I Can’t Meditate To Save My Life

01740_rockefellersview_2560x1600 Meditation is hard. I get distracted very easily. I start noticing every noise, every wrinkle in my socks, and my stomach starts making the loudest noises. When I try to meditate, it feels like I am trying to stop the earth’s rotation—without any success at all, thank goodness. Too bad, because it’d be good for me… especially when I read the news item that follows.

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Faith in God Positively Influences Treatment for Individuals with Mental Disorders

faith-healthBelief in God may significantly improve the outcome of those receiving short-term treatment for psychiatric illness, according to a recent study conducted by McLean Hospital investigators. McLean Hospital of Belmont, MA is the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

In the study, published in the current issue of Journal of Affective Disorders, David H. Rosmarin, PhD, McLean Hospital clinician and instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, examined individuals at the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital program at McLean in an effort to investigate the relationship between patients’ level of belief in God, expectations for treatment and actual treatment outcomes.

“Our work suggests that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without, regardless of their religious affiliation. Belief was associated with not only improved psychological wellbeing, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm,” explained Rosmarin.

The study looked at 159 patients, recruited over a one-year period. Each participant was asked to gauge their belief in God as well as their expectations for treatment outcome and emotion regulation, each on a five-point scale. Levels of depression, wellbeing, and self-harm were assessed at the beginning and end of their treatment program.

Of the patients sampled, more than 30 percent claimed no specific religious affiliation yet still saw the same benefits in treatment if their belief in a higher power was rated as moderately or very high. Patients with “no” or only “slight” belief in God were twice as likely not to respond to treatment than patients with higher levels of belief.

The study concludes: “… belief in God is associated with improved treatment outcomes in psychiatric care. More centrally, our results suggest that belief in the credibility of psychiatric treatment and increased expectations to gain from treatment might be mechanisms by which belief in God can impact treatment outcomes.”

Rosmarin commented, “Given the prevalence of religious belief in the United States — over 90% of the population — these findings are important in that they highlight the clinical implications of spiritual life. I hope that this work will lead to larger studies and increased funding in order to help as many people as possible.”

Election Stress: What’s Remarkable

Have you noticed how resilient, how unflappable, how remarkably at ease the Republican candidates seem to be with the ups and downs of the primaries? I see good public stress management in this.  There appears to be an ability to maintain one’s composure in the face of the many gyrations brought on by polls, speculations and actual results, which have made these primaries particularly stressful and also particularly interesting.

Unless one has direct experience of it, it is objectively hard to appreciate the rigors of a national political campaign.  The lack of sleep, poor nutrition, constant travel are hard on the body.  The need to be constantly on, to never let one’s guard down more than so much, to come across as competent and well prepared on anything the candidate may be asked to speak on are hard on the mind.  The relentless demands of the news cycle, the unflinching stare of the media and of the public in general, and the near-constant re-examination of one’s principles, conviction and history are hard on the soul.  There is probably no better image of what stressful circumstances really are about than a candidate for political office on a bus or airplane, exhausted, traveling toward yet another rally, another interview, another stump speech, another event.  And it goes on like this for months and months.

The aging that takes place in office is a well known phenomenon.  In our modern era, we have photographs of presidents taken at all points of their campaign, at inauguration, at midterm, and after they leave office.  It is plain to see the toll that the job takes on the individual’s physical appearance.  Less obvious is the toll that it takes on the mind and on the soul. The fact that we have presidents and ex-presidents who not only do what they are supposed to do, but do it well, and continue to be in good health and function well into their late adulthood is certainly a testament to their resilience and excellent stress management skills.

And so for the candidates, the test begins upon declaring their intention to run for the highest office.  The highly public management of their stress levels begins at that moment and never lets up. If their bid is unsuccessful and their campaign ends, they can return to normality and what they may have to work through is the fallout from having lost their campaign.  Not easy, to be sure, but at least it can be relatively private.  For those who succeed and win primary after primary, or win enough to be a player and stay in the race, the rigors of the campaign will either hone their skills or bring out the lack thereof.

When the last man is finally left standing and he’s elected president of the United States, another even more demanding phase of public stress management begins, never to let up again until the very end of life.  It is remarkable and an object lesson that it can even be done as well as it is by these truly exceptional individuals we call our presidents.

