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“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.

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.

3 Good Ways of Responding To a Panic Attack

OBriensTower_EN-US194301618A panic attack ambushes the mind, the body, and the soul. Its targets are self-esteem, a balanced self-assessment and the ability to analyze situations and expected outcomes. When panic strikes, the present becomes a bleak landscape of dangers and the future includes a (seemingly) real possibility of annihilation. In the presence of a real (or perceived) significant stressor, one’s abilities to respond to the challenging situation becomes severely impaired. For the span of the panic attack, chest pains, shortness of breath, shaking, sweating, and even nausea and vomiting can give the sensations of impeding death. Can something be done to prepare for a panic attack with any degree of success?

One: Know Thyself

A first important tool is the ability to anticipate one’s own reactions, by getting to know them well enough so that they do not become stressors in themselves. Knowing the likelihood (and thus anticipating the possibility) of the physical sensations that go with feelings of panic (chest constriction, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and sweating) may help avoid the distress that these symptoms can cause. The very fact of knowing that these physiological reactions will take place, and allowing them to happen as a natural and understandable reaction to a threat to our well-being, can be beneficial.

Two: Know About Panic

Panic attacks are about as close to feeling imminent death as one can get, as anyone who has experienced them in all their severity will attest. A panic attack occurs without anyone else’s intervention (usually no one else is present). It can be extremely frightening even when no real physical danger exists (it can strike a person comfortably seated in his or her favorite recliner). A panic attack, by definition, occurs without any clinical danger of death and cannot by itself cause death or serious injury. A the most, when it reaches a certain level, a panic attack may trigger a loss of consciousness through hyperventilation (prolonged shallow breathing). This usually resolves the physical symptoms by momentarily taking the brain out of the picture, whereby the body can returns to homeostasis. When the person comes to, usually the panic attack is gone just as suddenly as it came. Exhaustion is not infrequent at this stage, as a panic attack can be a real workout for the heart and muscles.

Three: Manage Your Response

BearAttackA useful tool in preventing the recurrence of panic attack is stress management. Allowing the body to react, in concert with the mind, to a situation that may objectively warrant fear, sadness or worry is not only strategically sound, it is also physiologically healthier. Just as courage is not the absence of fear but simply good fear management, allowing a naturally-occurring biopsychic reaction to a stressor is simply good stress management.

Thus, the key to successful panic attack management is not in denying or attempting to prevent the stress reaction, but in what to do next (our chosen response). After the initial physical reaction ebbs and subsides and the heart rate naturally returns to near-normal levels, the real stress management response has a chance to begin. This response should first and foremost consist of addressing the stressor that is causing the panic attack to occur.

3 Good Ways of Addressing Serious Stressors

Three options usually exists in addressing significant stressors:

  1. Eliminating the stressor that caused the panic attack to occur.
  2. Removing oneself from the stressful situation, if option 1 is not available.
  3. Reducing the impact of the stressor through relaxation techniques or good coping mechanisms, when options 1 and 2 are not available.

Stress in Pregnancy a Health Risk for the Child

aavanEyck_1434_ArnolfiniMarriageAn anxious expectant father can make a pregnant woman more anxious, and their combined higher level of stress can have a negative influence on the health of their newborn child. While it is a well-known fact that significant mental distress in pregnant women due to anxiety, lack of social support or low self-esteem can result in higher health risks for the infant child, the impact of fathers’ anxiety heretofore had not been examined.

A new study shows that the stress related to pregnancy uniquely affects the mental health of expectant fathers, and that this in turn also has an effect on the health of expectant mothers and their infants. A University of Missouri researcher arrived at these conclusions by examining the underlying factors of the Prenatal Psychosocial Profile as a composite measure of stress, support from partner, support from others and self-esteem; and compared factor structures between pregnant women and expectant fathers.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing was conducted on 132 expectant mothers and fathers in a sample of 66 low-income couples living in rural Missouri between 2006 and 2008.

Similarities and unique differences between expectant fathers and mothers were found. Among the stress factors, ‘problems related to family’, ‘the current pregnancy’ and ‘feeling generally overloaded’ were perceived as financial stressors by men but as emotional stressors by women. In terms of perceived partner support, women believed they were receiving more tangible support from their partners through actions such as help with tasks or care, while men felt that they were receiving more emotional support.

