Chapter 15. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress

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By Jade Wu What do the sounds of whispering, crinkling paper, and tapping fingernails have in common? What about the sight of soft paint brushes on skin, soap being gently cut to pieces, and hand movements like turning the pages of a book? Well, if you are someone who experiences the autonomous sensory meridian response—or ASMR, for short—you may recognize these seemingly ordinary sounds and sights as “triggers” for the ASMR experience. No idea what I’m talking about? Don’t worry, you’re actually in the majority. Most people, myself included, aren’t affected by these triggers. But what happens to those who are? What is the ASMR experience? It’s described as a pleasantly warm and tingling sensation that starts on the scalp and moves down the neck and spine. ASMR burst onto the Internet scene in 2007, according to Wikipedia, when a woman with the username “okaywhatever” described her experience of ASMR sensations in an online health discussion forum. At the time, there was no name for this weird phenomenon. But by 2010, someone called Jennifer Allen had named the experience, and from there, ASMR became an Internet sensation. Today, there are hundreds of ASMR YouTubers who collectively post over 200 videos of ASMR triggers per day, as reported by a New York Times article in April, 2019. Some ASMR YouTubers have become bona fide celebrities with ballooning bank accounts, millions of fans, and enough fame to be stopped on the street for selfies. There’s been some controversy. Some people doubt whether this ASMR experience is “real,” or just the result of recreational drugs or imagined sensations. Some have chalked the phenomenon up to a symptom of loneliness among Generation Z, who get their dose of intimacy from watching strangers pretend to do their makeup without having to interact with real people. Some people are even actively put off by ASMR triggers. One of my listeners, Katie, said that most ASMR videos just make her feel agitated. But another listener, Candace, shared that she has been unknowingly chasing ASMR since she was a child watching BBC. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Hearing; Emotions
Link ID: 26873 - Posted: 12.05.2019

By David Brooks This has been a golden age for brain research. We now have amazing brain scans that show which networks in the brain ramp up during different activities. But this emphasis on the brain has subtly fed the illusion that thinking happens only from the neck up. It’s fed the illusion that the advanced parts of our thinking are the “rational” parts up top that try to control the more “primitive” parts down below. So it’s interesting how many scientists are now focusing on the thinking that happens not in your brain but in your gut. You have neurons spread through your innards, and there’s increasing attention on the vagus nerve, which emerges from the brain stem and wanders across the heart, lungs, kidney and gut. The vagus nerve is one of the pathways through which the body and brain talk to each other in an unconscious conversation. Much of this conversation is about how we are relating to others. Human thinking is not primarily about individual calculation, but about social engagement and cooperation. One of the leaders in this field is Stephen W. Porges of Indiana University. When you enter a new situation, Porges argues, your body reacts. Your heart rate may go up. Your blood pressure may change. Signals go up to the brain, which records the “autonomic state” you are in. Maybe you walk into a social situation that feels welcoming. Green light. Your brain and body get prepared for a friendly conversation. But maybe the person in front of you feels threatening. Yellow light. You go into fight-or-flight mode. Your body instantly changes. Your ear, for example, adjusts to hear high and low frequencies — a scream or a growl — rather than midrange frequencies, human speech. Or maybe the threat feels like a matter of life and death. Red light. Your brain and body begin to shut down. According to Porges’s “Polyvagal Theory,” the concept of safety is fundamental to our mental state. People who have experienced trauma have bodies that are highly reactive to perceived threat. They don’t like public places with loud noises. They live in fight-or-flight mode, stressed and anxious. Or, if they feel trapped and constrained, they go numb. Their voice and tone go flat. Physical reactions shape our way of seeing and being. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 26869 - Posted: 12.04.2019