Faith And Stress: The Connection

My view is that "bad" stress is handled through scripture, prayer, and faith. That is not naïve but a way to perceive the circumstances of life which would invade our peace and joy. –Doyle Kee

Hurricane at Stresshacker.com The belief in the existence of a supernatural being who has
a plan for each human being, and the opportunity to connect with others who share the same belief, can be powerful relievers of the stress of life. The psychological appeal of faith is beyond dispute: there are over 100,000 registered religions in the United States alone, and membership is constantly on the rise. An even greater number of people accept a form of personal spirituality which includes the belief in a higher being, without subscribing to any one specific movement.

Religious belief and affiliation appear to rise significantly in times of severe stress. Some of history’s most prominent, and some of the most unusual and charismatic, religious movements have arisen in times of great political, economic and societal turmoil. In times of war, widespread famine, poverty and natural disasters, and impending death and illness nearly all religious groups have seen and continue to see their appeal grow.

Sigmund Freud, in his book on The Future of an Illusion admitted, without accepting it, that faith in God could reduce psychological stress. Carl Marx famously stated, “religion is the opiate of the masses” in the introduction of his book Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. And we can certainly consider the meaning attached to faith by the 9/11 suicide bombers who went to their death (and took many with them) as a testament to the power of their religious fervor.

The Connection Between Faith and Stress

Research has shown that faith in a supernatural being, with all its corollaries and attributes, appears to be particularly effective in relieving certain specific psychological stressors. Here are the most important ones:

  • Psychological and physical escape from stress: religious organizations offer physical as well as spiritual shelters where food, clothing, and healthcare are available, along with social support, structure, and spiritual guidance.
  • Consolation, devaluation of and disassociation from the illusory trappings of the material world, and the ephemeral appeal of beauty, money, success.
  • Appealing models of resilience and positive outcomes in the face of life-threatening stressors.
  • Cognitive and dialectical techniques that are useful in coping with stressors, such as individual prayers, group rituals and collective petitions. Nearly all religious movements provide ways of giving voice to individual and collective distress, including the fast-growing Internet-based churches.
  • Explaining the inexplicable: in a world that seems ruled by chaos and administered by randomness, faith in a superiorly organized universe is an appealing provider of stability. By prayer, penance, code, dietary laws, rituals, or positive thinking, faith-based movements promote a sense of personal control.
  • A meaning to life and to life’s end. Faith can promote a hopeful and optimistic outlook with its emphasis on a more peaceful (and stress-free) existence and its promise of life after death.
  • A refuge from aloneness and abandonment. The profoundly comforting sense of belonging to a community of mutual love and support, and the incomparable feeling of being loved unconditionally by someone who epitomizes love and trust are perhaps the most appealing attributes of faith.

As an intensely personal experience, faith remains beyond the investigation by scientific means. In psychological terms, faith can positively influence us in cognitive and emotional terms, in the way we come to perceive ourselves, our world, and our future. When embraced sincerely and whole-heartedly, it can become an important protective factor against the effects of stress in our lives.

Smoking Relieves Stress: True or False?

Whistler_1862_White-girlFalse, according to a newly published study on the effect of stopping smoking on perceived stress. Even though many smokers believe that smoking helps them cope with stress, and that stopping smoking would deprive them of an effective stress management tool, this turns out not to be the case, except in the very short term.

This long-term study conducted jointly by the University of London, the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry project has provided more robust data on post-cessation changes in perceived stress levels. The individuals studied were a group of 469 smokers admitted to the hospital after a heart attack or for coronary bypass surgery. They were seen upon admission and completed a 1-year follow-up. Of the patients, 41% maintained abstinence from smoking for 1 year, while the others did not. Abstainers recorded a significantly larger decrease in perceived stress than those who continued to smoke.

The conclusions reached by the research team were that in highly addicted smokers who report that smoking helps them cope with stress, giving up smoking significantly reduced their stress levels. Among those who did not quit, regardless of any immediate effects smoking may have on their perceived stress, it was shown to generate or aggravate their negative emotional states.

The results are being used to reassure smokers who may be worried that quitting may deprive them of a valuable stress-reduction resource. Quitting is better than continuing to smoke, from all health-related points of view, including stress.

7 Natural Ways to Heal Stress

Stresshacker Recommends In my recent post I discussed how, “With so many (stress management programs) to choose from, it has become just about impossible to review them in depth and determine which stress management programs actually help people, in what ways, and how well.” Part of the answer may come from this week’s Stresshacker Recommended book selection. French physician, neuroscientist and author David Servan-Schreiber who is a clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, a lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine of Lyon University, and the co-founder and then director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has written The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy, published by Rodale Press.