Among study participants, women had higher self-esteem than men during pregnancy. The assessment of psychosocial well-being in both women and men during pregnancy, especially careful assessment of stressors of pregnancy is deemed useful not only in establishing stress levels and providing adequate stress management tools to both men and women, but most especially in ensuring that reduced levels of stress and anxiety are less likely to impact the health of their infant child.

Discovery: A New Brain Pathway for Stress

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In many individuals, a major stressor activates a critical and previously unknown pathway in the brain that regulates anxiety in response to traumatic events. The amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain, reacts to the stressor by increasing production of the protein neuropsin. The release of neuropsin activates a series of chemical events  that further stimulate amygdala activity, which in turn activates a gene that determines the stress response at a cellular level. Due to this gene activation, these individuals develop long-term anxiety and a typical anxious response to real or perceived stressors.

A study just published in the journal Nature for the first time clarifies the mechanism whereby, in certain individuals and not in others, the extracellular proteolysis triggered by fear-associated responses facilitates neuronal plasticity at the neuron–matrix interface. This process centers around the activity of the serine protease neuropsin, which is critical for stress-related plasticity in the amygdala. Neuropsin determines the dynamics of the EphB2–NMDA-receptor interaction, the expression of the “anxiety gene” Fkbp5 and the triggering of anxiety-like behavior. When faced with a stressor, individuals who are neuropsin-deficient show a much less frequent expression of the Fkbp5 gene and low anxiety. On the other hand, the behavioral response to stress in individuals who are rich in neuropsin shows a more frequent expression of the Fkbp5 gene and much more significant anxiety-related behavior. The researchers, consisting of a team of neuroscientists at the University of Leicester, UK, in collaboration with researchers from Poland and Japan, conclude that their findings establish a novel neuronal pathway linking stress-induced proteolysis of EphB2 in the amygdala to the development of an anxiety-driven response to stress.

Stress-related disorders affect a large percentage of the population and generate an enormous personal, social and economic impact. It was previously known that certain individuals are more susceptible to detrimental effects of stress than others. Although the majority of us experience traumatic events, only some develop stress-associated psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder… We asked: What is the molecular basis of anxiety in response to noxious stimuli? How are stress-related environmental signals translated into proper behavioral responses? To investigate these problems we used a combination of genetic, molecular, electrophysiological and behavioral approaches. This resulted in the discovery of a critical, previously unknown pathway. –Dr. Robert Pawlak, University of Leicester.

The study took four years to complete and it sought to examine the behavioral consequences of a series of cellular events caused by stress in the amygdala. They discovered that when certain proteins produced by the amygdala were blocked, either via medication or by gene therapy, the study subjects did not exhibit the highly anxious traits.

This is a significant discovery for the study and treatment of maladaptive stress responses that result in anxiety. By knowing which chemicals along the neuropsin pathway are present in the human brain at the moment of traumatic events, the researchers believe that it will be possible to design intervention therapies for controlling stress-induced behaviors and for the prevention and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

A New Stressor: FOMO

Sm-bandwagonThe power of communication has been unleashed on the Internet as never before. It is now possible to know almost instantly what is happening around the world, to broadcast one’s ever-changing “status” to real or virtual friends and acquaintances, to express oneself endlessly in 160-character increments, to blog multiple times a day one’s erudite or inane musings to an audience that can number in the tens of thousands. Everyone has the power to become a “brand” and many have done so to great lengths, baring their life and its inspiring or sordid details without regard for privacy, confidentiality or simple reserve. With this phenomenon, new stressors are born, old ones are better overcome, and still others morph into more or less ominous sources of anxiety.

Take for example the ability to know, via Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram, the whereabouts and activities of our immediate and extended social network. It is possible to know, just by virtue of swiping the screen of a smartphone, who’s out, who’s dining with whom and where, who’s at the club or the sports arena—often with photos and videos of the event as it unfolds in some sort of electronic play by play. Truly fascinating glimpses of reality in some cases, not so interesting and even banal in many others.

