New Group of Categories – Initiated 11/30/2016

Stress and the Typical Male

typical-male Although all men are fully capable of experiencing the full range of human emotions and can face a variety of challenges, certain issues can occur more frequently in men than they do in women. Among the challenges that occur more frequently in men, the most common are self-medication through the use of alcohol or other substances, anger management, impulse control, and problems with emotional and sexual intimacy.

For many men, the healthy expression of stressful negative feelings can be a challenge. The typical male relies very heavily on a “logical or rational” approach to most emotional or psychological issues. Often from childhood, men have been accustomed to think that emotional vulnerability equals weakness and that it should be avoided as much as possible. Given this mindset, it is understandable that for many men it is objectively difficult to share with others how they are truly feeling. For some, it may even be difficult to read their own emotions correctly, to know for themselves how they are really feeling about certain issues. Issues arise that may require an adjustment of these beliefs and attitudes, as for example in the inability to connect, to open up in relationships, or in knowing how to be sensitive.

When this complex set of stress-inducing emotions are routinely avoided, repressed or denied, some problematic behaviors can result. Mismanaged emotions and feelings often produce addictions, compulsions, and avoidance. One of the most common ways of expressing hurt or emotional pain is anger; for other men, working longer hours helps them avoid relationship challenges; for others, superficial intimacy takes the place of genuine connection; other men resort to addictive substances and compulsive behaviors to “take the edge off” or avoid the full experience of negative feelings.

There are many counselors who specialize in working with men’s issues. The right counselor can help identify and work through avoidance, repression and denial in a way that appeals to men’s desire to approach issues in a logical, rational and goal-oriented way, while providing guidance toward learning about the values and benefits of emotional intelligence.

When Stress Hits You On the Nose

Stress-induced upper respiratory symptoms are not unusual. Stress has a powerful effect on the immune system, as the circulation of high levels of the excitatory hormones that accompany stress undermines its defense mechanisms, often producing symptoms such as those of the common cold.

How Does It Work?

sneeze.article Stress suppresses the activity of the immune system, principally due to the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. When under the impact of a significant stressor, the immune system is “flooded” by cortisol and other hormones and its functioning is, at least temporarily, greatly reduced. Thus, pathogens, such as those producing the common cold, have a relatively easier time entering and proliferating in the upper respiratory system.

This is the most prevalent theory of why people get sick while under stress. It does not affect everyone in the same way, however. For some people, it is not until the stressor is removed that adverse symptoms begin to manifest. In this case, it is almost as if the relaxation produced by the removal of the stressor had the effect of making the individual more vulnerable.

What Can Be Done?

A doctor once was asked how long it would take to cure a cold. His answer was, “Oh, about seven days if you take this prescription, or about a week if you decide not to take anything.”  Beside the joke, there is truth in the fact that there is no cure for the common cold, either stress-induced or otherwise. It will generally resolve itself, with or without medication, in about a week or so.

Something can be done however to reduce the effects of stress on the immune system. Some people find help in ingesting large quantities of vitamin C at the onset of their respiratory symptoms. Others find that remedies such as hot baths, hot drinks with honey, breathing exercises, yoga or meditation all have beneficial effects on the effects of stress, and thereby, on the immune system.

The Valor of Stress

James_DixonUnlike for physical injuries, no formal recognition is currently given by the US military for the biopsychosocial injuries sustained in combat, known as posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  It is as if the many behavioral, emotional, and social consequences of traumatic stress are perceived to be of lesser impact, and thus less deserving of acknowledgement.  That they can be serious enough to warrant medical and psychological attention is now fairly well established.

The evidence is certainly not lacking, as serious outcomes of PTSD continue to occur. Most recently, the blog The Soldier’s Load reported  the story of  James “Rooster” Dixon III, an ex-Marine and long-time sufferer from PTSD who was killed by a State Police SWAT team in front of his house in Baxley, Georgia.

James sought treatment from the VA for his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but was unable to shake the constant anxiety and depression that are hallmarks of the disorder. On February 19, 2012 James decided to end his struggle by walking into the bullets of law enforcement: as much a casualty of the war as any service member who died in Iraq.

The blog’s editor, as someone with direct experience of war zone and combat stress and its psychological consequences, also offer insights into his own struggles with PTSD.