41gRvdz0izL._SL160_ The seven natural treatment approaches described in this book make use of the mind and the brain’s own healing mechanisms for recovering from depression, anxiety, and stress. Dr. Servan-Schreiber has selected only those stress management methods that have received enough scientific attention to make him comfortable in using them with patients and in recommending them to his colleagues.

The methods presented are: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (see Stresshacker’s post on EMDR), heart rate coherence training, synchronization of chronobiological rhythms with artificial dawn (which should replace the alarm clock), acupuncture, nutrition, exercise, emotional communication, and cultivating your connection to something larger than yourself.

Servan-Schreiber, D. (2004). The Instinct to Heal: Curing Depression, Anxiety and Stress Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy. ISBN-10: 1594861587 ASIN: B000GYI1RO

Stress and Breast Cancer

Chenonceau Castle at Stresshacker.com Learning how to better cope with stress had a significant positive impact on the lifespan and quality of life of a group of women with recurrent breast cancer. Researchers at Ohio State University’s department of psychology reported the results in the latest issue of Clinical Cancer Research Journal, published by the American Association for Cancer Research.

"Patients [who learned how to reduce stress] evidenced significant emotional improvement and more favorable immune responses in the year following recurrence diagnosis. In contrast, stress remained unabated and immunity significantly declined in the assessment-only group," said Dr. Barbara L. Andersen, principal researcher at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

Analysis of the data of the 11-year-long study showed that of 227 women in the study group, the women who had received stress management training had a 59 per cent lower risk of dying of breast cancer.

This excellent news, reported by Medical News Today, is further confirmation that treating the symptoms of the stress reaction through cognitive (psychoeducational) and behavioral interventions can have a powerful effect on health. It is especially beneficial to learn how to directly manage the stressor that is causing the reaction, how to reduce its impact by a combination of stress-reducing techniques of relaxation, appropriate nutrition, adequate sleep, and the affirmation of positive statements about one’s ability to cope and overcome the challenge.

iPhone, iPad, iBrain: A Multitasker Paradise?

Multitasking at Stresshacker.com Here’s a (very) short history of information explosion: oral poetry; carved tablets; papyrus; illuminated manuscripts; printing press; radio; television; computer; iPhone; iPad. At each turn, the volume and quality of available information grew, first geometrically, then exponentially. Availability has now far exceeded the capacity, and some say the need, of the human brain to receive, decode, and make use of the data. Volume has also created an additional stressor that was unknown until the latter part of the 20th century: information overload.

Today more than ever, we are exposed to a far larger volume of sensory input than our senses and brain can process. Billions of individual bits of information compete for our attention, requiring us to rapidly determine which needs to be processed, remembered, or used for action. Information can be just data (it’s now 7:15pm) but it can also carry an emotional value (it’s later than I thought!). Emotion-laden stimuli have a special advantage in the competition for our limited attention resources because the correct evaluation of an emotional stimulus may be critical in determining whether it represents a threat (oh no, I’ll miss the start of the game!) or a reward (good, I wont’ have to sit through the previews). See this post on the value of emotion as information.

In spite of the enormous amount of valuable and potentially interesting information that can be ours just for the asking (or the thumbing), more than 99% will not be accessed, processed or remembered. The greater part of the remaining 1% that makes it to our eyes and ears will be discarded by the brain as irrelevant and unimportant. So we are left with an almost insignificant sliver of information that manages to be retained and used in some way. Pity, one might say. Thank goodness, says I.

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Stresshack #1: The Top 6 Job Stressors



The top six on-going job conditions, thus excluding exceptional events such as a job loss, that may lead to significant stress are:

6. The structural and environmental conditions in which we must perform our tasks, which can range from mildly unpleasant to physically dangerous. There may also be noise, bad breathable air, overcrowding or constrictive body positions, such as prolonged standing or sitting or heavy lifting, or even too much typing. Degree of control we can have over these stressors: Often none. Perception vs. reality of the stressor: These often are legitimate and objective constraints that would stress anyone under the same circumstances.

5. Career concerns we may harbor over various aspects of the position we occupy, such as the security of the job itself, due to job-specific or industry/general economy threats; rapid changes in the job description or its requirements for which we may feel unprepared; unfulfilled desires of growth opportunities, such as advancement, promotion or change. Degree of control we can have over these stressors: Ranging from limited to significant. Perception vs. reality of the stressor: A fear-induced highly negative perception of the precariousness of the job can be a significant factor, and may not be commensurate to the objective reality of the threat.

