The teenage brain and how it works

February 16, 2011 by  

Just as nutrition in the early childhood years is crucial to a schoolchild’s IQ, the experiences of the adolescent brain can affect behavior as adult.

It was always assumed the brain is fully mature in adolescence. Recent research evidence however shows this is not so. According to Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Frances Jensen, “adolescent brains “are only about 80 percent of the way to maturity.” Full maturity is reached in the mid-20s or even later.

The adolescent brain (according to a report in Newsweek):

These properties of the adolescent brain explain risky behavior, insensitive remarks and other signs of thoughtlessness.

In the same period, the impressionable adolescent brain is high susceptible to environmental influences, especially peer pressure. It is during this period that strong relationships and social connections help navigates the so-called growing pains.

According to Dr. Mitch Prinstein, professor and director of clinical psychology, at the University of North Carolina in  Chapel Hill:

“The most potent predictors of why adolescents engage in all kinds of health-risk behaviors—substance use, sexual behavior, even recently, self-cutting—is very much related to how much they perceive that their close friends are doing the same thing, or someone that they consider very cool and popular is doing the same thing.”

Unfortunately, risk behavior in adolescence can have consequences in adult life. Those exposed early to high levels of alcohol will have the risk of having alcohol problems later in life.

A Harvard study found that kids who smoked pot before age 16 had more lifelong cognitive problems than those who started smoking after 16.

Other types of stressors, including bullying and abuse can reflect as posttraumatic stress in adult life and can even be passed on to the next generation. Peer rejection as teenager, for example, may translate into depressive symptoms.

Fortunately, strong relationships and coping skills can counterbalance the negative stressors: Examples of such coping skills are anticonformism and dabbling with delinquency without crossing the boundaries.

And the good news is that, despite our most susceptible brains at adolescence,  most of us – more than 90% in fact – turn out fine and outgrow the delinquency.

Walnuts against stress

October 14, 2010 by  

Here is another autumn health superstar that we shouldn’t forget about: WALNUTS.

This nut that closely resembles the brain has been shown to be good for heart health, a delicious brain food, and may even have some anti-cancer properties.

Latest research shows that walnuts may also be a great ally against stress that in turn adversely affects cardiovascular health. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University studied 22 health adults who were provided specially planned meals for 6 weeks (source: WebMD). Three types of diets were tested, as follows:

An “average American diet which did not include nuts

  • A diet with some fat and protein substituted with 1.3 ounces of walnuts (about 18 walnut halves) and a tablespoon of walnut oil.
  • A diet with some fat and protein substituted with walnuts, walnut oil, and 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil

Stress levels and blood pressure were measured at the end of each intervention.

Researcher and study author Dr. Sheila G. West explains the objective of the study:

“People who show an exaggerated biological response to stress are at higher risk of heart disease. We wanted to find out if omega 3-fatty acids from plant sources would blunt cardiovascular responses to stress.”

The results showed positive results in favor of diet rich in walnuts. Walnuts and walnut oil lowered both resting blood pressure and blood pressure responses to stress by 2 to 3 points.

Dr. West continues:

“This is the first study to show that walnuts and walnut oil reduce blood pressure during stress says. This is important because we can’t avoid all the stressors in our daily lives. [The study] shows that a dietary change could help our bodies better respond to stress.”

Indeed, many studies have shown that stress is very bad for cardiovascular health and promotes the development and progression of heart disease. There are many recommended interventions to reduce stress including physical exercise, yoga, some types of martial arts (e.g. tai chi) and music therapy. A healthy diet is also known to help counteract stressors and it seems that walnuts are one of them.

In addition, flaxseed oil added to the walnuts in the study also added improvement to vascular health. Flaxseed oil is another source of fat that is good for the heart. It seems that walnuts and flaxseed oil in our diet might be an unbeatable combination against stress and cardiovascular disease.

Anti-stress strategies: how to keep stressors at bay

August 11, 2010 by  
Filed under STRESS

Kids. Work. Relationships. These are things that can give color to our lives. They can also be a source of stress. Research has linked stress to many chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, depression, sleep disorders and ulcers. Stress also can aggravate diseases like cancer and mental disorders. According to Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, professor and director of integrative medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center:

“Chronic stress affects almost every system in our bodies and wreaks havoc on their functioning. It weakens the immune system, affects tumor development and makes it harder for your body to remain healthy.”

That is why we need to keep stressors at bay. Researchers at MD Anderson shares with us 5 tips on how to beat stress, as follows:

Share with us your anti-stress strategies. Let us from you!