I became a functional recluse—avoiding social situations and new experiences that might trigger a panic attack. Friends and acquaintances got accustomed to me declining their invitations to socialize. Eventually they stopped asking. I drank heavily and destroyed romantic relationships in a depressing cycle of thrilling novelty, fear of entrapment and cold dismissal. After three years of struggling with the symptoms of my unknown malady, I chose to leave the Marine Corps. On my way out the door, the VA finally diagnosed me with combat-induced PTSD.

A Purple Hart for PTSD?

images Events such as the tragic end of James Dixon highlight the important questions that still surround how PTSD is perceived, labeled, acknowledged and treated—including the idea of awarding a Purple Hart in recognition of this very serious constellation of injuries that are sustained by so many service men and women. According to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Purple Heart medal “is awarded to members of the armed forces of the US who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.”  Should this wording be applicable to PTSD?

The Soldier’s Load asks,

Why do we fail to classify veterans with PTSD as combat wounded? I suggest that the reason has less to do with logic and more to do with the emotions surrounding a small bronze portrait suspended from a narrow purple ribbon. (…) Until we correctly label combat-induced PTSD as a “wound” suffered from contact with the enemy, we as a society will continue to view its sufferers as a shadow legion of men with strange habits and questionable character. We will not methodically identify the trauma, apply medical treatments, and provide appropriate rehabilitation and therapy during the recovery process. In short, we will draw distinctions between segments of combat veterans based on an arbitrary and antiquated determination that only the visible wounds of war are worth recognition, honor and treatment. Such a view will not be helpful to the thousands of combat veterans waging a daily war within, nor prevent some from ending that struggle before victory is won.

Read the full blog post. Do you support a Purple Hart for PTSD?

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.

Allostatic Load: Stress Upon Stress

Chronic stress is a potentially lethal condition that is characterized by long duration and effect accumulation. Humans respond to stressors such as physical or perceived danger, an infection, or a crowded and noisy environment, by initiating a complex biopsychosocial adaptation and coping response. This response is initiated by the sympathetic nervous system and leads to release of excitatory stress hormones (the catecholamines) and glucocorticoids from the adrenal cortex (the well-known adrenaline rush).

The objective of this rapid physical mobilization of the body’s resources is to engage with the stressor, resolve it and return to a more normal state of alertness. Regaining normal arousal levels through a response and adaptation to the stressor is called allostasis. A highly stressed state is meant to be temporary and to subside naturally when the challenge has passed.

There is never a shortage of situations that trigger the stress reaction, at work or at home. All of us face the not too uncommon challenge of having to cope with more than one stressor at once or a series of stressors that happen within a relative short time. Most individuals can cope with this type of demands and are able to regain allostasis once the stressor or stressors have been taken care of or have taken care of themselves.

When individuals are not able to cope effectively with the stressor and cannot regain allostasis, this creates an accumulation of allostatic load. In this situation, there is an incomplete return to the normal condition and a regaining of physical and emotional stability. In fact, a state of stress at relatively high levels becomes the “new normal.” Over many weeks, months, or even years, this exposure to elevated levels of stress hormones can produce allostatic overload, with predictably serious health consequences.

Type 1 Allostatic Load

If the physical and emotional energy required to meet the demands created by one’s cumulative allostatic load routinely exceeds the energy intake and what can be mobilized from one’s own resources, type 1 allostatic overload occurs.

Allostatic overload type 1 is characterized by a significant increases in the circulation of glucocorticoids in the bloodstream (and other hormones that regulate allostasis), which triggers physiological and behavioral changes. These changes refocus the individual from functioning at normal levels of stress in daily routines into a high-stress high-alert survival mode.

Type 2 Allostatic Load

If energy demands are not exceeded and the individual continues to take in or store as much or even more energy than he/she needs—perhaps as a result of stress-related food consumption, choice of a fat-rich diet, or metabolic imbalances (prediabetic state) that favor fat accumulation—then type 2 allostatic overload occurs.

Allostatic overload type 2 causes lesser but higher than normal levels of glucocorticoids (and other hormones that regulate allostasis), which do not trigger physiological and behavioral responses, in such a way the individual remains stuck in a situation of high allostatic load without resolution.

