Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have found that people who suffer from chronic stress may experience long-term changes in their brain that makes them more prone to mood disorders and anxiety.
Associate professor of integrative biology Daniela Kaufer and a team of researchers have studied the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that governs emotion and memory. They found that chronic stress causes the brain to generate fewer neurons and more myelin-producing cells than normal.
This results in more white matter in certain areas of the brain, disrupting the balance and timing of communication within the brain.
Over the years I have personally asked hundreds of clients this very question. According to my estimation, 90% respond in the negative.
Here’s how loss of perceived independence happens in so many cases.
You’re beginning adult life, celebrating your recent freedom from parental supervision.
You do what you feel, go where you want, believe what you will, act how you like. You experiment a lot, trying out new things and meeting new people. You don’t need much money (and probably don’t make much or receive financial help).
You feel independent. Sometimes this independence is very positive and sometimes it’s intimidating or overwhelming. Nevertheless, you have your feeling of independence and have big plans for an exciting future.
Then, you fall in love.
It’s an event like this that may lead many to experience anxiety and depression. In fact, an October 2013 study found that traumatic life events were the biggest determinant, beating out family history of mental health, income, education, relationship status and other social factors.
This study showed just how complex depression and anxiety are and how influential life events really were on the human psyche.
Over the last 20 years, science has begun to understand the relationship between autoimmune diseases and neuropsychiatric disorders. And the field has made significant strides.
Now, there may be some viable alternative therapies that are targeting psychiatric disorders from a more organic angle.
N-Acetyl Cysteine, NAC, is an amino acid that has been used to treat acetaminophen poisoning or reduce mucus that plagues certain lung diseases as well as cystic fibrosis.
NAC has also shown in clinical trials to help reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.
NAC has antioxidant properties to help address the inflammatory and oxidative damage that stunts cell reactivation and neuron growth. Studies have shown that mood disorder symptoms, such as apathy and depression, have been reduced and NAC was even shown to lessen cravings for cocaine, nicotine, and marijuana.
Research shows there is a possible link between childhood stress and chronic pain as an adult. It’s possible that the neurobehavioral mechanisms created in childhood could be the missing piece of the pain/PTSD puzzle.
A body in a state of stress produces a variety of chemicals, including catecholamines and cytokines. Catecholamines are released by the SAM, sympathetic adrenomedullary axis, and include the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline. They run around in the bloodstream mobilizing energy and preparing the body for “fight or flight.”
Cytokines are groups of substances such as peptides and proteins that are secreted by immune system cells. These substances carry signals to other cells. During chronic stress, catecholamines can create a negative feedback loop by blocking certain neurotransmitters that affect mood, increasing chronic inflammation throughout the body.
In the first study of its kind, researchers at the Columbia University School of Public Health were able to link increased risk of obesity in women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD has been more present in the news, especially as it relates to war veterans. This particular study helps scientists more definitively associate the brain-body connection initiated by exposure to trauma.
Today, I am going to eat a clean diet. And when I get off work, I am going straight to the gym.
At 7 AM Martin needs to prepare his healthy snacks and lunch for the day. He knows this is the right thing to do. Fix the salad, make a protein shake, pack up the chilled lunch bag, then head out.
He doesn’t do that, though. Instead, he says to himself, “I’ll be fine. I’ll find healthy food somewhere. I can even take the short walk to the grocery store on break and get a ready-made salad.”
At noon when its time to take a break, Martin faces the choice of grabbing some junk food off the cart or taking the 15 minute round-trip walk to the grocery store. He stares at the processed delights on the food cart
“Screw it!” he tells himself. “I’ll get back on my eating plan tomorrow. Right now I want a Snickers and a soda.”
I am emotionally attached to the negativity in my past. That attachment to interferes with my present day life as an adult.
I remember, it was 25 years ago when I first entered therapy. I interviewed several therapists and agreed to work with them upon satisfaction of one condition – that we do NOT talk about my past.
Can you imagine?
One therapist asked, “What if your past is affecting your life today?”
“What if it isn’t?” I snapped back. “Then we just wasted time talking about something that doesn’t matter. Either you can help me feel better or not, so can you?”
The fear of social rejection is a driving force in many people’s lives. It explains why people are afraid of speaking in public, can be an underlying cause for mental illness such as social anxiety, and is the reason why many people prefer to keep to themselves.
Social pain is a term that many psychologists use to refer to the pain of rejection, public humiliation, and even the grief we feel when a loved one dies or a relationship ends.
Social pain may be linked to the experience of physical pain in the brain.
Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that resveratrol, a natural chemical found in various fruits and vegetables, can help block the effects of the dangerously addictive drug, methamphetamine.
The study was conducted by Dennis Miller, associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and researchers at the Center for Translational Neuroscience at the University of Missouri.
Their research has focused on the role the neurotransmitter dopamine plays in drug addiction and in methamphetamine use in particular.