Tag Archives: stress

How Stress Alters Your Brain

Image from APA.org.

If you are in your 40s and suspect your memory is already slipping, stress could be the culprit.

A new study found that forty-somethings who had high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in their bodies also had reduced brain volumes and lower cognitive performance.

This study–unlike many prior studies of cortisol’s effect on the brain–specifically targeted middle-aged men and women. Participants did cognitive testing, a brain MRI, and a fasting morning blood sample.

Those with the highest levels of cortisol had the worst performance on visual perception, executive function and attention tasks. They also had a more difficult time retaining information.

The study also found that women tended to have higher cortisol levels than their male counterparts.

I know that stress is pervasive and unavoidable. Things like personal conflict, work responsibilities and financial uncertainty are part of the human experience.

So what can you do about it?

Over the long term, women’s stress levels tend to naturally decrease with age. However, here are a few suggestions how to proactively manage your stress today:

  • Therapy. Feelings of stress can be closely linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.  If you have a difficult time unwinding, or you don’t understand why exactly you are feeling stress, you may need extra help or medication to manage your mental health.
  • Get outside. I believe strongly in getting out into nature to improve your mental health. I wrote here about Japanese “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing,” which is simply taking in a forest atmosphere, which has been shown to lower cortisol levels. I actually offer walking therapy sessions on the Greenbelt for this reason.
  • Chew gum. I know this may sound silly, but there is a surprising amount of research about chewing gum and stress. This 2015 study drew a strong link between mastication (chewing) and lower levels of salivary cortisol, higher level of alertness, and lower self-reported levels of anxiety and stress.
  • Write it out.  Getting your anxieties and worries out on paper is so helpful: which things can you control? Which things aren’t your responsibility? What can you do about it? Simply writing out your feelings can help with anxiety and depression, as well as help you plan how to manage current stresses.

There are so many ways to help yourself lower your stress levels. Do it for your peace of mind, and for your future brain function.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958 or email her at satu214@gmail.com. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Stress relief could someday be an immunization away

A researcher examines a sample of Mycobacterium vaccae. Source: www.colorado.edu

There’s a bacterium found on the shores of a Ugandan lake that could help reduce our stress. Scientists recently injected it into stressed-out mice with promising results.

The bacterium, called Mycobacterium vaccae, reduces inflammation in the brain, which in turn prepares the brain to respond better to stress. These findings could lead to better treatments for PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

In the study, researchers injected mice with the bacterium three times, a week apart. Eight days after the last injection, the mice’s brains showed higher levels of an anti-inflammatory protein in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in regulating anxiety.

They then placed the mice in a cage with a larger, aggressive mouse. The injected mice showed fewer symptoms of anxiety in the stressful situation, and they had lower levels of a stress-induced, inflammation promoting protein called HMGB1 and higher levels of an anti-inflammatory receptor called CD200R1.

Researchers say other probiotics (helpful bacteria) could have similar effects, and studies are under way to explore how they can be used. One potential use would be as a preventative treatment for people going into stressful situations, like combat or emergency room employment.

There’s so much more to understand about how mental illness works, and this is an interesting step in the right direction.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

 

Women’s stress levels go down as they head into their 50s and 60s

A new study offers great news for women entering middle age: There’s a good chance you’ll feel less stressed as you get older.

Researchers tracked women — aged 42 to 53 at the beginning of the study — for 15 years. They found that most women’s perceived levels of stress dropped significantly over that time period.

Even women with less education and more financial hardship experienced this decrease, and even menopause didn’t derail the progress.

The study didn’t measure the analyze the reasons for dropping stress levels,  but researchers say the change could come from circumstantial factors — children have moved out, careers are progressing, and health is still pretty good — and/or psychological factors — women have figured out how to better regulate emotions.

“Perhaps things just don’t bother us as much as we age, whether due to emotional experience or neurochemical changes. It’s all worth exploring,” the study’s lead author said.

It’s good to hear some scientific findings backing up the good things I’ve noticed about getting older. And for all you younger people out there: Look forward to your 50s and 60s. They’re a good place to be.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Gift of love: Reducing your partner’s stress through good listening

With Valentines Day this week, displays of romance have been all around us. Flowers, chocolates, and jewelry are nice, but a more meaningful gift you can give anyone you love is the gift of listening.