By Austin Frakt Some days I’m grumpy; other times, my head hurts or my feet or my arms do. Yet when I play the trumpet, my mood improves and the pain disappears. Why? Alternative medicine — including music therapy — is full of pain-relief claims. Although some are simply too good to be true, the oddities of pain can explain why others hold up, as well as why my trumpet playing helps. One thing we tend to believe about pain, but is wrong, is that it always stems from a single, fixable source. Another is that pain is communicated from that source to our brains by “pain nerves.” That’s so wrong it’s called “the naïve view” by neuroscientists. In truth, pain is in our brain. Or as the author and University of California, San Diego, neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran put it, “Pain is an opinion.” We feel it because of how our brain interprets input transmitted to it from all our senses, not necessarily because of the inherent properties of the input itself. There are no nerves dedicated to sensing and transmitting pain. Anyone who has willed themselves to not feel a tickle as ticklish can appreciate the difference between stimulation and our perception of it. Pain can be experienced and relieved in phantom limbs. Discomfort and swelling increase when people believe a painful hand or knee is larger. They decrease when it seems smaller, for example in a distorted image or based on virtual reality technology. Injections are less painful when we don’t watch them. Using our brains, we can exert some control over it. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Emotions
Link ID: 26865 - Posted: 12.02.2019

By Sofie Bates In multiple sclerosis, barriers that guard the brain become leaky, allowing some disease-causing immune cells to invade. Now scientists have identified a key molecule in the process that helps B cells breach the barriers. ALCAM, a protein produced by B cells, helps the immune cells sneak into the central nervous system, researchers report November 13 in Science Translational Medicine. Tests in mice and in artificial human brain barriers show that B cells without ALCAM, or activated leukocyte cell adhesion molecule, had trouble getting through the brain’s barriers. And in mice with a disease with some characteristics similar to MS, blocking ALCAM seemed to alleviate the disease’s severity. These early results indicate that the protein may be a good target for new treatments for multiple sclerosis in people, the researchers say. “This is a very important puzzle piece in how we understand multiple sclerosis,” says David Leppert, a neurologist at the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland who was not involved in the work. “How it translates into clinical applications is yet another question.” Worldwide, over 2.3 million people have multiple sclerosis, including nearly 1 million adults in the United States. Scientists think that rogue immune cells invade the brain and strip away the protective coating on nerve cells — leading to neurological issues and physical disability as the disease progresses. There’s no cure, and treatments don’t work for advanced stages of multiple sclerosis. Scientists have developed over a dozen medications to treat MS symptoms (SN: 11/29/17), one of which uses antibodies to destroy the body’s B cells. But that approach weakens patients’ immune systems, opening the door for future infections or cancer. In the new study, the researchers are instead focusing on preventing disease-causing B cells from entering the brain. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 26859 - Posted: 11.29.2019

Correspondent Lesley Stahl Who among us hasn't wished we could read someone else's mind, know exactly what they're thinking? Well that's impossible, of course, since our thoughts are, more than anything else, our own. Private, personal, unreachable. Or at least that's what we've always, well, thought. Advances in neuroscience have shown that, on a physical level, our thoughts are actually a vast network of neurons firing all across our brains. So if that brain activity could be identified and analyzed, could our thoughts be decoded? Could our minds be read? Well, a team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has spent more than a decade trying to do just that. We started our reporting on their work 10 years ago, and what they've discovered since, has drawn us back. In Carnegie Mellon's scanner room, two floors underground, a steady stream of research subjects come to have their brains and thoughts "read" in this MRI machine. It's a type of scanning called functional MRI, FMRI. That looks at what's happening inside the brain as a person thinks. Marcel Just: It's like being an astronomer when the first telescope is discovered, or being a biologist when the first microscope is-- is developed. Neuroscientist Marcel Just says this technology has made it possible for the first time to see the physical makeup of our thoughts. When we first visited Dr. Just's lab ten years ago, he and his team had conducted a study. They put people in the scanner and asked them to think about ten objects, five of them tools like screwdriver and hammer and five of them dwellings like igloo and castle, while measuring activity levels throughout their brains. The idea was to crunch the data and try to identify distinctive patterns of activity for each object. Lesley Stahl: You had them think about a screwdriver. Marcel Just: Uh-huh. Lesley Stahl: And the computer found the place in the brain where that person was thinking "screwdriver?" Marcel Just: Screwdriver isn't one place in the brain. It's many places in the brain. When you think of a screwdriver, you think about how you hold it, how you twist it, what it looks like… Lesley Stahl: And each of those functions are in different places? Marcel Just: Correct. He showed us that by dividing the brain into thousands of tiny cubes and analyzing the amount of activity in each one, his team was able to identify unique patterns for each object. © 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.

