Two New Studies on Stress May Surprise

Stress is contagious. Research from St. Louis University suggests that other people’s anxiety and behavior may be harmful to your health. The negative effects of stress, such as increased levels of cortisol, can be triggered by merely observing another person who is acting stressed. Empathy – usually thought of as a good attribute – can be a drain if you watch someone else get negative feedback. Even mice after experiencing light shocks show stress reactions when forced to watch another mouse getting the same treatment. Just like smoke, secondhand stress might even be worse for you than the real thing.

A small study in Psychological Science (2014) found that infants show significant increases in heart rate when their mothers felt agitated about receiving negative feedback. The more stressed the mom, the more stressed the baby.

Good Advice: “Put your own oxygen mask on before you help someone else.” If you are dealing with someone else’s stress (like many therapists do), treat your own stress first and treat it after a stressful day by relaxing, meditating, or exercising. That way, you keep your sense of compassion but keep your empathy from causing you too much stress.

Women may handle stress better than men because of Estrogen. University of Buffalo (State University of New York) released a study that may explain why females are more resilient than males in responding to stress. The Molecular Psychiatry study published by Dr. Zhen Yan indicates that estrogen is protective in the female rat’s brain. It protects their prefrontal cortex. Repeated stress results in the loss of the glutamate receptor in the prefrontal cortex of young male rats but not young females.

By manipulating the amount of estrogen produced in the brain, researchers were able to make the males respond to stress more like the females and vice versa. Previous studies looking at gender differences in response to stress found that men tend to react Two New Studies on Stress May Surprise with the “fight or flight” response while women were more likely to react with a less aggressive “tend and befriend” response. In other words, women tended to seek social support when stressed. While women may appear to cope better externally, they also internalize stress to a greater degree than men, which leads to more anxiety and depression.

For both men and women, the authors conclude that stress reduction is no longer optional. A rapidly growing body of research has shown stress management to be a vital aspect of good mental and physical health. Now is a good time to take a relaxation break.

March 2016

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