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Economic Distress and Its 8 Remedies

Capretti at Stresshacker.comEconomic stress is the unpleasant reality for many in the United States and in many other countries today. There is plenty of anxiety to go around for everybody. The unemployed worry about not being able to find another job; the employed fear losing their job; business owners lament stagnating or falling sales; entrepreneurs are holding back investments for fear of insufficient returns; politicians squabble and scramble in search of solutions while worrying about the economy’s effect on their reelection prospects.

A Bad Situation Made Worse by Diminishing Options

In each of these situations, the effects of persistent stress are taking their usual and heavy toll on sleep, eating, temper, morale, relationships and health. Depending on factors that may date back to childhood or be related to one’s personality traits, lifestyle choices or physical condition, some individuals are better able to cope with stress than others. In this situation, the use and abuse of alcohol, nicotine, drugs, sex, video games, and other less than desirable “remedies” is on the rise. Some of the manifestations of stress that have a negative impact on others, such as domestic violence, interpersonal conflict, anger and bullying are also more prevalent.

One aspect of economic distress that bears closer analysis is decision-making. In times of diminishing resources—due to job or investment loss, or lack of opportunities—the range of available choices tends to diminish drastically. The choice of where to go on vacation is narrowed to whether to go at all; the option of when and where to invest one’s assets is shifted to how to best preserve their value; the freedom to choose how to spend one’s money is curtailed to spending only on necessities; the choices of how best to further one’s career is simplified down to the need to hold on to the job. There is a domino effect that compounds the impact of these decisions (or non-decisions as the case may be) because, for example, when we choose not to spend we narrow the choices available to business owners by diminishing their income. If the statistics are to be believed, almost two-thirds of the US economy depends on consumer spending for most of its growth potential. When we stop spending because we are stressed about our income (or lack thereof), we may inadvertently help propagate the stress well beyond our immediate confines and onto the whole of the national economy.

What We Can Do to Reduce Economic Stress

While the choices available to us today cannot include a continuation of the spending patterns of the boom years, there is an argument to be made in favor of maintaining a level of spending that reflects a reasonable balance between living beyond our means and living on pork and beans. Here are a few suggestions on how to deal with economic stress in a balanced and reasonable way.

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ADHD Breakthrough: Not Just Bad Behavior

IntlSpaceStation_EN-US2825695802 Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a genetic, neurodevelopmental disorder and not just a behavioral problem. In a study published online in the Sept. 30 issue of The Lancet, investigators from the University of Cardiff in the United Kingdom say their findings show that ADHD has a genetic basis. In the genome-wide analysis, 366 children 5 to 17 years of age who met diagnostic criteria for ADHD but not schizophrenia or autism and 1047 matched controls without the condition were included. Researchers found that compared with the control group without ADHD, children with the disorder were twice as likely — approximately 15% vs. 7% — to have copy number variants (CNVs). CNVs are sections of the genome in which there are variations from the usual 2 copies of each chromosome, such that some individuals will carry just 1 (a deletion) and others will have 3 or more (duplications).

The breakthrough results of this study should help in the controversy as to whether ADHD is a "real disorder" or simply the result of bad parenting, in shifting public perception about ADHD and promoting further research into the biological basis of the disorder with a view to developing better, more effective therapies for affected individuals.

Something Needs to Be Done About Hostility!

Ginetto at Stresshacker.com Hostility is stressful, both ways. To giver and receiver alike, hostility metes out its toxic charge of badness. Far from being a true relief for frustration, pent-up anger, or unexpressed emotion, a sudden explosion of hostility merely releases a burst of energy and briefly discharges some muscle tension. Beyond these ephemeral effects, it is hard to find a good justification for hostility in everyday situations. So why is it so prevalent?

Two reasons account for hostility’s “popularity.” The first is the genetically programmed aggression instinct, which, in its proper setting and situation, can be useful (in a competitive physical sport like football), or downright vital (in combat situations, to fight off an aggressor, or in other situations of danger when a calm and relaxed demeanor would be clearly out of place). We can be aggressive and hostile by design, but we are also given a brain that helps mitigate the limbic system’s rage of emotions, and the amygdala’s watchfulness against aggressors, real or perceived as they may be.

The second reason for the pervasive presence of hostility is a misfiring of the very structures of the brain that are supposed to help us regulate it. Poor regulation of negative emotions can unleash hostility. Notoriously so, antisocial personalities have little to no self-regulation of hostility and most of the times this lands them in jail. Many more individuals, though, fall short of law-breaking hostility but still exhibit plenty of it in everyday situations (behind the wheel of their car, while waiting in line, with customer service people, with their spouses, children, friends) to make life more stressful for themselves and for anyone they come in contact with.