Allostatic Load and Its Consequences

Elderly people who have had a lifetime of sustained economic hardship can have a more rapid decline of physical and mental functioning.  Hypertension is often an indicator of job stress, particularly in factory workers, in other workers with repetitive jobs and time pressures, and in workers whose jobs were unstable due to financial and market conditions.

In certain societies, conflict and social instability have been found to increase illness and mortality. For example, cardiovascular disease was found to be a major contributor to the almost 40% increase in the death rate among Russian males in the social upheaval which followed the fall of Communism. High blood pressure causes atherosclerosis as well as increased risk for heart attacks.

Abdominal obesity is another stress-linked change, which is often a precursor to more serious illness such as diabetes. The immune system is also a likely target of psychosocial stress, increasing vulnerability to the common cold and other more serious infections.

When Stress Becomes Trauma

aaHiroshige_TakanawaThere have been considerable advances in the last few years of our understanding of stress, its origin, its antecedents and the course of its manifestations. Significant progress has also been made in understanding what can help reduce its effects on functioning and mood. In spite of the barrage of advertising that promotes such “remedies” as prescription opioids and “benzos” and the ever-present allure of alcohol or marijuana, many people now know that exercise can work just the same, if not better, in reducing stress and anxiety.

There are certain stressors, however, that produce effects that go beyond and cross into a different domain, that of traumatic stress. Recent research places posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within a theory of pathological anxiety, whereby the individual becomes vulnerable in two very important ways.

The first vulnerability precedes the traumatic stressor and is an innate, and therefore genetic, biological predisposition of the individual toward experiencing intense, negative emotions that can easily escalate into panic or degenerate into depression. This biological vulnerability can have many effects, chief among which is the inability to correctly assess the difference between true and false alarms and the subsequent inability to correctly decide on the most appropriate response between fight, flight or freeze. A true state of alarm arousal is the normal and most appropriate reaction to a truly threatening event or situation, i.e. what most people would find dangerous or risky. A falsely perceived state of alarm is one that causes a sudden and involuntary mobilization of the body and the mind’s defenses, in the presence of a situation or event that is objectively non threatening but is assessed as such by the individual who is genetically predisposed to an intense alarm reaction.

The second vulnerability is psychological in nature. Individuals who develop this sensitivity report a greatly reduced sense of control over events and situations. They tend to approach the present and imagine the future with anxious apprehension. Their mood is often characterized by an anxious state of exaggerated vigilance, whereby it is inherently hard to relax and enjoy life. Cognitively, they expect and anticipate the appearance of various threats, external and internal, with an attending constellation of negative emotions (fear, obsession, panic). This complex system of cognitive and emotional arousal usually promotes avoidance and triggers a near-constant state of worry.

When applied to traumatic stress, these vulnerabilities magnify the experience of a traumatic event and trigger a significantly more severe state of alarm at the time of the trauma. It is well known fact that some individuals appear able to remain relatively calm in the face of traumatic events, while others (who are more likely to have bio-psychological vulnerabilities to intense stressors) seem to quickly “fall apart” and be seemingly “destroyed” by the circumstance.

When the intense trauma passes, these individuals remain in a state of arousal that continues to trigger alarms in response to internal and external stimuli associated with the trauma, and their
initial response to it. For example, a sudden noise may trigger the stimulus associated with a bomb blast, or a burst of anger by another may trigger a stimulus associated with physical abuse. These learned responses to real or perceived threats produce a state of anxious apprehension which, in PTSD, includes the re-experiencing of emotions. This near-continuous state of alarm may, in time, be mitigated by coping mechanisms which generally consist of an individual’s efforts at avoiding the triggers of the learned alarms and the strong emotions associated with them. Intense avoidance of any stimulation that may results in a re-experience of the traumatic events and its associated emotions can eventually developed into a state of emotional numbing, where even those stimuli that should provoke a reaction do not.

“Rich” Nutrition Linked to Poor Mental Health

killer-fast-foodPsychological stress is known to increase the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The deriving inflammation is accompanied by an accumulation of highly reactive oxygen species, also known as oxidative stress, which is a contributing factor in the development of severe depression. A diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber is associated with reduced systemic inflammation. Conversely, diets that are low in essential nutrients, such as magnesium and sugar- and fat-rich western diets are associated with increased systemic inflammation.

