk and most of the time I feel I live a fulfilling and balanced life.  But I don’t always get it right and there are times when everything is knocked for six.  And I know that I’m not alone — this happens to everyone from time to time.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the past few months:

Firstly, when we find ourselves in a stressful or challenging situation it’s really important to find ways to shore ourselves up and take care of ourselves. Take the pressure off — take it easy — don’t force yourself to do more than absolutely necessary.  Try to eat well, take some exercise, perhaps book in for a massage or healing or reflexology — whatever you find to be therapeutic. If you’re feeling anxious, find something that will act as a distraction, be it listening to music, going to a movie, doing a hobby or taking a walk — whatever works for you.

Secondly, if you have limited emotional and physical energy and resources, it’s crucial to make smart choices and concentrate only on those things that are of the highest priority.  What’s most important?  Each morning ask yourself what are the three areas I need to focus on today?  Forget everything else — just give yourself those three things to focus your attention on.  If you can get more done then great, but don’t ask or expect too much of yourself.

Thirdly, reach out for support.  It’s important not to try to soldier on and shoulder everything on your own.  Seek out family and friends who you can talk to — share your concerns — spend time with people who care for, and will support, you.  If you don’t have anyone to confide in, and your concerns are going round and round in your head, it can really help to get them out of your head and down on paper.

Finally, choose a positive image or mantra which you can use whenever you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed — or if you’re finding it hard to sleep. Think of something that embodies strength or calmness, or whatever emotional state you feel you need.

Mine is taken from this beautiful stone carving:  All shall be well.

No doubt many of you will have experienced what I call the John Lennon Syndrome in your own lives.  Don’t be too hard on yourself when life gets in the way and you don’t achieve as much as you’d hoped. ‘Life’ happens. Be easy on yourself and go with the flow. That’s what I’m learning to do.

Annabel Sutton

ICF Professional Certified Coach
Author of 52 Ways to Change Your Life

Connect with Annabel on LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/annabelsutton. Book a FREE Coaching Consultation with Annabel. Find out more about Life Coaching.

Just 14 of the Many Facets of Stress

aaTintoretto_SanGiorgioDragoMRI scans have revealed that children of depressed mothers have a larger amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotional responses, researchers from the University of Montreal explained in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

A new study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reveals that the World Trade Center attacks affected the health of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) resulting in more post-9/11 retirements than expected.

Researchers in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine have uncovered a mechanism by which stress increases food drive in rats.

Do you run when you should stay? Are you afraid of all the wrong things? An enzyme deficiency might be to blame, reveals new research in mice by scientists at the University of Southern California.

Constant bitterness can make a person ill, according to Concordia University researchers who have examined the relationship between failure, bitterness and quality of life.

Listening to music or sessions with trained music therapists may benefit cancer patients. Music can reduce anxiety, and may also have positive effects on mood, pain and quality of life, a new Cochrane Systematic Review shows.

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have found that those who believe in a benevolent God tend to worry less and be more tolerant of life’s uncertainties than those who believe in an indifferent or punishing God.

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.

An 8-week course of stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation resulted in a 50% reduction in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms among Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, researchers reported in Military Medicine. The pilot study involved five veterans aged 25 to 40 years with PTSD symptoms – they had all served between 10 and 24 months and had been involved in moderate or heavy moderate combat.

When parents fight, infants are likely to lose sleep, researchers report. "We know that marital problems have an impact on child functioning, and we know that sleep is a big problem for parents," said Jenae M. Neiderhiser, professor of psychology, Penn State. New parents often report sleep as being the most problematic of their child’s behavior.

By helping people express their emotions, music therapy, when combined with standard care, appears to be an effective treatment for depression, at least in the short term, said researchers from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland who write about their findings in the August issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Young adults whose mothers experienced psychological trauma during their pregnancies show signs of accelerated aging, a UC Irvine-led study found. The researchers discovered that this prenatal exposure to stress affected the development of chromosome regions that control cell aging processes.