Steve Slater on Stresshacker.com At the other end of the spectrum, hostility, while present as a natural emotion, can be sublimated into a more productive and less threatening display of displeasure with someone or a situation.  Well-regulated hostility and aggressive instinct become assertiveness, standing up for one’s right, engaging in an passionate discussion. It can also sublimate into artistic pursuit, an all-out workout at the gym, or humor. A recent example of the latter was portrayed by JetBlue flight attendant Jeff Slater. Justifiably enraged by an unjustifiably aggressive passenger, Mr. Slater regulated down his hostility, expressed himself aloud on the plane’s PA system, grabbed a couple of beers, activated the emergency slide, slid down to the tarmac, ran for his car and drove home.

Hostility and (Bad) Health

Negative emotional states, such as anger and hostility, when they persist over time and become chronic, can negatively impact health. The risk to health comes through a number of mechanisms, including engaging in high-risk behavior (verbally provoking, physically attacking others), loss of social support (no one wants to be with a chronically hostile individual), and social isolation.

Chronic negative emotions also induce a semi-permanent activation of the stress reaction and cause sustained systemic inflammation, both of which increase the risk of disease. Research on hostility and aggressive personality has clearly established a link between these emotional states and heart disease, heart attacks, and cardiac-related mortality. Hostility not only contributes to a higher incidence and increased severity of heart disease, but is also related to symptoms of metabolic syndrome, including insulin resistance.

What Can Be Done?

Taking a page from Mr. Slater’s playbook, humor is one of the highest levels of sublimation that can be achieved in down-regulating aggression and hostility. Other forms of self-regulation of hostility (which incidentally are also ways of dealing with stressful situations in general) can be listed as follows:

  • Anticipation (the ability to anticipate the consequences of hostility and evaluate alternative responses)
  • Affiliation (turning to others for help and support, initiating a dialogue instead of a confrontation)
  • Altruism (taking into account the needs of others, and being able to contain rather than meet their aggression head on)
  • Humor (finding the amusing and the ironic in the situation)
  • Self-assertion (expressing feelings and thoughts directly and openly, but without resorting to verbal or physical violence)
  • Self-observation (reflecting on one’s own reactions and regulating them appropriately, before the explosion occurs)
  • Sublimation (channeling negative feelings into positive behaviors, i.e. taking it out on gym equipment, a good run, a distracting activity)
  • Suppression (intentionally avoiding catastrophic, negative and pessimistic thoughts that can lead to aggression).

The History of Stress In Very Small Bites: 4

robert-hooke-1It was towards the end of the 17th century that the word stress came to assume a technical meaning through the writing of English natural philosopher, architect and universal genius Robert Hooke. Hooke’s work was, among his many areas of interest, focused on how bridges and other man-made structures could be made larger and capable of bearing heavy loads without collapsing.

It is thanks to Hooke’s law of elasticity (1675) that the words load (the demand placed on the structure), stress (the area affected by the demand), and strain (the change in form that results from the interaction between load and stress) came into usage.

The study of stresses and tension (another word generated within this context) eventually produced the idea that the workings and architecture of the human body were much like the machines and structures that were being invented and constructed during this time. This idea spawned another idea that profoundly influenced the way we think about stress. The idea followed the concept of the body as a machine to its logical conclusion: If mechanical structures are subject to wear and tear, and the body is built and behaves in a similar fashion, then so would the body suffer the impact of the wear and tear of life.

Women’s Heavy Burden of Stress-Gets Heavier

Lake Wanaka at Stresshacker.comThe most recent survey of stress in America indicates that women continue to bear the heavier burden of stress, particularly due to financial concerns and worries over their family’s health and family responsibilities. Women consistently report more physical and emotional stress than men, and are more likely to lack the willpower to make changes recommended by health care providers, the survey results also show. What is causing this unhealthy gender bias? Allostasis, or more precisely allostatic load, is the key to understanding gender differences in stress. Let’s first understand allostasis, its benefits, and potential dangers.

Allostasis: Too Much of a Good Thing

Allostasis defines the processes that attempt to maintain the body’s internal stability in the face of physical or psychological challenges. Physiological and behavioral changes are initiated automatically during the stress reaction to external environmental and developmental threats, such as danger, conflict, financial worries, interpersonal difficulties, family and job demands, and other life stressors. Allostasis as a process is a very good thing and aids in survival and coping. It can work well at restoring the body’s equilibrium and ensure an adequate response to the threat. However, allostatic processes can cause physical and psychological damage when they extend beyond their intended short-term activation. This prolonged state of activation creates a burden on the system, known as the allostatic load.