Keyword: Emotions; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26853 - Posted: 11.26.2019

Ashley P. Taylor Autoimmune diseases tend to ease up during pregnancy, and for women with multiple sclerosis, physicians have documented fewer relapses of the condition while women are pregnant compared to before and after having a baby. Anecdotally, many MS patients also feel better when they’re expecting. Researchers believe that this happens because during pregnancy, the body reins in its immune response so as to not reject the fetus—and in doing so counteracts autoimmune diseases. But as to how exactly this all works, scientists are uncertain. “Obviously, everybody would love to understand why it happens because if you could bottle that property of pregnancy, perhaps you could use it therapeutically,” Adrian Erlebacher, a reproductive immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco, tells The Scientist. To investigate why this happens in pregnant women with multiple sclerosis (MS), Stefan Gold, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Neuroimmunology and Multiple Sclerosis at the Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, in Hamburg, Germany, and colleagues examined T cell populations in 11 MS patients before, during, and after pregnancy and in 12 women without MS during and after pregnancy. They categorized the T cells into different groups based on a genetic analysis of the cells’ receptors. In the first trimester, they found, MS patients’ T cells were dominated by just a few types, called clones, each with a different T cell receptor. Between the first and third trimesters, those dominant clones declined in abundance, and T cells became more evenly distributed across the different populations, Gold says. In women without MS, the pregnancy-associated changes in the T cell repertoire were not significant. Gold and his colleagues reported their results in Cell Reports on October 22. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 26830 - Posted: 11.19.2019