A child who has a psychological adversity or a mental disorder that starts during childhood has a higher chance of developing a long-term (chronic) physical condition later on, researchers from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand reported in Archives of General Psychiatry. The authors explain that child abuse has been linked to a higher chance of adverse physical health outcomes.

Individuals with anxiety-related symptoms who self-medicate with drugs or alcohol have a higher risk of having a substance abuse problem and social phobia, researchers from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, revealed in Archives of General Psychiatry.

Best Omega-3 Against Depression

aaInness_1878_AutumnOaksThe polyunsaturated fatty acid omega-3 is an important weapon in combating inflammation, the principal cause of stress-related illness. However, when it comes to helping lift depression, not all types of omega-3 fatty acids are equal. According to a study presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology which took place Dec. 5-9 in Florida, only eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) has been shown to produce significant mood improvement in patients with depression. The other type of omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has no effect on depression.

The two omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found together in food (primarily fish and nuts) in a 1:1 ratio, but man-made supplements contain either EPA or DHA or a combination of both, in a ratio that may favor one vs. the other and may vary by manufacturer. In order to take advantage of omega-3’s antidepressant effects, it is therefore important to choose supplements that have an EPA-predominant formulation.

Among the many Omega-3 supplements that are rich in EPA for antidepressant effects, some of the highest rated are NutraSea Herring Oil (with a 3:1 EPA to DHA ratio), AST Bioactive Omega-3 EPA Amino Hybrid (with a 5:1 EPA to DHA ratio), and Pharmax High EPA Fish Oil.

Stress Software: Of Mice and Men

Baeder_1999_EmpireDiner

Animals, and particularly rodents that are routinely used in   observations and experiments, tell us a lot of what we know about our own psychology. Rodents? How can a mouse or a rat know the first thing about what motivates and directs human reactions and behaviors? As a matter of fact, no rodent has yet provided any evidence of self-awareness or consciousness of the elevated kind, the sense of self that we attribute to ourselves and that is often used to explain why we do the things we do. And that is the very reason why rodents make such reliable exemplars of human psychology.

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Stress Attacks!

Dali_1954_SoftWatch

Good stress motivates and mobilizes to action. Bad stress, of the pathological kind, ambushes and attacks with vicious relentlessness. Its favorite areas of attack are self-esteem, self-assessment and analytical abilities as they relate to past experiences, present situations, and expected outcomes. When stress strikes, the past can become a repository of bad precedents, the present a bleak landscape of dangers, and the future a (seemingly) real possibility of annihilation. Sounds exaggerated? Yes,  when stress is at manageable levels. However, in the presence of a real or perceived grave stressor, one’s abilities to cope with or respond to the challenging situation can become severely impaired, leading to three possible outcomes: flight or running away from the stressor, fight or direct confrontation, or the glacial paralysis of freeze.

Can we prepare for a stressor of significance, e.g. a major financial loss, with any degree of success?  If so, what needs to happen before the stressor occurs? What mental/physical preparation can one make?

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Stressful Age: Good News/Bad News For Boomers

Tiepolo at Stresshacker.com First the good news. A study based on the 2008 Gallup poll of 340,000 Americans has identified 50 as the age when people begin to feel better about themselves. Prior to that age, people generally feel progressively worse from age 18. The study was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Following the sharp reversal at about age 50, most people report better self-satisfaction at increasing levels up to age 85.

Now for the bad news. According to the latest figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among people age 45-54 years has increased at a surprising pace since 2006. Typically, individuals aged ≥80 years have had the highest rates of suicide in the United States. Since 2006, however, rates of suicide among persons aged 45 to 54 years in the United States have been the highest. The majority of suicides in this age group were among white, non-Hispanic males.