In addition to these tips from MD Anderson, I have my own anti-stress strategies:

  • Watch a “feel good” film that you’ve seen before. There are films I love to watch over and over again – no surprises there anymore – that gives me such good feeling afterwards. My favorites are Forest Gump, A Beautiful Mind and Mama Mia. However, you shouldn’t get chilled in front of the TV that often as too much screen time is not good for your health.
  • Sit down with a favorite book. Here are my favorite volumes that I read over and over again: To Kill a Mocking Bird, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Frogs, Flies, and Dandelions, A Short History of Almost Everything.
  • Try out a new recipe. I go through my cookbooks and check out what’s yummy and healthy that I haven’t tried yet. With luck, I might come up with a masterpiece.

Share with us your anti-stress strategies. Let us from you!

Tackling Stress in the Modern World

October 22, 2007 by  
Filed under STRESS

In the fast-paced world nearly everyone lives in today, stress is an ever-present possibility. Just-in-time manufacturing, instant news from around the world, computers and a host of other modern technologies are a great benefit. But along with them comes quicker deadlines, instant notification of bad news and more communication to deal with.

But no one is going to slow down the world, nor would many of us want to. At the same time, it’s helpful to realize that with more technology comes more options. Some of those options allow us to find new ways to deal with the internal and external factors that can form the basis of stress.

You may be unlucky enough to have a boss who imposes unreasonable deadlines to meet pointless work milestones. But many have the option now to telecommute, work flexible hours and take extended leave for pregnancy and other family situations.

There may be myriad challenges in the modern world, but there are a variety of new tools to deal with them. Computers can pile up work faster, but they also allow us to get more done with less labor. They also enable us to find those with similar interests who may live thousands of miles away. In decades past, that would have been nearly impossible, except for the occasional convention in a distant city.

Psychology, though still in its infancy as a science, is starting to compile a set of good data on neurobiology, nutrition and a host of other factors relevant to stress. Figuring out useful treatments from this bewildering array of studies will take time, but progress is being made.

Sports and diet have become much more scientific than they were a generation or two ago. As tools to fight stress, exercise and a proper diet are now recognized as twins in one of the most effective strategies for combating stress.

While millions still work hard, basics like housing and food, transportation and medical treatment constitute a smaller percentage of income for most than they did in generations past. It’s not uncommon for two-driver families to have more than two vehicles today.

Certainly there is no shortage of potential stressors. To listen to the nightly newscast is to see a picture of a world about to come apart at the seams. And, yet, we endure. It may be that there is more to the lives most people live than we see on the TV.

Dealing with difficult problems is, well, difficult. But that need not lead to stress. That results from a viewpoint that sees the dilemma between “I must” and “I can’t” as unsolvable. But there are many more methods available today to overcome “I can’t” and much more freedom to deny that “I must.” Toss the dilemma aside and declare your independence from stress.

Stress and Alcohol

August 26, 2007 by  
Filed under STRESS

‘She drove me to drink’ used to be a popular phrase. Its essential meaning is that stress induces people to consume alcohol. While it’s true that stress can be an incentive to drink, it’s equally true that heavy alcohol consumption causes stress.

Moderate alcohol intake, to be sure, can have beneficial effects. Research suggests that small amounts can even improve mental functioning and increase performance in problem solving while stressed. But, there are also studies that demonstrate that large quantities, particularly when consumed for long periods, actually worsens stress.

Large alcohol consumption stimulates the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. One result is an increase in the amount of cortisol produced within the body. Another is an increase in adrenaline. Both those, while they don’t alone cause stress, play a large role in the symptoms.

Extreme stress makes it more difficult to concentrate. One of the obvious effects of high alcohol intake is to produce that exact effect. Thus, heavy drinkers get a double whammy just at the moment they need mental clarity most.

Other studies suggest that chronic drinkers have symptoms similar to those seen in children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Children of those drinkers, this research concludes, have a higher incidence of actual ADHD.

So, it may also be true that as much as the stress of parenting may lead to drinking, adult drinking may encourage the circumstances that incent the parent to drink. It may be a factor in producing children’s symptoms that lead to adult stress.

Exercise is known to help relieve the symptoms of stress. Unfortunately, one of the additional results of excessive alcohol consumption is decreased exercise. Few inebriated people want to go a few rounds on the weight machine.

Similarly, high alcohol intake suppresses appetite. Thus, at the same time alcoholic drinks pour in the calories, they decrease the incentive to maintain a healthy diet. Once again the drinker experiences a doubly negative reinforcing effect.

Those who drink excessively to escape stress motivated by money concerns find it more difficult to cope with the problem that caused the stress in the first place. Even simple tasks like balancing a checkbook are clearly more difficult when drunk. But beyond such minor details, the cognitive functions needed to develop long term strategies are impaired. Drinkers literally can’t think their way out of the problems causing the stress.