A new study of 3040 Australian adolescents 11 to 18 years of age collected information on diet and mental health by self-report and anthropometric data by trained researchers. Improvements in diet quality were mirrored by improvements in mental health over the follow-up period, while deteriorating diet quality was associated with poorer psychological functioning. Researchers concluded that the quality of one’s nutrition is associated with adolescent mental health both cross-sectionally and prospectively. Moreover, improvements in diet quality were mirrored by improvements in mental health, while reductions in diet quality were associated with declining psychological functioning over the follow-up period.

There are many ways in which an insufficiency of healthy foods and/or an excessive intake of unhealthy and processed foods may increase the risk for mental health problems in adolescents. Fruits and vegetables, as well as other components of a healthy diet such as whole grains, fish, lean red meats and olive oils, are rich in important nutrients such as folate, magnesium, b-group vitamins, selenium, zinc, mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, polyphenols and fiber. Many of these nutrients have already been reported as of importance in depressive illnesses, however the critical importance of these food components as modulators of reactive oxygen species (inflammation) and immune system functioning, both pathophysiological substrates of depressive illness is increasingly appreciated.

stressed-dessertsA new meta-analysis, reporting on data collected at many time points and thus more reliable, has reported large generational increases in self-reported mental health problems among American high school and college students between the 1930s and 2007. Paralleling this increase in the rates of psychological illness among young people are data indicating a reduction in the quality of adolescents’ diets over recent decades. A report based on trends in adolescent food consumption in the US identified a reduction in the consumption of raw fruits, high-nutrient vegetables and dairy foods, which are important sources of fiber and essential nutrients, between 1965 and 1996, with an associated increase in the consumption of fast food, snacks and sweetened beverages.

Concurrently, population surveys demonstrate a substantial increase in overweight and obesity among children and adolescents over recent decades. Obesity does not necessarily indicate nutritional deficiency: paradoxically, high-energy foods typically have poor nutrient content.

Fast Food, Depression and Anxiety

Another study of 5731 men and women 46 to 49 and 70 to 74 years of age found that those with better quality diets were less likely to be depressed, whereas a higher intake of processed and unhealthy foods was associated with increased anxiety.

USA-Obesity-RateA third study examined the extent to which the high-prevalence mental disorders are related to habitual diet in 1,046 women 20–93 years of age. Results showed that a “traditional” dietary pattern characterized by vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains was associated with lower odds for major depression or log-term depression (dysthymia) and anxiety disorders. A western diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer was associated with a higher prevalence of mental disorders. These results demonstrate an association between habitual diet quality and a higher prevalence of mental disorders.

In a fourth study (1999–2010) of 12,059 Spanish university graduates discovered a detrimental relationship between a diet rich in trans unsaturated fatty acids (TFA) and depression risk, whereas weak inverse associations were found for monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and olive oil. These findings suggest that cardiovascular disease and depression may share some common nutritional determinants related to fat intake.

Most notably, results of a 2010 randomized placebo controlled trial showed that fish oil supplements prevented conversion from a subthreshold psychotic state to full-blown schizophrenia. Another recent randomized controlled trial study suggested that omega-3 supplements may help reduce anxiety.

Heed the Message, Don’t Shoot the Messenger

VirginIslandsNP_EN-US154535774The messages provided by the stress reaction that something is wrong, or dangerous, or simply requires our attention are often very powerful, even debilitating. Just think of the feeling we get in our gut (seat of the enteric nervous system) when something is not quite right. Even though we might not identify the threat right away, the stress signal activates our body’s defense almost instantaneously and we become fully alert. In the absence of a clearly identifiable threat, or upon identification of a threat that we cannot immediately escape, we may choose to treat stress itself as if it were the enemy. The common phrase, “I have too much stress” should in fact be restated as, “I have people, situations or circumstances that are an emotional, physical or mental threat to my well-being.”