The CDC speculates that problems related to mental health (depression), job loss, financial reversal (foreclosure, loss of investment value), or relationships (divorce, bereavement) might be contributing to the rising rates of suicide in this age group. Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs was a frequent precipitant or “facilitating” factor for the suicide.

Brothers, fathers, friends in this age group who may be feeling overwhelmed and have had a recent significant stressor may be at risk. Suicide crisis hotlines (in the United States: 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255) are available as a first line of defense. Among the best protective factors is the availability of support from immediate family and close friends.

How is talking about my problem going to help? 10 reasons why it is better than not talking at all.

1. Talking about issues forces us to put them into words and thus can focus the mind on important details of the problem. This works very well in all circumstances, but especially if you have trouble concentrating your attention or if your thoughts and feelings about the issue feel like they are all jumbled together. Talking about thoughts and feelings helps bring more clarity to the situation and may be of significant help in coming up with possible solutions.

2. Telling the story to someone else, instead of just telling it to yourself over and over (also known as ruminating), helps you sort out what is often a confused mix of thoughts, emotions, opportunities and challenges. In solving a problem, the first step is to lay out as clearly as possible its dimensions, i.e., its scope, frequency and intensity. Talking about it helps you take this first step much more efficiently.

3. Talking about something that is heavy on our mind help release tension. Most people say that they feel better, and think more clearly, after they’ve had a chance to talk about a bothersome issue. Although just talking about the problem isn’t per se a solution, it is that crucial pre-requisite to finding just the right approach to solving it.

4. Talking is often perceived as an unburdening of the mind. The exploratory process that is inherent to putting things into words not only helps a person understand subtle and often unnoticed emotions, but it also helps in discovering alternative ways to manage strong and often uncomfortable feelings.

5. Talking to someone who’s a good, unbiased listener puts the talker in a position to receive someone’s care, compassion and undivided attention. Any problem is usually made much worse if we feel misundesrtood and uncared for. There are times in which keeping things to one’s self (perhaps motivated by a false need for privacy) may be the worst possible choice.

6. Talking opens up the possibility of receiving some useful advice. It is hard to see things clearly and objectively from within (as in, “not seeing the forest because of all the trees”). Moreover, none of us have all the experience and wisdom needed to address a situation in the most effective way, especially when we are stressed, tired, depressed, or anxious. Talking to someone who’s trained to listen and to counsel may not be the easiest thing to do, but it is almost invariably one of the best choices.

7. Talking and exploring the problem with someone else can help develop ideas and look at all possible strategies and solutions. You’ve heard the saying, “there is nothing new under the sun.” This happens to be true of all things human. Chances are, your problem has been successfully solved by many other people with the same challenges and in the same circumstances. Talking about your particular situation may allow you to take advantage of someone else’s experience.

8. Talking to someone relieves feelings of isolation and aloneness. These feelings are often caused by the very special circumstances or characteristics of the problem itself, which can give us the impression that “nobody would understand it.” This feeling can cause a person to isolate, refuse to address the issue, or resort to alcohol or drugs in an ill-advised attempt to get some relief. Talking is a much safer and more effective solution.

9. Talking about a serious issue with a professional makes you feel better very quickly. The very fact that you’ve taken the steps to make the appointment, go to the counselor’s office, and talk about your situation has an immediate beneficial effect. Most people report “feeling much better” after the very first session of counseling.

10. It’s better than medication alone. Major studies have found an effect size (which is a measure of treatment benefit) of up to 0.97 for talk therapy. For antidepressant medication, the average effect size is 0.31.

History of Stress: Then and Now

Turner_RomaModerna The stress response, which occurs when we are threatened or when we perceive a threat, has a long history in human development.

In its evolution, prehistoric and historic humans have experienced significant environmental stressors. These stressor influenced our genetic development.