One of the newest stressors originated by this type of instant access is “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. It is a bizarre reversal of social anxiety, the particularly debilitating condition which causes people to reluctantly withdraw from interpersonal contact due to stress overload. In FOMO, the stress comes from the anxiety provoked in recipients of instant messages by the awareness that others are socially involved at that very minute, while they are supposedly missing out on something fun and interesting. In other words, being at home, at work, or otherwise “not there,” not doing the things others are doing and that are being portrayed in the photo or video or described in the message, is sufficient to produce anxiety, which perhaps could be referred to as non-social in nature.

texting-while-drivingFOMO is a close cognate of that other need to be connected at all times, for which there may already be an acronym of which I am not aware, yet. Being “out of touch” means not having 24×7 access to email, IM, social media—and that’s simply too horrible to contemplate. Voice calls are becoming an endangered species, as people seem to prefer, in increasingly greater numbers, to text or post. The stress of not having access, no rhyme intended, can be fiercely acute. Its excesses bear on the ridiculous, and increasingly more often, on the tragic—as in the train operator in the San Fernando Valley who wrecked his passenger train while texting to his friends. For the growing number of car accidents caused by this technological distraction there is already an acronym, TWD or texting while driving.

Optogenetics Discovers Brain Anxiety Circuit

AmygdCingGyrusThe state of heightened apprehension and high arousal in the absence of immediate threat—commonly labeled as acute stress or anxiety—can be a severely debilitating condition. Over 28% of the population suffers from anxiety disorders that contribute to the development of major depressive disorder and substance abuse. Of all the structures of the limbic system, the seat of emotion processing, the amygdala plays a key role in anxiety, although by what exact mechanism still remains unclear. Newly published research carried out by a group of neuroscientists at Stanford University using the novel technique of optogenetics with two-photon microscopy has permitted a much closer exploration of the neural circuits underlying anxiety than ever before. The optogenetics approach facilitates the identification not only of cell types but also the specific connections between cells. The researchers noticed that timed optogenetic stimulation of the basolateral amygdala (BLA) terminals in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) produced a significant, acute, and reversible anxiety-reducing effect. Conversely, selective optogenetic inhibition of the same projection resulted in increased anxiety-related behaviors. These results indicate that specific BLA–CeA projections are the critical circuit elements for acute anxiety control in the brain. The results were published in the March 17 issue of the scientific journal Nature.

A Closer Look at the Amygdala’s BLA and CeA Regions

BasolateralAmygdalaThe amygdalae (amygdaloid nucleus) are two identical almond-shaped brain structures located in each temporal lobe. Each amygdala receives input from the olfactory system, as well as from visceral structures. The amygdala in humans has been confirmed by functional MRI imaging to be the area of the brain that is best correlated with emotional reactions and plays a key role in the brain’s integration of emotional meaning with perception and experience. The emotional aspect of the response of the individual is passed on to the frontal cortex, where “decisions” are made regarding possible responses. In this way, the response of the individual can take into account the emotional aspect of the situation.

Additionally, the amygdala coordinates the actions of the autonomic and endocrine systems and prompts release of adrenaline and other excitatory hormones into the bloodstream. The amygdala is involved in producing and responding to nonverbal signs of anger, avoidance, defensiveness, and fear. The amygdala has been implicated in emotional dysregulation, aggressive behavior, and psychiatric illnesses such as depression. It has also been shown to play an important role in the formation of emotional memory and in temporal lobe epilepsy.

The basolateral amygdala, one of the two structures studied in the recent Stanford research, receives extensive projections from areas of the brain cortex that are specialized for recognizing objects such as faces in central vision. Extensive intrinsic connections within the amygdala
promote further coordination of sensory information.

Biological effects initiated by amygdala include increases or decreases in arterial pressure and heart rate, gastrointestinal motility and secretion, evacuation, pupillary dilation, piloerection, and secretion of various anterior pituitary hormones, especially the gonadotropins and
adrenocorticotropic hormone, which are key agents in the stress reaction. Interestingly, amygdala stimulation can also cause several types of involuntary movement, such as raising the head or bending the body, circling movements, occasionally rhythmical movements, and movements
associated with taste and eating, such as licking, chewing, and swallowing.

LimbicSystemGeographyThe findings also show the involvement of the amygdala’s CeA region in mediating threat-related anxiety and acute fear-related behavioral and hormonal responses. Earlier studies had shown that stimulation of this same area reduces snake fear and pituitary-adrenal activity and that CeA lesions resulted in decreased expression of threat-induced freezing. Additionally, the CeA region of the amygdala was reported as being significantly involved in the consolidation of contextual fear memory, i.e., what permits us to remember so vividly and persistently objects or situations that have caused fear in us in the past.