Turning off the stress alert system is possible, especially with the use of powerful drugs or alcohol, at least for time. In fact, this amounts to unscrewing the warning lights on a dashboard so as not to be bothered by what they signal. The stress messenger conveys valuable information in the form of neural signals (mediated by the limbic system), sensations, and subjective feelings. The messenger does its job, the way it should, to ensure our survival. Nevertheless, the repeated stress signals may rise to a high and uncomfortable level of intensity, depending on the perceived dangerousness of the situation. That noxious feeling of being stressed is trying to give us a priority notification, to make sure that certain signals (which represent an important message) grab our full attention. Refusing to heed the signals of stress, or simply shutting them off or ignoring them, is not an appropriate response.

The best use we can make of stress messages is twofold:

  1. Use its intensity and the timing of its occurrence to become aware and acknowledge that a psychological or physical threat exists, and gauge its significance. For example, an immediate physical danger will elicit a more immediate and dramatic body reaction than a psychological threat that may occur in the future.
  2. Identify and address the cause of the stress reaction (which is usually accompanied by more or less severe anxiety) and focus our attention on it, with the aim of confronting, reducing or eliminating the stressor. For example, in a relationship that isn’t quite working the way it should the stress signal is the anxiety and worry over it, the stressor is that painful aspect of the relationship that needs to be confronted, reduced or eliminated.

In short, stress is the message, the stressor is its cause. It is much more productive to focus our efforts on the stressor, rather than just unscrew and throw out the red light bulb.

Mindfulness for Absolute Beginners

aaCarignano_SolferinoMindfulness meditation is the wonderfully effective relaxation technique that along with yoga, tantric meditation, mantra or transcendental meditation, has become an increasingly popular forms of stress management. The therapeutic value of meditation in producing positive effects on psychological well-being and ameliorating symptoms of a number of disorders has become widely studied and accepted. But, what is it and how does it work? Here is a primer for the absolute beginner, to start mindfulness relaxation today!

What Is It? The Way of Breath Awareness

Vipassanā (Pāli) or vipaśyanā (विपश्यना in the original Sanskrit) in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality. Vipassana practice, or insight meditation, makes use of breath to focus attention and to let go of quasi-obsessive analytical thinking, which can be very stressful. Breath is simply used to increase concentration. The focus on breath is a powerful way to redirect attention, because it is always readily available, is directly connected to the stress reaction, and is naturally rhythmic and repetitive. Mindfully redirecting attention to the breath when we feel particularly stressed reduces reactivity and provides a positive physiological feedback system that balances the responses of the nervous system.

How Does It Work? The Benefits of Open Awareness

Open awareness is the core objective of mindfulness meditation. The follo0wing are simple instructions to focus awareness on the breath and is the essence of the mindfulness technique (from Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness by E. A. Charlesworth—read the book review).

  1. Find a quiet place and time. If you prefer, set a timer for 20 to 40 minutes. Become comfortable in your chair, sitting with a relaxed but straight, erect posture that is balanced but not straining. Allow your hands to rest comfortably in your lap. Loosen any tight clothing that will restrict your stomach. Gently close your eyes.
  2. Simply allow your body to become still. Allow your shoulders, chest, and stomach to relax. Focus your attention on the feeling of your breathing. Begin by taking two or three deeper breaths from your diaphragm, letting the air flow all the way into your stomach, without any push or strain, and then flow gently back out again. Repeat these two or three deep breaths, noticing an increased sense of calm and relaxation as you breath in the clean, fresh air and breath out any sense of tension or stress.
  3. Now let your breathing find its own natural, comfortable rhythm and depth. Focus your attention on the feeling of your breath as it comes in at the tip of your nose, moves through the back of your throat, into your lower diaphragm, and back out again, letting your stomach rise and fall naturally with each breath.
  4. Allow your attention to stay focused on your breath and away from the noise, the thoughts, the feelings, the concerns that may usually fill your mind.
  5. As you continue, you will notice that the mind will become caught up in thoughts and feelings. It may become attached to noises or bodily sensations. You may find yourself remembering something from your past or thinking about the future. This is to be expected. This is the nature of the mind. If the thought or experience is particularly powerful, without self-judgment, simply observe the process of the mind. You might note to yourself the nature of the thought or experience: “worry,” “planning,” “pain,” “sound.” Then gently return your attention to the breath.
  6. And again, as you notice your mind wandering off, do not be critical of yourself. Understand that this is the nature of the mind—to become attached to daily concerns, to become attached to feelings, memories. If you find your mind becoming preoccupied with a thought, simply notice it, rather than pursuing it at this moment. Understand, without judging, that it is the habit of your mind to pursue the thought. When you notice this happening, simply return your attention to your breathing. See the thought as simply a thought, an activity that your mind is engaging in.
  7. When you are ready, gently bring your attention back just to the breath. Now bring your attention back into the space of your body and into the space of the room. Move around gently in the space of the chair. When you are ready, open your eyes and gently stretch out.