By Jane E. Brody There‌ are‌ ‌some‌ ‌crimes‌ ‌that‌ ‌are‌ almost‌ ‌impossible‌ ‌to‌ ‌forget. ‌ ‌ For‌ me, ‌they‌ ‌include‌ ‌the‌ ‌death‌ ‌in‌ ‌1999‌ ‌of‌ ‌Kendra‌ ‌Webdale, ‌an‌ ‌aspiring‌ ‌young‌ ‌journalist‌ ‌who‌ ‌was‌ ‌pushed‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌New‌ ‌York‌ ‌subway‌ ‌train‌ ‌by‌ ‌a‌ ‌29-year-old‌ ‌man‌ ‌with‌ ‌schizophrenia‌ ‌who‌ ‌had‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌taking‌ ‌his‌ ‌medication. ‌That‌ ‌same‌ ‌year, ‌two‌ ‌mentally‌ ‌ill‌ ‌teenage‌‌‌ ‌boys‌ ‌massacred‌ ‌12‌ ‌students‌ ‌and‌ ‌one‌ ‌teacher‌ ‌at‌ ‌Columbine‌ ‌High‌ ‌School‌ ‌in‌ ‌Colorado. ‌ ‌ Thirteen‌ ‌years‌ ‌later, ‌a‌ ‌seriously‌ ‌emotionally‌ ‌disturbed‌ ‌20-year-old‌ ‌man‌ ‌murdered‌ ‌20‌ ‌young‌ ‌children‌ ‌and‌ ‌six‌ ‌adults‌ ‌at‌ ‌Sandy‌ ‌Hook‌ ‌Elementary‌ ‌School‌ ‌in‌ ‌Connecticut. ‌This‌ ‌year, ‌a‌ ‌homeless‌ ‌24-year-old‌ ‌man‌ ‌bludgeoned‌ ‌four‌ ‌men‌ ‌to‌ ‌death‌ ‌while‌ ‌they‌ ‌slept‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌streets‌ ‌of‌ ‌my‌ ‌city. ‌ ‌ Although‌ ‌New York is now far‌ ‌safer‌ ‌than‌ ‌when‌ ‌I‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌child‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌1940s‌ ‌and‌ ‌’50s‌ ‌who‌ ‌walked‌ ‌to‌ ‌and‌ ‌from‌ ‌school‌ ‌unescorted, ‌like‌ ‌most‌ ‌big‌ ‌cities, ‌it still‌ ‌harbors‌ ‌untold‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌of‌ ‌men‌ ‌and‌ ‌women‌ ‌with‌ ‌known‌ ‌or‌ ‌undiagnosed‌ ‌severe‌ ‌mental‌ ‌illness‌ ‌that‌ ‌can‌ ‌and‌ ‌should‌ ‌be‌ ‌treated‌ ‌before‌ ‌yet‌ ‌another‌ ‌personal‌ ‌or‌ ‌societal‌ ‌tragedy‌ ‌occurs. ‌ ‌ What, ‌I‌ ‌wondered, ‌is‌ ‌or‌ ‌can‌ ‌be‌ ‌done‌ ‌to‌ ‌help‌ ‌them‌ ‌and‌ ‌avert‌ ‌further‌ ‌disasters? ‌ ‌ Contrary‌ ‌to‌ ‌politically‌ ‌motivated‌ ‌claims, ‌I‌ ‌learned‌ ‌that‌ ‌people‌ ‌with‌ ‌serious‌ ‌mental‌ ‌ills‌ ‌are‌ ‌not‌ ‌necessarily‌ ‌prone‌ ‌to‌ ‌commit‌ ‌violent‌ acts‌ ‌ — ‌they‌ ‌are‌ ‌far‌ ‌more‌ ‌likely‌ ‌to‌ ‌become‌ ‌‌victims‌‌ ‌of‌ ‌crime. ‌Rather, ‌the‌ ‌issue‌ ‌is‌ ‌that‌ ‌treatments‌ ‌known‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌effective‌ ‌are‌ ‌underfunded‌ ‌or‌ ‌wrongly‌ ‌dismissed‌ ‌as‌ ‌ineffective‌ ‌or‌ ‌too‌ ‌dangerous; ‌basic‌ ‌research‌ ‌in‌ ‌university‌ ‌and‌ ‌government‌ ‌laboratories‌ ‌into‌ ‌new‌ ‌and‌ ‌better‌ ‌drugs‌ ‌is‌ ‌limited‌ ‌and‌ ‌also‌ ‌underfunded; ‌and‌ ‌pharmaceutical‌ ‌companies‌ ‌have‌ ‌shown‌ ‌little‌ ‌interest‌ ‌in‌ ‌developing‌ ‌and‌ ‌testing‌ ‌treatments‌ ‌for‌ ‌severe‌ ‌mental‌ ‌illness. ‌ ‌ Also‌ ‌at‌ ‌issue‌ ‌is‌ ‌that, ‌as‌ ‌was‌ true‌ for‌ ‌cancer‌ ‌until‌ ‌recently, ‌acknowledgment‌ ‌of‌ ‌mental‌ ‌illness‌ ‌carries‌ ‌a‌ ‌stigma‌ ‌that‌ ‌impedes‌ ‌its‌ ‌early‌ ‌recognition, ‌when‌ ‌it‌ ‌can‌ ‌be‌ ‌most‌ ‌effectively‌ ‌treated‌ ‌or‌ ‌reversed. ‌ ‌ © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Aggression
Link ID: 26829 - Posted: 11.18.2019

By Jake Buehler Tetrodotoxin, the chemical weapon of choice for pufferfish, is such a potent neurotoxin that a single animal contains enough poison to paralyze and kill dozens of predators, and even adult humans who dare to eat their delicate flesh. But new research suggests the poison serves another purpose for the fish entirely: stress relief. Japanese, or tiger, puffers (Takifugu rubripes) don’t make their own tetrodotoxin (TTX), but instead accumulate it in their organs and skin from TTX-making bacteria in their diet. Those raised in captivity tend to have different diets and, thus, lose their toxicity. To find out how the toxin affects developing fish, researchers augmented the diets of young, captive puffers with a dosage of purified TTX for 1 month. Puffers with replenished toxin stores grew a median of 6% longer and 24% heavier than those raised on a nontoxic diet. They were also less aggressive, nipping at each other’s tail fins less frequently. Growth rate and aggression are influenced by stress, so researchers also looked at levels of two stress-linked hormones: cortisol in the blood and corticotropin-releasing hormone in the brain. The nontoxic fish had higher levels of both, with a median level of cortisol four times that of the toxic fish, the researchers report online in Toxicon. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 26805 - Posted: 11.09.2019