In all these cases there is a vicious cycle established. Stress encourages heavy drinking, which makes it more difficult to deal with the internal and external factors that led to stress in the first place. Though the specific numbers will vary from person to person, when the average individual drinks more than the equivalent of two or three shots of whiskey per day, the results are inevitably bad.

The key to breaking this vicious cycle is to seek alternative methods for dealing with stress. Both the symptoms and the underlying motivators are subject to change in almost all cases. Proper exercise and diet is a good beginning. A realistic attitude about life’s inherent challenges can go a long way, as well. But, as with any psychological problem, admitting it exists is the first necessary step.

Curing Stress – Techniques

August 24, 2007 by  
Filed under STRESS

No doubt it’s impractical to try to ‘cure’ stress in the sense of eliminating all occurrences. But there are several practical short-term and effective long-term strategies for minimizing it and its effects.

Most individuals under stress will let it build, ignoring it for too long. They cite the need to get a work project completed, or view their situation as unchangeable. “That’s life,” many will say. But no form of ill-effect is inevitable, nor is it necessary or wise to passively accept one.

The first step is always to increase awareness in two directions – outward and inward. Be conscious of your internal state and evaluate it as realistically as possible. Be objective about external circumstances. When you recognize a circumstance as legitimately worrisome, reacting with concern and a degree of stress is normal and healthy. Unreasonable fear and obsession are not.

Then, take a moment to breath – literally. One of the most common reactions to stress is tension, usually muscle tension. The neck muscles will stiffen and breathing will often be more shallow. Focus on this, check for it and, if present, consciously loosen up neck muscles with a gentle side to side motion of your head. Take a deep breath or two.

There’s no need to overdo the exercise. You’re not practicing yoga and you don’t want to hyperventilate. Slowly move the head and shoulders and relax the chest muscles. A slow deep breath or two is often enough to break the tension.

But those suggestions are effective primarily for acute stress – the type that is produced by an isolated event and lasts a short time. For chronic stress – that which results from ongoing circumstances and evaluations and persists – additional techniques are needed.

Something as simple and old-fashioned as a walk in the park can be helpful. It’s not simply an old wives tale that fresh air and sunshine can be relaxing. It’s also true that moderate exercise helps relieve many of the accompanying physical symptoms of stress.

Playing music of certain types is helpful. Seeing a comedy on TV or at the movies is beneficial. Laughter is a great mood lifter. A creative activity can be helpful, especially if there is some accompanying physical activity. It could be as simple as making a birdhouse or as advanced as painting or sculpture.

A talk with a sympathetic friend could be useful, but it’s a good idea not to spend too much time talking about the circumstances causing stress or the stress itself. A good airing is beneficial, but too many times it’s an excuse to obsess over the problem. Some people are too much inclined to seek out only those who will reinforce negative evaluations.

Just keep in mind that these are all techniques to help relieve symptoms, they don’t address the underlying causes. As such, they are only one (albeit important) component in curing stress. For that, more in-depth action is needed.

What Causes Stress?

August 21, 2007 by  
Filed under STRESS

One of the facts that makes identifying the causes of stress difficult is that they can be nearly anything and can differ from person to person.

Losing a job, ending a close relationship, discovering a health problem… in the modern world there is no shortage of possible initiators. Also, some people react to these facts very differently than others. While some will be anxious, others will be stoic. Some people may thrive on the challenge of finding a new love, others may feel lonely and despair at the odds of fulfilling their dream.

The causes are neither entirely external nor internal, but generally involve both.

Losing a job can be an occasion for stress. A person may see his or her income plummet and wonder where the next paycheck is going to come from. Another, even in the same job market, may see the change as an opportunity to move away from a less than ideal situation to one that will be better in the future.

Similarly, ending a close relationship – whether with a friend, a romantic partner, a valued family member – can be stressful. But very quickly, at least in some cases, a person can come to view the situation as involving less of a loss or more of a chance to find a new love. Reactions vary because individuals are unique. They interpret their experiences differently.

But, though different, individuals within a culture often share many similar views and a common outlook. Because individuals are individual humans, they also share common physical risks.

Nearly everyone will be stressed if they are confronted by a dangerous criminal. Severe health problems – radical cancer, debilitating arthritis or even ‘just’ a major operation – will rarely be met with calm acceptance, at least initially. Many non-threatening circumstances will be met with similar feelings as well. Unjust treatment at work by an unreasonable supervisor, disrespect by neighbors or just simple indifference to justice will cause stress for nearly anyone.

The underlying causes of stress often have less to do with the external circumstances than an individual’s expectations for the future and their evaluation of their own capacity to meet them.

If someone discovers the need to have a tumor removed, they may feel some stress. But, it can be less than another would feel if they believe their general health is good and they’ll come through well. Someone who loses a job may be concerned, but their confidence in their ability to obtain another quickly and easily can result in only minor stress.