How Long and How Often? Practice Makes Perfect

Mindfulness meditation, like all things worth doing, requires a certain amount of effort and the setting aside of a certain amount of time. Ideally, 20 to 40 minutes once or twice per day, for at least two months. Daily practice produces the best results in training the mind to shift into a mindful state. Shorter periods of time of 5–10 minutes are very helpful in specific situations, when a quick relaxation is needed. Only practicing mindfulness meditation situationally, however, will work when you have learned the technique well. It may not be as effective in the beginning, when it may take more than 5-10 minutes to relax, particularly in moments of high anxiety or stress.

September 11

FlagRigger_EN-US1903695983Memory is learning. The persistence of memory helps us make sense of what has already happened, to hold on to the felt experience of happiness, accomplishment, mistake and pain, so that we can learn what to pursue more eagerly and what to avoid at all cost. Memory is the accumulation of life.

There are many ways of looking at September 11, 2001. We can replay the images of that day in our mind as we would watch a documentary. Many of us can do that, and examine the events as they unfolded from many different points of view. Or, we can re-experience the memories of those events as we would watch a horror movie. Many of us are still beset by the images and the sounds of that day, and are far from being able to just remember what happened. They remember and indeed also relive vividly all the emotions of that day.

911memorialDocumentary memories are transferred to another part of the brain, where they become archival items of experience. Unless they are intentionally recalled, they cause no special emotion. Indeed, the emotions associated with the original events are also memories, much like the sound track attached to a recording.

Traumatic memories never quite make it to the other side of the brain. No intentional recall is necessary, as they are ready to resurface at any moment, given the right trigger. These memories are intrusive, pervasive, they are the stuff of nightmares. The picture of a jetliner flying into one building, the second aircraft flying into its twin… Emotions are far from just a memory: we are back there, at that very moment, heart racing, sweat beads and all.

Freedom_Tower_NewAfter a traumatic event, persistent emotion-laden memories can help foster a syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. The experience never quite goes into the archive. Bits and chunks of it just lie around, waiting to be re-experienced again and again. And so it is for many of our generation with 9/11, as it was for the prior one with the assassination of John or Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King. Earlier than that it was Pearl Harbor, or the long horrors of the Great Depression.

Remembering what we lost that day of September, 10 years ago today—people, buildings, and peace. Will we, who lived through that day, ever truly be able to watch the Towers come down—as a documentary?

More Stress, Skipped Lunches & Temp Jobs

In the 2011 survey, What’s Keeping HR Leaders Up at Night?, Human Resource Executive® reports that 74% of Human Resources executives say their level of job stress has increased in the past 18 months. Almost one third (32%) blame that on the difficulty they encounter in retaining key talent. “And it absolutely should keep them up at night,” says Wayne Cascio, senior editor of the Journal of World Business and a professor at The Business School at the University of Colorado in Denver. “I would be worried, too, and I’d be especially concerned about replacing high performers.”

This latest survey on the insights and perspectives of 782 senior-level HR executives at organizations nationwide finds that the top two challenges identified in last year’s survey – ensuring employees remain engaged and productive (41%), and retaining key talent as the economy recovers – also remain top of mind for this year’s respondents.

No Lunch For Most Workers

Two thirds of employees either eat lunch at their desk or take no lunch at all, according to a survey by Right Management, a division of global temporary staffing and consulting giant Manpower Inc.  One third of employees, or 34%, said they take a break for lunch, but eat it at their desks. Fifteen percent said they take a break from time to time, while another 16% said they seldom do. Only 35% said they regularly take a break for lunch.

Temporary Jobs Often the Only Game in Town

Staffing employment increased 5.4% from the first to the second quarter of this year, according to data released by the American Staffing Association (ASA). This is the sixth straight quarter of temporary and contract employment growth since the industry began its recovery from the 2007–2009 recession.