By Eva Frederick Few things are more adorable—or destructive—than a new puppy. When they pee on rugs, chew furniture, and get aggressive with other pups, their stressed-out owners usually turn to dog training. Now, a novel study suggests programs that use even relatively mild punishments like yelling and leash-jerking can stress dogs out, making them more “pessimistic” than dogs that experience reward-based training. “[Punishment] training may seem to work in the short run … but these methods can have future negative consequences,” says Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder who was not involved in the new study. “[These dogs are] living in perpetual stress.” Previous studies have suggested that although both reward-based and punishment-based training methods are effective, punishment-based training can have negative effects. But those studies tend to focus on police and laboratory dogs instead of family pets, and most used shock collars, which have been banned in several countries, as punishment. To find out how companion dogs react to more routine punishments, scientists led by Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro at the University of Porto in Portugal recruited 42 dogs from reward-based training schools, which use food or play to encourage good behaviors. The team also enlisted 50 dogs from aversive-based programs, which use negative reinforcement like yelling and leash jerking to train dogs, or even pressuring their rumps to get them to sit. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 26796 - Posted: 11.07.2019

By Austin Frakt Daylight Saving Time ended on Sunday, and for many of us the extra hour of sleep has provided a small energy boost. It’s widely known that sleep affects our mood and health. Less understood is how it can also affect our paychecks. A study published last year in the Review of Economics and Statistics found that workers who live in locations where people get more sleep tend to earn more than those in areas where people get less. One theory: Better-rested workers are more productive and are compensated for it with additional income. “There are other explanations, but we consider them less likely,” said an author of the study, Matthew Gibson, an economist at Williams College. It’s not as if simply sleeping more will cause your boss to pay you more. In fact, if you get that extra sleep by being late for work, you might earn less or even lose your job. So how would the sleep-income relationship actually work? Studying the issue is complicated by reverse causality: Not only does sleep affect work, but work also affects sleep. On an individual level, people who work more, and earn more for it, often sleep less. Studies show that higher-income earners sleep less than lower-income ones. That could be because higher-income people are spending more time working, so they have less time for sleep. Additionally, working more is stressful, and stress disrupts sleep. But poor sleep contributes to stress, too. A study in Sleep Health found that a poorer night’s sleep is followed by more stress and distracting thoughts at work. Other studies also find that less and poorer sleep is associated with more conflict and stress the next day. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep; Stress
Link ID: 26787 - Posted: 11.04.2019

Nicola Davis A potential route to reducing brain injury in premature babies has been found, say researchers who have discovered a way to tackle overactive immune cells in the brain. Microglia are a type of immune cell that play an important part in the building of a baby’s brain. However, if these cells go into overdrive as a result of inflammation – often because of a bacterial infection of the foetal membranes, a maternal infection or even sepsis after delivery of the baby – they can cause harm to the child’s brain. In particular, they can damage white matter, reducing the degree to which neurons are insulated and thereby affecting connectivity in the brain. It is thought that of the 15 million infants born before 37 weeks every year, up to 9 million are left with lifelong harm to the brain, sometimes resulting in conditions such as epilepsy or cerebral palsy. Now researchers say they have found a signalling pathway in these immune cells that is behind their transformation. “We have actually identified the immune switch that turns these immune cells in the developing brain from being helpful in building a brain and taking care of the brain to causing damage,” said Dr Bobbi Fleiss from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, a co-author of the study. What is more, the researchers say, it might even be possible to intervene and turn rogue microglia back into helpful workhorses. Writing in the journal Brain, Fleiss and colleagues reported how they took mouse pups just after birth and injected them with proteins that mimic an infection in the mother or foetus, inducing the transformation of microglia from helpful to harmful. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Glia
Link ID: 26785 - Posted: 11.02.2019