These examples show that both the causes of stress and the degree and length of time it’s felt are a function of several factors. One of the major factors is the attitude of the person in the given situation. If you feel you can overcome serious hurdles quickly or without major loss, you will evaluate fewer external events as a cause for stress. When you do experience it, the degree of stress will be less.

The Stresses Our Bodies Go Through

May 11, 2007 by  
Filed under STRESS

By Markus Skupeika

You may not know it but we put our bodies through so much that we do not know how bad it is for us. Sometimes lifting heavy objects can cause back pain or even standing up all day at work can have the same effects. Sometimes these stresses may cause more harm later down the road such as arthritis. Then there are other pains that are natural such as premenstrual syndrome. This is a natural part of life and there are some products that can lift some of the pains of having these issues. For instance, if you work at a job that has you stand up all day or that you are just too busy to sit down can cause back pain. You may be wearing some shoes that are very uncomfortable and that will cause back and joint pain as well. Some jobs require you to lift heavy objects all day which will definitely because you back pain. Over a period of time this back pain can turn chronic and then turn into arthritis. There are many different pain medications that you can purchase that will help take some of these pains away. Sometimes the pain is so great that you cannot even get out of bed. Experiencing this pain is one thing, but trying to fight it ever day is even worse. Some people experience joint pain and bone pain due to past injuries or even work related labor. People who suffer from joint pain will usually be in so much pain that they cannot flex or move some part of their extremities. Joint pain occurs when the joints have been worn down too much that there is not cushion for the joints to operate. It is kind of like a car engine running without any oil. With no lubrication the joints will become brittle thus causing pain due the joint is moving with a lot of resistance. Another influence on muscle, back and joint pain is stress. No matter where you go there is always going to be an amount of stress. Most people have jobs that are really stressful. This does not only cause physical pain but it also causes mental pain as well. Ever hear of being mentally warn out? That is due to stress. Stress can also cause a person to not sleep well at night even if they think they are. Stress can even cause other health problems such as weight gain, mood swings, and nervous breakdowns. Stress can even make a person loose to much weight because they may not have time to eat properly. Stress is a big influence on a person’s health. There are many products on the market that can help fight or maybe even cure stress, arthritis , and joint pain. There may not be a way to cure the pain but there are some products that can help with the pain. Some need prescriptions to obtain the medication and some you can buy over the counter. Some you can even find on the internet and actually have it shipped to your doorstep With all the amount of stress that our normal daily routine causes us it is amazing how our bodies can withstand it. By finding the right products we may not be able to cure it but we may be able to fight it.

Learn how to fight arthritis pain and find out how to relieve joint pain. Find out where to look to purchase medication to prevent pain from arthritis or joint pain .

The Effects of Stress on the Brain

April 12, 2007 by  
Filed under STRESS

By Leon Edward

When the human body first experiences stress adrenaline takes over and causes a chain-reaction within the nervous system. The heart begins to beat faster, the sizes of the body’s blood vessels are changed, and the body actually prepares itself for a frightening or emotional event. Even though the humans that are in existence today aren’t in constant physical danger from wild predators as our pre-historic ancestors were, we still experience this familiar fight-or-flight reaction due to a great deal of different types of stressors.

There are two main types of stress experienced by humans, either chronic or that which is emergency-induced. The chronic type of stress can be particularly harmful to the brain because of hormones and chemicals referred to as glucocorticoids or GC’s. When the body experiences a rush of adrenaline which is accompanied by stress, a portion of our brain called the adrenal cortex begins to release these GC’s which are useful for dealing with the emergency-type of stressors.

Chemicals such as cortisol, hydrocortisone, and corticosterone act together to increase the production of glucose, constrict blood vessels and essentially help our brains deal with or regulate stress. The GC’s tell our brain either to calm down or to boost its levels of awareness and reaction in order to deal with the issue at hand. These glucocorticoids also affect memory functioning, especially in the hippocampus region of the brain.

While the GC’s may help us remember frightening or stressful events so that we are better able to deal with them in the future, they can also be harmful to the delicate neurons of the brain. Prolonged periods of stress or depression may actually lead to the damage or even the death of certain neurons, especially those within the memory center of the brain.

It’s important to remember that different people react differently to stressors; one person may be able to move on from a trying event while another may suffer from serious psychological effects from a similar event or situation. Learning if your stress is chronic or acute is critical for counteracting the negative affects it has on the brain. Those people who are prone to anger, anxiety, depression, and who suffer from low self-esteem are far more likely to experience damage to the brain than their calmer, more relaxed peers.