The U.S. staffing industry had a healthy second quarter as businesses continued to turn to flexible workforce solutions to meet increases in demand for their products and services—Richard Wahlquist, ASA President and CEO.

“For job seekers the news is also encouraging, as staffing and recruiting firms added more than 200,000 new jobs in the past 12 months.” U.S. staffing firms employed an average of 2.8 million temporary and contract workers from May through June — 8.6% more workers than in the second quarter of 2010.

Lower DHA Intake Linked to Higher Suicidality

ChileVolcanoEruption_EN-US1005377464Low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the major omega-3 fatty acid concentrated in the brain, may increase suicide risk. A retrospective case-control study published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry of 1600 United States military personnel, including 800 who had committed suicide and 800 healthy counterparts, showed that all participants had low omega-3 levels. However, the suicide risk was 62% greatest in those with the lowest levels of DHA.

Our findings add to an extensive body of research that points to a fundamental role for DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids in protecting against mental health problems and suicide risks. —  Joseph R. Hibbeln, MD, acting chief, Section on Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

DHA is found in naturally in fish and nuts and is also available in fish oil supplements. Fish oil supplements can help lower inflammation by decreasing the synthesis of proinflammatory molecules and have been proven beneficial in treating inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. Although fish oil has been shown to be less effective in treating other stress-related illnesses such as ulcerative colitis and asthma, some patients do benefit from its intake.

The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA contained in fish oil are effective in treating both cardiovascular disease and depression, often in combination with other specific medications. Higher levels of EPA and DHA are also associated with increased stress resilience.

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.

Emotional Safety, Stress and Health

Many individuals who suffer from chronic stress report being “on edge” or “keyed up” most of the time. This near-constant state of arousal is reported at times when the person should be at rest, i.e. during normal sleeping hours, while relaxing with family or friends, or even while eating or taking a shower. Certain features appear to be common to most people who share this emotional state. Let’s look at a few of the most important ones.

Emotional Stress Often Translates Into Physical Symptoms

In most instances, psychological stress caused by real adversities or by the anticipation of adversity causes the body to react in an attempt to fight the stressor, flee from it or shut it off and away from immediate consciousness. In the process of taking these defensive measures, muscles tense, the cardiocirculatory system kicks into high gear, and many non-indispensible systems (such as the digestive and sexual systems) shut down or significantly slow their functioning. Since the stressor is often non-physical in nature, this bodily mobilization of resources never quite finds its target. Over time this may wear down certain organs of the body, which begin to manifest signs of illness. High blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, erectile dysfunction, muscle spams or pain, ulcerative colitis are but a few of the more or less serious physical ailments that can be directly associated with chronic anxiety and stress.

Emotional Stress Can Contribute to Mental Disorders

Frequent stress has an augmenting and, some say, even causative effect on poor mental health. In the presence of serious stressors, such as the loss of a home or a job, or a serious physical illness, or the loss of a significant relationship, many people develop symptoms that are typical of certain mental disorders. It is debatable whether the mental disorder comes first and the stress comes next, or vice versa, but regardless of whether the chicken comes before the egg, the results can be quite the same. A serious stressor may provoke depressive symptoms or acute stress disorder. What makes a difference is the individual’s proneness to manifest a psychological disturbance either in an “externalizing” manner, e.g. with visible signs of anxiety, or in an “internalizing” manner, e.g. with the shutdown of activity that is typical of depression.

Taking the other side of the equation, people who already suffer from an anxiety disorder or a depressive disorder may feel that their symptoms are aggravated by another stressor added on top of the ones they have experienced in the past. Anxious individuals will feel less prepared to meet the new psychological challenge, and even the mere anticipation of a new threat may be sufficient to produce a panic attack. Depressed individuals, who also may feel that their personal resources are inadequate to cope with a new challenge, may not show any signs of panic or heightened anxiety and will instead further retreat into the dark recesses of depression.