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here. A review of 40 years' worth of studies suggests cannabis may not be effective in treating mental health disorders, but experts say that might have more to do with the lack of high-quality research than the drug itself. The review, published in Lancet Psychiatry this week, looked at 83 studies dating back to 1980 on cannabis and constituent cannabinoids as a treatment for depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. The study concluded there was "scarce evidence" to suggest cannabis, including active ingredients such as cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), improves the symptoms of any of these conditions based on 3,513 participants. There was also "very low-quality evidence" that it leads to a "small improvement" in anxiety symptoms for individuals, but only in those with other medical conditions like chronic pain and multiple sclerosis. "There remains insufficient evidence to provide guidance on the use of cannabinoids for treating mental disorders," Prof. Michael Farrell, co-author of the report and director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in New South Wales, Australia, said in an email. 'Risk of error' in research While experts say the review itself is credible, the decades-old research could be flawed due to a number of challenges — including the fact that cannabis is still illegal in much of the world, which has made securing funding for research challenging. "The research in these conditions, in general, have been hampered by, obviously, the illegality of these compounds and these products," said Dr. Peter Selby, chief of medicine in the psychiatry division of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 26783 - Posted: 11.02.2019

By Michelle Roberts Health editor, BBC News online An infectious disease that can harm the brain and is spread to people by tick bites has been identified in ticks in the UK for the first time. Public Health England (PHE) says it has confirmed cases of tick-borne encephalitis virus in ticks from two parts of England - Thetford Forest and an area on the Hampshire-Dorset border. PHE says the risk to people is still "very low". It is monitoring the situation to check how common the infected ticks may be. What is it? A tick is a tiny, spider-like creature that lives in undergrowth and on animals, including deer and dogs. People who spend time walking in countryside areas where infected ticks can be found are at risk of being bitten and catching diseases they carry. Tick-borne encephalitis virus is already circulating in mainland Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Asia. Evidence now shows it has reached the UK. How it got here is less clear. Experts say infected ticks may have hitched a ride on migratory birds. Earlier this year, a European visitor, who has since recovered, became ill after being bitten by a tick while in the New Forest area, Public Health England says. Further investigations revealed infected ticks were present in two locations in England. Should I worry? Ticks are becoming more common across many parts of the UK, largely due to increasing deer numbers. Being bitten by one doesn't necessarily mean you will get sick. Dr Nick Phin, from Public Health England, said: ''These are early research findings and indicate the need for further work. However, the risk to the general public is currently assessed to be very low." Most people who catch the virus will have no or only mild flu-like symptoms. But the disease can progress to affect the brain and central nervous system and can sometimes be fatal. © 2019 BBC

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 26782 - Posted: 11.02.2019

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. “Please find something wrong with me,” the 28-year-old woman pleaded. For nearly a year, she’d been looking for a reason for the strange symptoms that now dominated her life. Dr. Raphael Sung, a cardiologist specializing in finding and fixing abnormal heart rhythms at National Jewish Health hospital in Denver, was surprised by her reaction to the news that her heart was normal. Most patients are happy to get that report. For this patient, it seemed like just one more dead end. The patient’s symptoms started right after her baby was born 10 months earlier. Out of nowhere, her heart would start beating like crazy. At first, she assumed that these were anxiety attacks, triggered by the stress of bringing her premature daughter home. Her baby spent her first week of life in the newborn intensive care unit. When she was big enough to come home, she still weighed only four pounds, nine ounces. The new mother worried that without the doctors and nurses and equipment that had kept her alive, her tiny baby might die. But she didn’t. She seemed to thrive at home. Despite that, her mother’s heart continued to take off like a spooked horse several times a day. After a couple of weeks, her symptoms worsened. Sometimes her racing heart would set off terrible headaches, the worst she’d ever had. It was as if someone had thrust a sharp stick deep into her brain. The knife of pain quickly turned into a sense of pressure so intense it felt as if the back of her skull would blow off. Minutes later, she would feel the blood drain from her face; she’d be suddenly drenched in sweat. Her hands would curl into tight fists, and vomit would shoot out of her mouth like a geyser. Her husband joked (though only once) that she looked like the girl in “The Exorcist.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 26767 - Posted: 10.30.2019