School Bullying Is Much More Than ‘Just What Kids Do’

aaMondrian_BroadwayIs school becoming an increasingly dangerous place for our children’s mental and physical health? A study of 43,321 high school students confirms that student-on-student bullying has become a serious problem in public and private schools across the United States. Its behavioral, health and social consequences are lowered academic achievement and aspirations, increased anxiety, loss of self‐esteem and confidence, depression and PTSD, general deterioration in physical health, self‐harm and suicidal thinking, feelings of alienation in the school environment such as fear of other children, and absenteeism from school. In response to recent high-profile bullying cases, the U.S. Department of Education has sent this letter to over 15,000 school districts across the country, in which school officials are reminded of their responsibility and legal obligation to protect the civil rights of all students, regardless of their nationality, race, sex or disability status.

The study, conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, was released on Tuesday and is the largest ever undertaken of the attitudes and conduct of high school students. The truly sobering results show that 50% of all high school students admit they bullied someone in the past year, and 47% say they were bullied, teased, or taunted in a way that seriously upset them in the past year. 33% percent of all high school students say that violence is a big problem at their school, and 24% say they do not feel safe at school. 52% admit that within the past year they hit a person because they were angry. 10% of students say they took a weapon to school at least once in the past 12 months, and 16% admit that they have been intoxicated at school. The study clearly shows that there is almost no difference between public, religious private and non-religious private schools in the students’ perceived safety, or in the percentage of perpetrators and victims of bullying.

In the press release accompanying the results, Institute Director Michael Josephson said, “If the saying, ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never harm me’ was ever true, it certainly is not so today. Insults, name calling, relentless teasing, and malicious gossip often inflict deep and enduring pain. It’s not only the prevalence of bullying behavior and victimization that’s troublesome. The Internet has intensified the injury. What’s posted on the Internet is permanent, and it spreads like a virus – there is no refuge. The difference between the impact of bullying today versus 20 years ago is the difference between getting into a fist fight and using a gun. The combination of bullying, a penchant toward violence when one is angry, the availability of weapons, and the possibility of intoxication at school increases significantly the likelihood of retaliatory violence.”

Anger and Sadness Increase Fibromyalgic Pain

Turner_1835_DidoBuildingCarthage Perhaps another study that falls into the “I knew it all along” category: Anger and sadness increase pain in women who suffer from fibromyalgia.

A recent study conducted at the University of Utrecht on 121 women, 62 of which were suffering from fibromyalgia, confirmed a significant increase in pain levels in response to both anger and sadness. A greater angry or sad reaction was associated with a correspondingly greater amount of pain response.

Results of the study showed that in half of the female patients, the experience of anger or sadness in response to a significant daily emotional event predicted more pain at the end of that day. The anger–pain link was more pronounced among patients with a longer duration of fibromyalgia and among those with higher average anger levels. 

Among the study participants, pain levels were highest on Fridays and lowest on Sundays, which might reflect a gradually increasing pain during the work week. However, patients who worked did not show a more pronounced weekly pain increase than unemployed patients. Relaxing activities and quality time during the weekends of both working and non-working women appeared to reduce the pain.

Seems Obvious, Now Proven: Yoga Reduces Anxiety

LouetLighthouse_EN-US97578274From research at Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital comes the hardly startling news that yoga reduces anxiety. Even a beginner can confirm that yoga does have a relaxing effect on stress and anxiety. However, the researchers at Boston U.  did not mean to restate the obvious, but rather to provide a scientific explanation of yoga’s relaxing effects.

It turns out that the practice of yoga elevates brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric (GABA), the nervous system’s principal inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA is secreted by nerve terminals in the spinal cord, cerebellum, basal ganglia, and many areas of the cortex.

Adequate or elevated levels of GABA help reduce brain and nervous system activity, with a corresponding relaxing effect on the muscles and major organs of the body. Reduced levels of GABA are associated with a wide variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including epilepsy, anxiety states, alcoholism, chronic pain, Huntington’s chorea, and other movement disorders.

The research findings, published in the May 2010 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, provide significant evidence that yoga is a possible treatment for depression and anxiety, both associated with low GABA levels. Pharmaceutical companies have already caught on to the benefits of increasing GABA levels, and both disorders have been successfully treated with pharmaceuticals (gabapentin, pregabalin) that boost GABA production.