The principle of natural selection favored individuals who efficiently conserved energy, endured dehydration, successfully fought potentially lethal agents, anticipated their adversaries, minimized exposure to danger and prevented tissue strain and damage. How do we handle these genetically selected traits today? See it after the jump. Read more

Widely Used, Unlikely Stress Reducer: Salt

Sunset at Sea, 1882There may be a very good reason for the impulse to reach for salt-laden foods and snacks. New research from the University of Cincinnati, reported in the April 6, 2011, issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, shows that elevated consumption of salt can reduce the body’s natural stress reaction. Sodium, the main ingredient of salt, inhibits the release of hormones along the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which are released into circulation in reactions to stressors. More specifically, an elevated sodium intake limits the stress reaction by suppressing the release of the octapeptide angiotensin II (Ang II), which provides the major hormonal support of the growth and function of the zona glomerulosa of the adrenal cortex and the secretion of the excitatory hormone aldosterone. Conversely, higher sodium intake increases the activity of oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone.

Life stressors cause an immediate challenge to the body’s homeostatic balance, and cause physiological and psychological reactions that affect hormonal, cardiovascular, and behavioral responses. This new research examined the neural mechanisms underlying the stress reaction within the context of such a homeostatic challenge. The focus was on the impact of an elevated intake of sodium on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the cardiovascular system, and behavior in response to an acute psychological stressor.

Relative to controls whose sodium levels were normal, subjects with elevated salt intake showed a decrease in HPA activation in response to a psychological stressor. In addition, the increase in sodium also reduced the cardiovascular response and promoted faster recovery to pre-stress levels. Even more remarkable, subjects with increased sodium intake had significantly more oxytocin- and vasopressin-containing neurons within the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus and greatly elevated circulating levels of oxytocin. The endocrine and cardiovascular profile of subjects with elevated sodium also produced a decrease in anxiety-like behaviors when they were put through a social interaction test.

The researchers concluded that the results single out sodium as a potent inhibitor of the HPA, cardiovascular, and behavioral aspects of the stress reaction.

Eat More Salt, Feel Less Stress?

Apparently, we are already doing so, by the millions of pounds. Americans have consistently consumed approximately 3,700 mg of sodium daily throughout the last three decades, or nearly 65% more than the recommended daily salt intake of 2,300 mg. Most restaurant food, prepackaged and processed food, deli food, table and bar snacks, and fast food are loaded with salt, sugars and fats. Sodium is added primarily as a flavor enhancer, but also to satisfy our hidden and very powerful salt appetite.

The downside of elevated salt consumption: too much sodium is a precipitating factor in heart failure, an increased risk for gastric cancer, a contributor to hypertension. In fact, the ill-effects of too much sodium consumption are so widespread throughout the body that salt-intake reduction is often one of the first approaches to the treatment of a variety of metabolic conditions. Could it be that this widely used (and tasty) stress reducer is not what it appears to be? Perhaps its “calming” and anxiety reduction effects—much like those of alcohol—come at a price that, if properly understood, we may not be willing to pay.

How Do I Feel About It? Emotion As Information

oropa_sanct Emotion is information. Almost without exception, humans use their feelings to make judgments and decisions. Decisions are often made simply by asking ourselves, “How do I feel about it?” Most individuals do this feeling-based evaluation of significant aspects of their environment almost automatically. It is not infrequent that someone will rely almost entirely on emotion in making even very significant decisions.

Before discussing whether this is good or bad, it is undeniable that the information provided by emotions is about value—that is, about whether something or someone can be appraised in a positive or negative way.

Emotion as information can be illustrated as the means by which such positive or negative value is conveyed internally to ourselves, just in the same way as facial expressions of emotion convey the same type of information to others. Additionally, emotional appraisal is generally much more immediate, i.e. faster, than cognitive (reasoned) appraisal. In other words, we are capable of “feeling” positive or negative about something or someone much faster and earlier than we can “understand” or “evaluate cognitively” their real worth. This innate capability is well known to all of us as having a gut feeling, feeling it in one’s stomach, having a sixth sense, and many other such metaphors in every human language.

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