Stress… Though highly subjective and different for everyone, we all know some of the characteristic responses that stress can trigger from headaches and teeth grinding to stuttering, light headedness, insomnia and difficulty making decisions. Stress can be especially harmful to those who suffer from neurological conditions but there is hope that lies in proper and effective stress management techniques, many of which are easy to do.
Stress was originally defined by Hans Selye in 1936 as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” Studying the responses of lab animals subjected to physical or emotional stimuli, he noted that all showed the same reactions including stomach ulcers, enlargement of adrenals and shrinking lymphoid tissues and eventually led to diseases present in humans, including stroke, heart attach, kidney disease and even rheumatoid arthritis.
Linked to a laundry list of conditions from the common cold to cancer and autoimmune diseases, skin conditions and gastrointestinal disorders, stress presents itself in many forms. In fact, The American Institute of Stress has identified 50 common signs and symptoms of stress. In today’s fast-paced world, it is nearly impossible to escape stress but it is possible to manage.
Stress really takes a toll on brain function. For patients with neurological conditions such as Multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s disease, that can be immensely detrimental. While short-term or acute, stress activates the immune system’s ability to defend against a pathogen or repair a wound, long-term, or chronic, stress can have the opposite effect. To that end, scientists are studying how reducing stress can protect the brain and even possibly change the course of disease. The basis of many of these tests lies in the power of positive thinking.
Can practicing positive thinking real lessen the effects of stress? Many studies show that it can indeed. One study, developed by David C Mohr, PhD and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University, tested the benefits of a stress management program for preventing new brain lesions in people with multiple sclerosis. The study, which sought to teach participants how to anticipate and reduce stressful events, how to change negative thinking about unavoidable stress, and how to practice relaxation techniques to control their physical and emotional reactions to stress found that patients trained in these stress-reducing techniques had fewer lesions during the 24-week treatment phase. In fact, of the 121 participants, almost 77 percent of those practicing stress-reduction techniques remained free of new brain lesions, compared with nearly 55 percent of those who were enrolled in the study but were put on a waiting list and had not undergone training in stress management. Interestingly, the benefit disappeared once the program ended.
Additional studies on meditation and mindfulness, or being more present and engaged in each moment have shown positive effects in protecting the parts of the brain that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. In addition, exercise has proven to be effective in reducing corisol, the body’s stress hormone. For more tips on how to alleviate stress, including some emergency stress stoppers, click here to visit the American Heart Association’s webpage.