Most every one of us experiences bouts of depression or periods of “the blues” at some point in our lives, but a person who is constantly angry or depressed may require medical or professional assistance. While it may be possible to recover from depression through various means such as drug therapy or counseling, the long-term affects on the brain are still largely unknown. Doctors have recently reported that as many as fifty percent of patients who experienced periods of major depression also possessed high levels of cortisol, which as we know can have negative effects on the brain and it’s cells.

A recent study conducted by The Washington University School of Medicine located in St. Louis, Missouri has shown conclusive evidence of damage to the brain’s neurons in people suffering from depression. Even those people who had been depressed years prior to the testing still showed signs of brain damage, as much as 12-15% cell atrophy in their hippocampus, resulting in the loss of an infinite number of memory cells.

Aerobic exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress and its negative effects on the brain. By engaging in some sort of physical activity the body is able to relax, relieve levels of tension and stress, and burn off nervous energy all at the same time. Endorphins, which are the “feel good” chemicals produced within the brain, are dramatically increased when we exercise which in turn makes both the body and the mind feel better. Not surprisingly, self-esteem can also even be lifted with regular exercise as well as an increased overall body image.

In his book “Saving Your Brain” Dr. Jeff Victoroff theorizes that the cultural evolution and fast-pace of today’s society has essentially overwhelmed the capabilities of the brain. However, by simply relaxing, slowing ourselves down and learning how to better deal with the common stressors of every day life we can literally save ourselves from brain damage.

Leon Edward helps people reducing stress and improve IQ, focus, memory, concentration, creativity, speed reading, public speaking, time management .Download his IQ Mind Brain Memory Self-Help library at his website

Leon Edward helps people improve in Goal Setting, Success, Leadership, Motivation, Self-Improvement, Happiness, Memory Improvement, Stress Management and more through his articles, blogs, reports and self-help success roladex-on-line. Visit his Success-Leadership Library, Articles and blog at

Leon Edward Helps people to start, grow and maximize online business income with training articles, reviews, marketing log… ideas and opportunities. Download his FREE Report – How to Find A Solid Home Business Opportunity without Getting Scammed! – Find online business training articles, an internet business in a box, FREE Content, starting a business free ideas, residual internet income opportunities and top network marketing home based businesses… all at

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Stress Symptoms

January 16, 2007 by  
Filed under STRESS

By Donovan Baldwin

You would think that anyone knows when they are under stress, but that is not always so. The symptoms can sometimes be difficult to spot, particularly by the afflicted person. It’s a bit like being drunk. The drunker someone is, the more signs of drunkenness they may be exhibiting but because of their inebriated state, they are the ones least likely to pick up on the symptoms and react to them. Of course, each of us is different, and, just as some people seem able to handle their liquor pretty well, and/or know when they have reached their limit, some people can spot the signs telling them that trouble is brewing.

It can be important to pick up on these stress symptoms in yourself, or in others. If stress, particularly chronic stress, is allowed to continue unchecked, it can contribute to a wide range of physical ills or unhealthy conditions such as ulcers, insomnia, heart disease as well as relationship problems, just to name a few. Of course, any stress, chronic or acute (immediate) can interfere with judgment, concentration, and logical thought processes.

Stress symptoms can be broken down in a number of classifications, but for the purposes of this article, we will look at them from the viewpoint of physical, emotional, behavioral, and psychological symptoms. Keep in mind, of course, that sometimes it can be difficult to separate an emotional symptom from a psychological one and vice-versa, or a physical symptom from a psychological or emotional one, and one set of symptoms may create other problems and their own set of symptoms. Also, simply treating the symptom is seldom likely to have any great effect on the root cause of the problem although it might provide a temporary respite during which permanent changes can be worked on.

Physical Stress Symptoms: These consist of outward manifestations of inward stress and include such things as poor concentration, fatigue, skin problems, headache, insomnia or sleeplessness, sweaty palms, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, stomach and digestive problems, pounding heart, constipation, and diarrhea.

Emotional Stress Symptoms: Mood swings, irritability, nervousness, moodiness, hostility, depression, anxiety, excessive seriousness, poor and/or irrational judgment and mistakes while performing simple math and logic functions can be indicators of the existence of stress.

Behavioral Stress Symptoms: All types of anti-social behavior where they did not exist previously can indicate a high level of stress. We see things such as road rage, increased use of alcohol, and getting into altercations with co-workers, friends, and family.

Psychological or Mental Stress Symptoms: These types of signs include low self esteem, fuzzy thinking or perception, and negative self-talk (You are So stupid). Although this could seem to be a physical symptom of stress, exhibiting the symptoms of actual diseases which do not exist is really a psychological effort to manifest the stress in a physical manner.

