A recent study released at Duke University Medical Center revealed there is a fixed pattern in the electrical signals of the brain predicting how well mice may cope with stress. The study, published by Nature Communications, the online research journal for chemical, physical, biological and Earth sciences, was senior-authored by Professor Kafui Dzirasa who specializes in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. The mice tested were genetically identical, but some reacted with different responses to stress, revealing the electrical pattern signaling a stress filled situation. It is possible from this research to identify individuals who are more susceptible to stressful situations and help them avoid depression, post-traumatic stress and psychiatric disorders resulting from chronic stress. Coping with stress can be a full-time occupation.
Two areas of the brain determine stress and fear responses in men as well as mice, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. These two areas of the brain control specific responses to fear and stress. The prefrontal cortex is associated with planning and high level functions of the brain. The amygdala is concerned with survival responses as in the “fight or flight” reaction. During stress or fear situations these areas of the brain interact and send electrical signals back and forth between them of varying excited levels. The higher the levels of excitement the more stressed the mice were.
For example, Dzirasa’s team placed a mouse wired with electrodes to the brain in a cage, and then a larger, more aggressive mouse was placed in the cage also. The test mouse was intimidated by the larger mouse for five minutes. The mouse was then situated in a separate cage next to the larger mouse for 23 hours and 55 minutes. This scene was repeated for 15 days. This one electrical signature is unique and can be identified whenever a mouse more susceptible to stress is placed in a stressful situation.
Another study conducted by developmental psychologist, Anthony Burrow, at Cornell University, tested whether or not people with a clear purpose handled stressed better than those without any specific goal. Burrow tested his subjects, college students with different ethnic and race backgrounds, by having them ride Chicago Transit Authority trains through different Chicago areas, recorded their emotions and different type of racial groups and ethic individuals boarded the trains.
One test group was instructed to commit to paper for about 10 minutes, what they thought the purpose of their lives were. The other test group was required to write what they remembered about the last movie they viewed.
When each group arrived at a stop they recorded any negative feelings they had. Stress levels, to some extent, depend upon how well a person is coping with the level of stress in their life.
The movie experience group wrote about having higher stress levels as more people of different race types boarded the train. The goal oriented or group with a sense of purpose, did not write about stress feelings at all. Research done previously in this area has noted people tend to have anxious feelings when a rise in the number of people forming a contrasting race element are thrown into the group. In other words, if people of one race outnumber a group of people from another race, the smaller group tends to become anxious or stressed if they do not have a set purpose or goal. Ethnically varied groups cause feelings of being socially isolated and stressed when some one does not have or feel they do not have a sense of direction or purpose that is meaningful to them.
In situations of stress the common flight or fight feelings come into play. However, having to meet a quota, or being stressed about a deadline is not the same as being accosted by a mugger or running into a bear in the woods. One becomes overburdened with adrenaline without a release mechanism to dissipate those feelings. This continuous behavior (chronic stress) wreaks havoc on a person’s body.
There are methods to relieve this build up of stress. One can take a time out, take a break, go for a short walk, stretch, or engage in some activity known to be a relaxer. A person may develop a relaxing breathing pattern when one recognizes the level of stress is ballooning. Some people have a regular inhale, exhale, count the breaths pattern of breathing until they are calm.
Many people find exercise, such as running as a great way to relieve stress. Another method of coping is the establishment of an emotional distance from stressful thoughts. Having perspective can release a great amount of worry.
Unplugging from the electronically motivated society currently being experienced is another way of coping. The withdrawal symptoms people experience from not having a constant phone connection subsides rather quickly, and helps preserve battery life, for the phone and the person. Disconnecting from all electronic elements, studies have shown, reduces the amount of stress while raising a person’s spirits. Stress and a person’s coping mechanisms play an important role when dealing with it everyday.
By Andy Towle