According to Chris Streeter, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at BUSM and a research associate at McLean Hospital, yoga is a promising alternative to medication in improving depression, anxiety and epilepsy symptoms.

The confirmation that GABA levels can be boosted and the symptoms of high stress and anxiety can be reduced with a natural approach such as yoga (or tai chi for fibromyalgia) is indeed welcome news. Even though we already knew that the practice of yoga has a relaxing effect, knowing why should convince the skeptical to give this time-proven remedy at least a try.

Stress, As Seen Through the Eye of Science

Bazille at Stresshacker.comWhen science looks at stress, the focus is on the body/mind interaction or, more precisely, on its psychophysiological mechanisms. Traveling back in time from our present condition to conception, we can see that our genes and the environment in which we grow up (in which our genes are expressed) determine how we respond to stress as adults. Our genetic and environmental differences (the nature or nurture of who we are) help explain how individuals exposed to the same stressful situation can have an entirely different reaction. Some can adapt successfully to the stressor (albeit not without discomfort), while others experience more severe immediate trauma and long-term emotional problems, such as PTSD.

During specific developmental periods, such as infancy, puberty, adolescence, adulthood, or maturity, certain stressors are almost certain to occur and are understood to be typical and appropriate to the process of maturation and change. The earliest such stressor is the effect of caregiving styles, which stems from the parents’ psychological state. An attentive and nurturing style produces vastly different effects on the child’s later adaptation to stress than a harsh, unforgiving or neglectful one. In adolescence, patterns of behavior and emotional reactivity—including the stress reaction—begin to crystallize and become fully set in early adulthood.

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Expert Advice: How To Tell Good vs. Bad Anxiety

Dr. Daniel Pine, a psychiatrist, directs the research program on mood and anxiety disorders of children and adolescents at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD

Q. What is the difference between an anxiety disorder and anxiety that is an appropriate response to an uncomfortable or threatening situation?

A. The easiest way to differentiate between these two responses is to talk about the concept of impairment. The idea behind impairment is that the person’s anxiety interferes with his or her ability to do something. The feelings of anxiousness prevent that person from doing something that other people in the same situation could do, leading to avoidance. In other words, the anxiety prevents the individuals from going places or doing things that they would like to do.

For example, everybody has some degree of anxiety in social situations. But we think of it as a disorder when the anxiety is so extreme that the person would refuse to do presentations at work or would refuse to go to parties or would not talk in public places where one is obligated to talk — for example, ordering a meal in a restaurant or requesting a book from a librarian. This is the easiest way to distinguish between normal and abnormal anxiety.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Expert Q & A – Evaluating Anxiety From an Early Age – NY Times Health

Stresshack #7: Just Enough Anxiety

K2fromBroadPeak Too much anxiety forces impulsive action. When the choice between fight or flight is invariably fight, personal power and sheer determination can make things happen. Hastily taking charge of the situation however can also be a sign of anxiety brought on by low self esteem, insecurity and fear of failure. Emotional decision making prompted by anxiety, anger, or fear often has the result of producing change but also fostering unpredictability and chaos.

Too much anxiety often sabotages a person’s achievements. There is no balance in the approach to problem-solving and either too much energy is devoted to the task, or inadequate resources are mustered. The drive toward success generates a pathological focus that can quickly lead to exhaustion. In some cases, the organism simply shuts down, in other cases it is maintained in operation through artificial means such as drugs or alcohol.

Too little anxiety creates an avoidance of challenges and a drive toward comfort.  Often these individuals are quite comfortable in true and tried approaches to problem-solving and are loath to try anything new. In many cases, a short and quick fix is applied to challenges, without much thought or conviction. Far from being healthy, too little anxiety lowers an individual’s guard against potential threats, physical or psychological, by instilling a false sense of security and of foolish invulnerability.

Just enough anxiety and we feel the right level of motivation toward change, while not losing sight of the need for adequate preparation, adequate rest, and balance. We accept the incontrovertible fact that too much or too little of anything, including anxiety, can impede learning, stunt growth, endanger health.  Striving for success is important, as are solving problems and facing challenges as they arise. The right dose of anxiety (the good stress that mobilizes our resources) is just what it takes to not only meet these demands, but to thrive.