Four factors can contribute to the formation of a heavy allostatic load:

  1. Repeated physical or psychological challenges (e.g., prolonged financial stress, a stressful job, multiple and conflicting demands of time and resources, a serious illness, childhood trauma, adult abuse or violence)
  2. Inability to adapt to these repeated challenges (the feeling of being at the end of one’s rope)
  3. Inability to produce an adequate response to the stressor (such as the phenomenon of learned helplessness, depression or anxiety)
  4. Inability to end the stress reaction even after the stressor has been removed (chronic stress)

Allostatic load accumulates over time. The continuation of multiple small changes in physiological and psychological functioning (which are meant to be only short-term), due to a persisting state of alert against perceived threats (the classic stress syndrome), creates the potential for illness.

What Happens to the Body During Allostasis

During the normal stress response and the body’s process of allostasis, the stress hormones serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine are secreted into the blood stream. The immune system and neurological responses are activated, along with muscular, cardiovascular and pulmonary system. Alongside these physical reactions, psychological changes take place in response to anxious, fearful, hostile or aggressive states produced by the stressor. Behavioral changes also occur in trying to cope with the stressor, sometimes consisting of alcohol abuse and other substances,  working too many hours, or exercising compulsively. Sleep disturbances, depression and other psychological symptoms are usually the first evidence of an increasing allostatic load.

At the physiological level, allostatic load can cause atrophy of the hippocampus and structural changes in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, resulting in a more or less severe impairment in spatial learning and memory. Certain tell-tale physical responses are also indicative of a heavier allostatic load: higher blood pressure, changes in waist-hip ratio, higher serum high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and cholesterol, and glycosylated hemoglobin levels.

These psychophysical changes, though helpful in the short run, can cause damage. This damage is the cost of maintaining an allostatic state longer than is optimal for health. Numerous studies of allostasis show the risk of stress-induced illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and immune/auto-immune disorders.

What about the effects of allostatic load on women?  Details after the jump.

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Deflation: Chronic Stress on a National Scale

Palmyra_EN-US856764098"The economy isn’t recovering fast enough." One of the principal reasons is that sales of anything, from houses to double no-foam lattes, are down or flat across the board. American consumers are worried about their personal financial health, their jobs (or lack thereof), their families’ future, the sorry state of the economy, gridlock in Washington, and the fear of another bank/mortgage/stock market crash.

The piling up of this real heap of trouble over the last couple of years has caused most Americans to go into stress reaction mode: fight, flight or freeze. The evidence is mounting that most are choosing to freeze. Businesses that sell goods and services report flat or lower sales to fewer buyers. In a so far vain attempt to get the consumer economy moving again, prices have been and continue to be reduced through special offers, discounts, two-fers and other creative ways meant to entice more buyers.

As consumers refuse to take any risk, either because of their worries or simply waiting for prices to fall further, deflation may now be setting in. Deflation is the opposite of inflation and defines a situation when prices are mostly falling, sales stagnate or fall, with "lower business profits, which lead to layoffs and lower consumer spending and further price declines. [Deflation] makes it more difficult to pay off debt because the value of debt rises relative to income. It provokes hoarding, as consumers, businesses and banks hold on to cash, expecting that prices will keep falling," as characterized by the New York Times. In short, the paralysis of freeze

So it is that unending economic turmoil since 2008, record-high job losses, stagnating or falling employment, and the double-whammy mortgage/foreclosure crisis appear to be provoking one of the most severe stress reactions in generations, in individuals, families, and businesses across the nation. While a few are now fighting to get the economy moving again, a significant number may have left the fight and given up trying, and many more still could be just frozen in place, unable to move forward with their decisions, investments, and major purchases.

As understandable as it may be, this nationwide stress reaction is just what it is, a reaction. It is not a formulated response against a severe and persistent set of stressors, which would require the exercise of sound judgment, decision-making and risk-taking. Instead, the risk to the US economy is that this reaction may become chronic and take years before progressing toward an effective response.

The red lights are flashing and the alarm bells are ringing, urging meaningful action that will address the emergency. Not much appears to be happening. Until the paralysis of freeze is overcome and a real response begins, the alarm bells will continue to ring, while deflation takes hold. Chronic stress, on a national scale.