This is not a doctoral thesis on the subject of stress symptoms, but just a small discussion of some signs that may manifest themselves in such a situation. While it is important to realize that these MAY be indicating the existence of stress, they may also be the indications of other conditions as well. For example, a brain tumor could cause headaches and a change in behavior such as outlined in the paragraph on behavioral stress symptoms. As with any illness or condition, early detection and proper intervention by trained personnel, with the cooperation of the individual, is probably going to yield the quickest and easiest resolution to the situation and relief from the root affliction.

Donovan Baldwin is a Dallas area writer and a University Of West Florida alumnus (1973) with a BA in accounting and a keen interest in health, self improvement, happiness, and success. He is also a member of Mensa and has held several managerial positions over the years. After retiring from the U. S. Army in 1995, he became interested in internet marketing and developed various successful online businesses. He has been writing poetry, articles, and essays for over 40 years, and now frequently publishes articles on his own websites and for use by other webmasters. He has a website with more information on the subject of stress at .

He also has a blog where he posts comments related to various health issues at .

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Stress linked to nurses’ health problems: study

December 11, 2006 by  
Filed under STRESS

Work stress, low autonomy and lack of respect have been linked, at higher than average rates, to health problems among Canada’s 314,900 nurses, says a new study by Statistics Canada.

Thirty-one per cent of nurses reported a high work stress — defined as when their job’s psychological demands exceeded their discretion in deciding how to do their work. The average rate among all employed women is 26 per cent.

“We believe that the core reason for much of these findings is the fact that there is job overload,” Marlene Smadu, President of the Canadian Nurses Association, told Canada AM on Monday. “Nurses go into work repeatedly when they are short-staffed.”

The study, based on findings from the 2005 National Survey of the Work and Health of Nurses, showed job strain was strongly connected to fair or poor physical and mental health among nurses. Seventeen per cent of nurses who perceived high job strain reported 20 or more sick days in the past year, compared to 12 per cent of nurses who perceived less job strain.

“Better pay is not actually the solution, if you asked any nurse right now they’d say they actually want more nurses in the workplace, paying me more to do really difficult work doesn’t make my work life any better,” said Smadu.

Smadu said most nurses are too stressed to handle full-time work.



Liz Strauss and Stress Management

December 5, 2006 by  
Filed under STRESS

Why is Stress Harmful?

April 14, 2006 by  
Filed under STRESS

By Stuart Nelson

The Mechanism When something happens to trigger feelings of stress in us, our body is programmed to make certain adjustments to our normal state. Indeed, our body chemistry changes quite fundamentally every time we react to stress. These adjustments probably have their origin in our distant ancestors, whose lifestyle was quite different from our own.

Imagine you are a caveman or cavewoman, going about your business of collecting wood for a fire. Suddenly you are confronted by a sabre-toothed tiger, or some other horror. What are you to do? You have three options:

1. Stay and fight.

2. Run away.

3. Give up and allow yourself to be eaten.

At this stage, because stress is quite literally “something in your head”, the first signs of danger have been detected by a part of your brain called the amygdale.

The next stage is that other brain areas will evaluate the threat’s importance, decide how to respond and remember when and where the danger occurred, thereby reducing the risk of meeting the same threat again.

You are most unlikely to choose the third option. Human beings, along with most living creatures, have a natural instinct for self-preservation. Hence you are much more likely to fight or flee.

Which you choose will depend on a number of factors, such as how fast you can run, how fast you believe the tiger can run, whether you are experienced in fighting foes of this kind, and your belief in yourself, or lack of it.

Fortunately for your body, fighting and fleeing have one thing in common: they both demand a great deal of energy. Hence the body can easily make specific adjustments to suit either choice, and that is precisely what it does. This phenomenon is known as the Fight or Flight Response (“FFR”).

Fight or Flight Response Much remains unknown about how the brain and the immune system interact, but what is clear so far is that once a trigger for stress has been recognised by the amygdale, a chain of events results in the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands.

The significance of cortisol is that at normal levels it enhances the immune system by increasing the production of cytokines to fight inflammation. However, when stress is detected, the levels of cortisol rise. This causes the immune system to stop operating (or, in some cases, to misfire). It appears also to trigger the release by the pancreas of the hormones, insulin and glucagon, and the release by the liver of glucose-tolerance factor, a substance that aids the insulin in carrying fuel in the form of glucose from the blood and into the body.

The glucagon is responsible for topping up the blood sugar if levels fall too low. Simultaneously, levels of adrenalin and noradrenalin, the so-called ‘fight or flight’ hormones, are raised and pumped round the body to provide extra resources of energy and speed in case of need in the Fight or Flight, and to divert resources from bodily functions, such as digestion, which are not essential for immediate self-preservation.