This week I read about a study where the researchers measured cortisol (stress hormone) levels in subjects’ spit before and after talking with their significant others about a problem. They pinpointed the best things partners can do in these conversations to reduce stress levels.

  • Acknowledge the person is feeling stress, even if the situation doesn’t seem that stressful to you. Dismissing the problem doesn’t help.
  • Communicate both verbally (e.g. asking questions) and nonverbally (e.g. making eye contact, nodding, and touching). All these things can make cortisol levels go down, and the person is likely to reevaluate the problem in a less-stressed light.
  •  Listen and understand. Don’t offer advice unless the person asks for it; simply legitimize his or her feelings. This can help subdue strong emotional reactions.

High levels of cortisol can lead to sleep problems, headaches, and poor concentration. High cortisol levels gradually wear the body down and contribute to poor health in general.

Your loving support for a loved one, if done correctly, can help him or her have better quality of life. It’s a gift you can keep giving all year long.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

“Forest bathing” for your health

There’s a video going around social media about the Japanese practice of “forest bathing,” and it’s a concept I believe in and love.

What is Japanese “forest bathing” and how can it improve your …

Need a boost? This is the power of a walk among the trees. Read more: http://wef.ch/2nWtXUR

Posted by World Economic Forum on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

 

The Japanese phrase for “forest bathing” — or taking in the forest atmosphere — is “shinrin-yoku,” and the government has been promoting it since the 1980s.

Japanese researchers have spent a lot of time studying the effects of shinrin-yoku. They’ve found that time spent in forest environments reduces feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger and improves energy. On the physiological front, it promotes lower levels of stress hormone, lower pulse, and lower blood pressure. Researchers have even found that forest bathing increases the activity of “natural killer” cells in the immune system. These cells respond to viruses and tumors. The scientists attribute the change to phytoncides, or the oils trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. As forest bathers inhale them, they’re inhaling better immune system health.

The concept behind forest bathing is one of the reasons I offer walking therapy sessions on the Boise greenbelt. Getting out in nature is good for the soul, and there’s science to prove it.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

 

Your body under emotional stress: It’s not pretty

Let’s talk about stress. You know it’s bad for you emotionally, but did you know it’s dangerous physically, too?

It’s true. When you’re stressed out and you repress it, the stress can resurface as a physical illness. You may even find yourself in the emergency room with chest pains and shortness of breath — a panic attack masquerading as a  heart attack.

While panic attacks won’t kill you immediately, the long term effects of your anxiety can. We’re talking about blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Stress contributes to each of those.

In the short term, you could experience pain in your head, chest, stomach, or muscles. You might feel fatigued and have trouble sleeping. You could see changes in your sex drive. You might take longer than usual to recover from illness.

You also have to watch out for harmful behavior that could be addictive. Some people self harm or turn to drugs and alcohol to escape their anxiety. Others find an outlet in shopping, gambling, or sexual behavior they later regret.

So you need to find healthy ways to fight your stress. You probably know better than anyone what relaxes you: Is it exercise? Doing art or another hobby? Being with family or friends? Getting a massage? Being in nature? Meditation?

Therapy can be so helpful. Your therapist can help you identify sources of stress and strategies for relieving it. Even just having someone to listen in a non-judgmental way while you talk about your problems can be a big help.

So if you’re stressed, come on in. Let’s talk about it.

Family stressors tied to ADHD

A link I’ve long suspected has now been confirmed by scientists: Children who come from homes with troubling conditions are more likely to have ADHD than their peers from non-troubled homes.

The parent survey analysis showed ADHD has the strongest connection with economic hardship, divorce, familial mental illness, neighborhood violence, and familial incarceration. More severe cases of ADHD were tied most strongly with economic hardship and familial mental illness.

Children who deal with situations like these can develop toxic levels of stress, which can impair their brain development, behavior, and overall physical and mental health.

This is another reason it’s so important to look at a complete picture when it comes to mental health. For someone dealing with stressors at home as well as ADHD, it would be easy to confuse responses to stress with ADHD symptoms. We need to be sure we’re treating the symptoms from the most informed perspective about where they’re coming from.

Your child’s general practitioner may not know to ask these questions when a child shows signs of ADHD. Make sure you’re involving a specialist when it comes to helping your child with his or her mental health.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.