Recent quotes:

Keeping up the pressure: New neural mechanism is found to regulate the chronic stress response -- ScienceDaily

The newly discovered nerve cells express a receptor, CRFR1, on their outer walls, which enables them to take in the message of the CRF neurotransmitter. The scientists' experiments showed that, in mice, the cortisol actually increases the number of CRFR1 receptors on these nerve cells, suggesting a positive feedback loop that could be self-renewing, rather than abating.

Mindful Meditation Training Lowers Biomarkers of Stress Response in Anxiety Disorder – Neuroscience News

HomeFeatured Mindful Meditation Training Lowers Biomarkers of Stress Response in Anxiety Disorder Neuroscience NewsJanuary 27, 2017 FeaturedPsychology6 min read Summary: According to researchers, mindful meditation can reduce stress hormones and inflammatory responses to stressful situations in people with GAD. Source: Georgetown University Medical Center. Hormonal, inflammatory reactions to stress were reduced after meditation training, in rigorous NIH-sponsored trial. Mindfulness meditation is an increasingly popular treatment for anxiety, but testing its effectiveness in a convincing way has been difficult. Now a rigorously designed, NIH-sponsored clinical trial led by a Georgetown University Medical Center researcher has found objective physiological evidence that mindfulness meditation combats anxiety. The researchers found that anxiety disorder patients had sharply reduced stress-hormone and inflammatory responses to a stressful situation after taking a mindfulness meditation course–whereas patients who took a non-meditation stress management course had worsened responses. “Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” said lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge, MD, associate professor in Georgetown University Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry. The study, published January 24 in Psychiatry Research, included 89 patients with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition of chronic and excessive worrying. The disorder is estimated to affect nearly 7 million Americans during any one year. Hoge and her colleagues randomly divided the patients into two groups: One took an eight-week mindfulness based stress reduction course, the other — the control group — took an eight-week Stress Management Education course, which included general tips on the importance of good nutrition, sleep habits and other wellness topics. Both courses had similar formats but only the former included training in meditative techniques. Many prior tests of meditation-based therapies have compared a meditation group to an untreated control group. Because participants in such studies are not “blinded” — they know if they are getting treatment or not–they are likely to be influenced by the placebo effect and other forms of expectancy bias. “The FDA would never approve a drug based on such a clinical trial design,” said Hoge. In this study, she added, participants would have had little or no expectancy bias, because they were all assigned to a treatment, and were not told which was the treatment of interest to the researchers. Before and after the training course, participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test, a standard experimental technique for inducing a stress response, in which the participants are asked at short notice to give a speech before an audience, and are given other anxiety-inducing instructions. “Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” said lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Photodune. “We were testing the patients’ resilience,” Hoge said, “because that’s really the ultimate question–can we make people handle stress better?” For the stress test, the team monitored blood-based markers of subjects’ stress responses, namely levels of the stress hormone ACTH and the inflammatory proteins IL-6 and TNF-α. The control group showed modest rises on the second test compared to the first, suggesting a worsening of their anxiety from having to endure the test again. By contrast, the meditation group showed big drops in these markers on the second test, suggesting that the meditation training had helped them cope. Hoge and colleagues also found — as they reported in an earlier paper on this study — that the meditation group patients, compared to controls, experienced significantly greater reductions in self-reported measures of stress after their course. The study adds to evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation in treating anxiety, Hoge said. She noted too that with its rigorous “active control” design, it provides a good paradigm for the future study of interventions such as meditation, to which patients cannot be blinded.

Super Bowl Psychology: Why Athletes "Choke" — and How to Avoid It - Scientific American

The cerebellum, the area below and behind the cerebrum responsible for motor control, coordinates complex actions when we are on autopilot. But as soon as we start focusing on the individual steps, the cerebral cortex, which controls higher-order conscious thought, takes over and we stumble into trouble. […]“My work really suggests that there is a toolbox of techniques that we can use to perform better in stressful situations,” she says, “And some people happen to utilize those better than others. But I think it’s something that can be learned.” She suggests practicing skills under pressure, in conditions close to those of the actual event. “That means for everyday people, if you’re going to be playing in front of your friends and family, you should probably practice that way, too,” she says. She also recommends not dwelling on the task ahead of time, adding that it can be helpful to distract yourself by singing a song or repeating a key word: “Something that takes your mind off the mechanics of what you're doing.” Her work has shown that in high-stress situations, the best athletes are able to succeed by focusing on the overall outcome rather than on the individual steps.