The effect of the fight or flight hormones is to:

raise blood pressure

increase heartbeat

restrict blood flow to the skin, to lessen the risk of bleeding profusely if injured (the blood thickens).

reduce stomach activity, causing a feeling of ‘butterflies’

increase perspiration, to keep the skin cool.

change the breathing.

dilate the pupils.

tense muscles.

These things occur within seconds.

Undoubtedly, all these adjustments will be useful if we face a threat from a sabre-toothed tiger, and they could still be useful in modern times if, for example, we are attacked by a mugger in the street, but their use is highly questionable if the trigger for our stress is less life-threatening, such as the frustration of standing in a queue, or dealing with rowdy children.

The fact is that the body is unable to distinguish between life-threatening and other triggers of stress. It matters not if you are stressed through pressure at work or by a falling tree that threatens to flatten you. In either case, you will be given increased levels of cortisol and fight or flight hormones.

The difference between the two situations that I have just mentioned is that in the case of the falling tree, the result will be appropriate preparation of our organs and muscles for the emergency, whilst in the case of the work pressure, we shall be left with unwanted chemicals in our body and an immune system that is turned off or damaged. You feel wound up but can find no release. Indeed, because energy was diverted away from the normal maintenance and repair functions of the body, such as digestion, cleansing and rejuvenating, the result is that the stressful thought has caused us to age a little. Every second that we spend in a stressful state speeds up the aging process.

If you have been concentrating on the matter in hand, you may have detected in the last paragraph an unexpected assertion that the immune system might be damaged. This is a reference to something already mentioned, namely the possibility of a misfire of the immune system caused by high levels of cortisol. For reasons that are not yet understood, high levels of cortisol may sometimes reduce but not close down the immune system completely. When this occurs, the production of cytokines continues, but it changes in function so that it begins to promote inflammation instead of fight it. The cytokines involved in this distorted process have been linked by scientists to heart disease, depression, strokes and other diseases.

The results of chronic stress Some of the results of continuous stress can be predicted from what we know already about FFR. The turning off of the immune system will allow us to catch colds and other viruses more easily. We shall more readily catch infections if we are injured and our wounds will take longer to heal. Increases in blood pressure will cause headaches. Back injuries will become more common and we shall succumb to stomach problems.

Imagine too, the effects of having your pituitary, your pancreas, your adrenals and your liver continuously pumping out chemicals to control blood sugar that you do not need. Over time, your body begins to wear out and to become unbalanced. Levels of the anti-aging hormone, adrenal and of cortisol begin to fall and your resilience to stress is destroyed.

Moreover, the results will fuel the feelings of stress in themselves. Headaches and infections make us feel worse than ever and if the original causes of stress are still operating on us, we are taken to a new and higher level of stress.

Our energy levels fall and we lose concentration, and become confused and irritable. We may even freak out. Sleeping patterns are disturbed. It is hard to get to sleep, and hard to wake up. We begin to sweat much more than usual.

The Heart Under chronic stress, fat is deposited at our waist, rather than on our hips and buttocks. This raises the risk of heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Such problems are serious health-care issues. In the UK, 235,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease (heart problems and stroke). In addition, over a million people suffer from angina.

Research in 1999 showed that women in high demand or low control jobs were more than 70% more likely to suffer coronary heart disease than women who had jobs involving high levels of control. Moreover, men in low control jobs were 50% more likely to develop heart problems than men with high levels of control.

It must not be thought that stress is the only cause of heart disease, but it appears increasingly to be an important contributory factor.

The British Heart Foundation cites research that shows that people who work while suffering depression or who work with volatile colleagues are more likely than not to develop heart problems. Moreover, they add that stress can cause angina in people who already have heart disease. Their view is supported by the American Heart Association, which suggests that there is a “relationship between the risk of cardiovascular disease and environmental and psychosocial factors”.

In some extreme cases, stress has been found to cause fatal heart attacks. For instance, it was reported in the British Medical Journal in 2000 that more men died of heart attacks on the day when the Dutch soccer team was knocked out of the European Football Championship than on a normal day.

The same publication, in 1998, described how men working long hours in Japan were more at risk of heart attacks than those working modest hours.

The Link with Mental Health People have associated depression with heart problems since time immemorial. Even Shakespeare, and Chaucer before him, talked of a broken heart when describing depression. But what evidence is there of a real connection between depression and heart disease?

In 1998, a study of the lives of 1,190 medical students tracked over 37 years revealed that being depressed had the effect of doubling the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

On the face of things, therefore, the link between depression and heart disease seems to be proven. But what of anxiety, the other mental symptom of stress? This too has been linked with heart problems.

In 1997, a study of 1,457 men was published in the British Medical Journal. It reported that those who suffered phobic anxiety were nearly four times more at risk of a fatal heart attack than those without anxiety.