Pien Huang Alexandra Chen was a trauma specialist working in Lebanon and Jordan when she noticed that a specific group of kids were struggling in schools. Chen kept getting referrals for refugee students who had fled the war in Syria. They were having trouble focusing and finishing schoolwork. Some had even dropped out of school. She wondered to what extent the different stressors they faced — exposure to violence in Syria, lack of resources or concerns for the future — affected how they navigate their daily lives. Specifically, she wondered, which had a bigger impact: past trauma or the poverty they now lived in? Experts she wrote to said they didn't know and advised her to investigate the question herself. Chen, who's now getting her Ph.D. at Harvard, worked with a team to devise a study that aimed to untangle the threads of poverty, trauma and other adversities. They studied 240 teen Syrian refugees, comparing them with a group of 210 Jordanian youth who were also considered at-risk but didn't have a background of war. The researchers gave the teenagers surveys to gauge trauma and insecurity. To determine poverty, they asked the teens whether their families had items such as bedframes, cars, TVs, smartphones, refrigerators and water heaters. © 2019 npr

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Stress
Link ID: 26762 - Posted: 10.29.2019

By Marlene Cimons In 1991, Karestan Koenen was a recent college graduate and Peace Corps volunteer who arrived in a village in Niger eager to help local women start small businesses. When her sister came to visit during Christmas, the two decided to travel north to Agadez, a city in the Sahara. There, on the morning of Dec. 27, two male traders stopped by, trying to sell them jewelry. Koenen’s sister went to the market with one of men to have a look. While she was gone, the second man grabbed Koenen, held her down and raped her. Traumatized by the experience, Koenen was medically evacuated to the United States two days later and resigned from the Peace Corps. She returned to New Jersey to live with her parents, but the assault continued to haunt her. Increasingly, she became depressed. A psychologist diagnosed Koenen with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a condition triggered by a traumatic, scary or dangerous event, and, for reasons still unclear, seems to disproportionately afflict women. These assaults can include combat, sexual assault, gun violence, accidents, natural disasters, even the death of a loved one. “I lay in bed, unable to sleep, thinking of ways to kill myself,” she recalls. “When I did sleep, I had nightmares. I lost interest in everything. I couldn’t read and was too jumpy to sit through a movie or watch TV. I was irritable with my family. I was always on guard — angry — and couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. I felt like I was stuck in a dark tunnel, moving more and more quickly, but it only got darker.”

Keyword: Stress; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 26726 - Posted: 10.21.2019

Ian Sample Science editor Warning: this story is about death. You might want to click away now. That’s because, researchers say, our brains do their best to keep us from dwelling on our inevitable demise. A study found that the brain shields us from existential fear by categorising death as an unfortunate event that only befalls other people. “The brain does not accept that death is related to us,” said Yair Dor-Ziderman, at Bar Ilan University in Israel. “We have this primal mechanism that means when the brain gets information that links self to death, something tells us it’s not reliable, so we shouldn’t believe it.” Being shielded from thoughts of our future death could be crucial for us to live in the present. The protection may switch on in early life as our minds develop and we realise death comes to us all. “The moment you have this ability to look into your own future, you realise that at some point you’re going to die and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Dor-Ziderman. “That goes against the grain of our whole biology, which is helping us to stay alive.” To investigate how the brain handles thoughts of death, Dor-Ziderman and colleagues developed a test that involved producing signals of surprise in the brain. They asked volunteers to watch faces flash up on a screen while their brain activity was monitored. The person’s own face or that of a stranger flashed up on screen several times, followed by a different face. On seeing the final face, the brain flickered with surprise because the image clashed with what it had predicted. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 26721 - Posted: 10.19.2019