Mindfulness Meditation Helps You Handle Stress Better | Time.com

Not only did the people who learned to meditate report feeling less stressed than people in the other class, but their blood measurements of ACTH, a stress hormone released in the brain and then into the bloodstream, were lower too, as well as markers of inflammation called pro-inflammatory cytokines. But in the control group, people were actually more stressed the second time they did the test, possibly because they knew and anticipated how bad the it would be.

Childhood poverty can rob adults of psychological health -- ScienceDaily

In his study, Evans tracked 341 participants over a 15-year period, and tested them at ages 9, 13, 17 and 24. Short-term spatial memory was tested by asking adult study participants to repeat increasingly complex sequences of lights and sounds by pressing four colored pads in the correct order -- similar to the "Simon" game. The adults who grew up in poverty had a diminished ability to recall the sequences, compared to those who did not. "This is an important result because the ability to retain information in short-term memory is fundamental to a host of basic cognitive skills, including language and achievement," the study said. Although the participants were assessed on this measure only when they were adults, this test had the strongest association with childhood poverty of the four measures. Helplessness was assessed by asking the participants to solve an impossible puzzle. Adults growing up in poverty gave up 8 percent more quickly than those who weren't poor as kids. Previous research has shown chronic exposure to uncontrollable stressors -- such as family turmoil and substandard housing -- tends to induce helplessness. Mental health was measured with a well validated, standardized index of mental health with statements including "I argue a lot" and "I am too impatient." Adults who grew up in poverty were more likely to agree with those questions than adults from a middle-income background. Chronic physiological stress was tested by measuring the participants' blood pressure, stress hormones and body mass index. Adults who grew up in poverty had a higher level of chronic physical stress throughout childhood and into adulthood.

The late effects of stress: New insights into how the brain responds to trauma -- ScienceDaily

Previously, Chattarji's group had shown that a single instance of acute stress had no immediate effects on the amygdala of rats. But ten days later, these animals began to show increased anxiety, and delayed changes in the architecture of their brains, especially the amygdala. "We showed that our study system is applicable to PTSD. This delayed effect after a single episode of stress was reminiscent of what happens in PTSD patients," says Chattarji. "We know that the amygdala is hyperactive in PTSD patients. But no one knows as of now, what is going on in there," he adds.

Stress and hippocampus

New research now shows that even a brief period of stress can cause the hippocampus to start shrinking.This shrinking of the hippocampus -- a change in the brain's structure -- actually precedes the onset of a change in behaviour, namely, the loss of memory.

Gut feeling: Research examines link between stomach bacteria, PTSD

Bienenstock and Forsythe then fed the stressed mice the same probiotics (live bacteria) found in the calm mice and examined the new fecal samples. Through magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a non-invasive analytical technique using powerful MRI technology, they also studied changes in brain chemistry. "Not only did the behavior of the mice improve dramatically with the probiotic treatment," said Bienenstock, "but it continued to get better for several weeks afterward. Also, the MRS technology enabled us to see certain chemical biomarkers in the brain when the mice were stressed and when they were taking the probiotics."

Endurance Sports Will Make You a Better, Calmer Person

Because stressors are inherent to endurance sports, over time, athletes learn to assess them as challenges rather than as threats. This outlook, which McGonigal calls a “challenge response to stress,” is characterized by proactively focusing on what you can control in the face of stress, and quieting negative emotions like fear and anxiety.

Newly discovered windows of brain plasticity may help stress-related disorders -- ScienceDaily

"Even after a long period of chronic stress, the brain retains the ability to change and adapt. In experiments with mice, we discovered the mechanism that alters expression of key glutamate-controlling genes to make windows of stress-related neuroplasticity--and potential recovery--possible," says senior author Bruce McEwen, Alfred E. Mirsky Professor, and head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology. Glutamate is a chemical signal implicated in stress-related disorders, including depression. "This sensitive window could provide an opportunity for treatment, when the brain is most responsive to efforts to restore neural circuitry in the affected areas," he adds.

For obese, stress may be even more deadly - CBS News

On two consecutive days, researchers placed people of various body sizes in stressful situations, including a very unfriendly job interview and a difficult oral math exercise, McInnis said. They then took saliva samples to see how the stress affected the person's body chemistry. Lean people started out with lower interleukin-6 levels than obese people, but both lean and obese participants exhibited similar amounts of biochemical response to stress on the first day, the investigators found. However, overweight or obese individuals exhibited an interleukin-6 response on the second day nearly double that of their response the day before. By comparison, the second-day response of lean people was the same as it was their first day. This indicates that obese people are physically affected by repeated stress much more dramatically than people at normal weight, and recover from stress more slowly, McInnis said. Further, the relationship between body mass index (a measurement of body fat based on height and weight) and interleukin-6 levels was linear, the study authors reported.