Even more concerning is a study published in the journal, Circulation, in 1997, which disclosed that mild worrying almost doubled the risk of heart problems, and that high levels of worrying increased the risk to two and half times.

Some American research has even found a link between stress and the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Link with Personality An increased risk of heart disease was identified some years ago in people of ‘Type A’ personality. Such people are competitive and prone to stress. A trait of the personality is shortness of temper. In 1996, the Psychological Bulletin disclosed that hostility and anger increases the risk of heart disease. Indeed, knowing as we do of the way the immune system is turned of during FFR, it should not surprise us to learn that the article went on to mention a link also with physical illness, such as back injury.

Certainly, angry outbursts can trigger a heart attack. In 1995, an study reported in Circulation revealed that intense anger doubled the risk of an attack. Moreover, hostility was linked with increased blood pressure, which can, of course, lead in its turn to heart problems and strokes.

Incidentally, whilst it is not true that high blood pressure is permanently produced by stress, unless the stress is chronic, it is true that blood pressure is raised for much longer periods than the duration of the stress, thereby increasing the risk of heart failure and strokes.

Cancer The link between stress and cancer has been believed by non-medical people for many years. But what is the truth about it?

At the time of writing, the website of Cancer Research UK contains no fewer than 34 articles containing reference to the immune system. The references appear to occur in two different aspects. First is the boosting of the immune system to overcome cancer. Secondly, there is mention of failure of the immune system as a cause of cancer.

For instance, in an article on lymphoma, one risk factor is reduced immunity. Typically this could result from the taking of immune system suppressing drugs after an organ transplant, or from bacterial or viral infections. On the other hand, it could as well result from chronic stress.

Indeed,, a Spanish website published in Spanish and English, claims to be a comprehensive directory of links to websites on the subject of the human immune system. Of 378 distinct links, no less than 176 relate to cancer or one sort or another.

We can surely conclude from this that the link between stress, as the cause of dysfunction of the immune system, and cancer can be established.

Conclusion Some doctors take the view that almost all disease can be attributed to stress, at least in part.

In 2000, a survey on stress was commissioned by Channel 4. a British, independent television channel. More than 500 adults and young people (over 16) in employment were interviewed.

Among other questions, the subjects of the survey were asked to list symptoms of physical illness that they had suffered in the previous year as a result of stress. These were the results:

• irritability (29%)

• changes in sleep patterns (29%)

• inability to relax (28%)

• changes in eating patterns (18%)

• inability to concentrate (17%)

• anxiety or depression (16%)

• physical illness (8%)

• memory loss (8%)

• substance misuse i.e. drugs/drinking or smoking too much (5%).

It should not surprise us, therefore, to know that the survey also reported that 20% of those interviewed considered that stress at work was causing their families to suffer. This was even more of a problem for people with children (26%) and for people who were widowed, divorced or separated (27%).

Dr. Nisha Jackson, of Oregon, USA, a nurse practitioner specialising in hormonal balance, said in 2005 that in the past ten years of practice, she had noticed a pattern in thirty-five to fifty-year old women. She reported changes in their physical, emotional and mental health. Increasingly, this group were complaining of “fatigue, depression, PMS, weight gain, repeated flu-like symptoms, cravings, anger, and just not feeling well.” These changes she attributed to increases in stress.

Stress in the pregnant mother has even been found to affect the unborn child. Research has shown that if the mother is very anxious, the baby will tend to be smaller or to be born prematurely. One particular London hospital study revealed that cortisol passes from anxious mothers to their unborn babies and may lead to those babies being more prone to stress in later life.

Another, perhaps unforeseen effect of stress on family dynamics is child abuse. According to the University of Missouri Extension, a branch of the university that reaches out to Missouri residents beyond Columbia with distance learning programs and other outreach efforts, teenage mothers are especially prone to abusing their children. Stress is a major component in the high risk.

Indeed, the possibilities for stress disrupting personal and family life must be countless. Nor can we count the cost of stress in terms of leading to accidents at work or on the road; of leading to smoking or to substance abuse (drugs or alcohol) with consequent, often fatal, risks to health, quite apart from those to the heart, already discussed.

If your experience of stress is mild, you will have the ability to conquer it by using stress management techniques. However, for those with more serious problems, you require outside help. Doctors, themselves a highly stressed group, do not always have the answer.

Stuart E. Nelson LL.B., Diplomas in Business Excellence and Life Coaching, is the founder of StressKill Services, providers of innovative forms of stress control. They provide an ascending range of products and services to suit all levels of seriousness, from e-books and e-courses to live training and coaching. They also print “Success Story”, a FREE newsletter, containing lots of information and tips about stress and about life. It contains news of the latest developments too. SIGN UP NOW! Mail to

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.