Emotional Stress Is Fear Under Another Name

Psychological stressors share a common characteristic: they are caused by generally unwanted and often unexpected events or situations. Regardless of their origin, negative stressors produce a reaction of surprise and, in most cases, fear. Since negative consequences usually accompany the arrival of a stressor, and since most people are quite capable of predicting a whole range of possible negative outcomes resulting from a stressful event or situation, fear (often masking as anxiety or even anger) is the naturally occurring and logical emotion. Even in the classic case of a positive stressor such as winning the lottery, fear is not too far behind the initial moment of wild elation. Even the arrival of a large sum of money can produce fears of its loss even before the unexpected windfall lands on the lucky winner’s bank account. Stories of big winnings have often culminated in poor choices, reckless decisions, broken relationships, and ultimate unhappiness.

Regardless of its origin, a significant stressor may produce quite a significant state of perceived danger. Many people feel that they can meet the challenge, but many others may not feel up to the task because of low self-esteem, a personal history of negative outcomes, low resilience, or a pessimistic outlook on life. A feeling of emotional safety is a protective condition that helps us make better decisions, enhances our judgment, and is generally good for our physical health. Conversely, the lack of emotional safety (which may range from a mild state of anxiety to the perception that a catastrophic event is about to occur) may be conducive to poor decision making, errors in judgment, inefficient allocation of personal resources or lack of adequate self-care, and may be linked to a higher probability of physical illness.

How To Tame Fear and Fight Chronic Stress

Emotional safety is one of the ingredients of good mental and physical health that, especially nowadays, appears to be in especially short supply.  How can it be increased? A good place to start is by developing better insight into our situation. Insight is the awareness not only of the content of our worries and stressors (“what” makes us feel stressed), but also of the process (the “how”) by which we attempt to manage or cope with the situation. In many cases, our coping attempts are so automatic and out of awareness that they happen without our direct control. Insight into the process can change this. There is a significant reservoir of power and energy that can be tapped by the simple act of self-observation. It is the ability to say not only, “I can’t believe this is happening to me,” but also and at the same time to be able to say, “and just look at how I am handling this right now.”

Insight into the process of coping leads to one very important moment of choice. Being able to ask the question, “Is this way of (over)reacting the only option I have right now?” constitutes a tremendous step forward from a wholly automated and fear-driven response. While it is possible that in the moment no other reaction may be possible except anxiety or depressive thoughts, the presence of insight into the process can help come up with options and alternative ways of handling the stressor. This sets up the vital, and perhaps best, way to cope with the unexpected: an initial automatic and spontaneous reaction to a stressor (which may be physical and psychological in nature, entirely human and to be expected), followed by a more intentional and not so automatic response that comes from the ability to choose between several available options.

Worst Stress Relievers: Owning Guns

SeattleSunset_EN-US1535293454Stressed by the danger of a home intrusion? We may be tempted to purchase a gun to feel safer and relieve this type of stress. The remedy, however, has its own problems. Statistics have shown consistently that guns cause more deaths to their owners and their family members than to would-be intruders. The danger for owners and their families comes from several factors: an increased risk of injury and death in domestic violence situations; a higher rate of successful suicide; an increased likelihood of accidental injury; and a rise in the rate of homicides.

In particular, the risk of successful suicide attempts is not to be underestimated: a self-inflicted gunshot is the leading cause of death among gun owners in the initial years immediately following gun purchase. In an article published by The Washington Post, the authors report that out of 395 deaths in homes where guns were present, there were 333 cases of suicide, 41 cases of domestic violence homicide, and 12 accidents. Only 9 cases were shootings of an intruder.

Guns are the most commonly used weapon in over 65% of domestic homicides. When a couple owns a gun, the risk of partner-on-partner homicide is five times as great. Three times as many women are killed in homes where a gun is present than where no such weapon was available. Children fare no better: 5,285 American children were killed by gunshots according to the 2005 data published by the Centers for Disease Control. During the same year, no child was killed in Japan, 19 were killed in the UK, 57 in Germany, 109 in France, and 153 in Canada.

It is fair to say that guns, which in theory are acquired to increase safety, vastly increase the risk of serious injury or death to their owners and their families. Outside the home, guns increase the frequency and seriousness of crime rates, as well as increase the risk of injury and death among crime perpetrators and their victims. It is also well-known that gun-related violence raises health care utilization and costs, criminal justice system expenditures, higher costs to taxpayers and for insurance premiums. No one will argue the point that gun-related violence produces a legacy of grief and hardship.