By Dawn MacKeen The CBD industry is flourishing, conservatively projected to hit $16 billion in the United States by 2025. Already, the plant extract is being added to cheeseburgers, toothpicks and breath sprays. More than 60 percent of CBD users have taken it for anxiety, according to a survey of 5,000 people, conducted by the Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research firm. Chronic pain, insomnia and depression follow behind. Kim Kardashian West, for example, turned to the product when “freaking out” over the birth of her fourth baby. The professional golfer Bubba Watson drifts off to sleep with it. And Martha Stewart’s French bulldog partakes, too. What is CBD? Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the lesser-known child of the cannabis sativa plant; its more famous sibling, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the active ingredient in pot that catapults users’ “high.” With roots in Central Asia, the plant is believed to have been first used medicinally — or for rituals — around 750 B.C., though there are other estimates too. Cannabidiol and THC are just two of the plant’s more than 100 cannabinoids. THC is psychoactive, and CBD may or may not be, which is a matter of debate. THC can increase anxiety; it is not clear what effect CBD is having, if any, in reducing it. THC can lead to addiction and cravings; CBD is being studied to help those in recovery. Cannabis containing 0.3 percent or less of THC is hemp. Although last year’s Farm Bill legalized hemp under federal law, it also preserved the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of products derived from cannabis. What are the claims? CBD is advertised as providing relief for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also marketed to promote sleep. Part of CBD’s popularity is that it purports to be “nonpsychoactive,” and that consumers can reap health benefits from the plant without the high (or the midnight pizza munchies). © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 26707 - Posted: 10.16.2019

Dean Burnett It’s a damp, midweek afternoon. Even so, Cardiff’s walk-in stress management course has pulled in more than 50 people. There are teenagers, white-haired older people with walking aids, people from Caucasian, Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds. There is at least one pair who look like a parent and child – I’m unsure who is there to support whom. The course instructor makes it clear that she is not going to ask people to speak out about their own stress levels in this first class: “We know speaking in public is stressful in itself.” She tells us a bit about previous attendees: a police officer whose inexplicable and constant worrying prevented him from functioning; a retired 71-year-old unable to shake the incomprehensible but constant fatigue and sadness that blighted his life; a single mother unable to attend her daughter’s school concert, despite the disappointment it would cause. What is the common theme that links these people – and the varied group sitting there this afternoon and listening? Stress may once just have been a kind of executive trophy – “I’m so stressed!” – but recent research suggests it is a key element in developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. The constant, stress-induced stimulation of key brain regions seems to be a major contributor to anxiety. And, in turn, vital brain regions becoming unresponsive and inflexible is believed to be a fundamental element of depressive disorders. Why do these regions become unresponsive? Possibly because they’re overworked, exhausted, by the effects of stress. This would explain why anxiety and depression regularly occur together. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Depression; Stress
Link ID: 26701 - Posted: 10.15.2019

By Caroline Wyatt BBC News "I don't like to think of the future. It's such a big question mark. I just keep living in the present." Karine Mather was diagnosed with MS when she was 27, although she noticed the first symptoms much earlier. It started off as a mental-health issue with anxiety and depression, she remembers. Later, she noticed she was starting to limp when she walked longer distances. Karine began using a walker to help with her balance and stamina, and then a scooter when she could no longer walk very far. "I got to the stage where the wheelchair became quite liberating, and gave me back a sense of freedom again. Now I rely on the power-chair full-time because I can't stand by myself any more." Now Karine and her wife, Sarah, have had to give up their full-time jobs. Karine was forced to stop working as a customer service adviser at a bank because she could no longer fulfil the physical demands of work and Sarah gave up working as a data analyst so she could take care of Karine. Now 34, Karine retains the use of just one hand, and suffers pain, stiffness and spasticity in her body that has got worse as the disease has progressed. "It feels like a fist clenching all the time. And I have days when my mind is cloudy and I miss out words and sentences." Both remain upbeat but the financial, as well as the emotional, impact of MS has been huge. Karine's MS is the type known as "primary progressive", or PPMS, which meant that for the first years after diagnosis, no disease-modifying treatment was available. One new drug - Ocrevus, or ocrelizumab - was recently licensed for early PPMS in the UK but came too late to help Karine. Now the MS Society is launching an ambitious "Stop MS" appeal, aiming to raise £100m to fund research over the next decade into treatments that can stop the progression of disability in MS. © 2019 BBC

Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 26682 - Posted: 10.09.2019