Why stressed minds are more decisive

“When we’re put under pressure, our brains can suddenly process information much faster – but only in certain situations, says neuroscientist Tali Sharot.”

Some of the most important decisions you will make in your lifetime will occur while you feel stressed and anxious.

Do we become better or worse at processing and using information under such circumstances?

 

A perceived threat made firefighters better at processing information

“My colleague Neil Garrett, now at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute in New Jersey, and I ventured from the safety of our lab to fire stations in the state of Colorado to investigate how the mind operates under high stress.”

“Firefighters’ workdays vary quite a bit. Some days are pretty relaxed; they’ll spend part of their time washing the truck, cleaning equipment, cooking meals and reading. Other days can be hectic, with numerous life-threatening incidents to attend to; they’ll enter burning homes to rescue trapped residents, and assist with medical emergencies. These ups and downs presented the perfect setting for an experiment on how people’s ability to use information changes when they feel under pressure.”

“When you’re stressed, your brain undergoes physical changes that can make it hard to ignore possible dangers.
We found that perceived threat triggered a stress reaction that made the firefighters better at processing information – but only as long as it conveyed bad news.”

“This is how we arrived at these results. We asked the firefighters to estimate their likelihood of experiencing 40 different aversive events in their life, such as being involved in a car accident or becoming a victim of card fraud. We then gave them either good news (we told them that their likelihood of experiencing these events was lower than they’d thought) or bad news (that it was higher) and asked them to provide new estimates.”

“Cortisol levels spiked, their heart rates went up and, lo and behold, they suddenly became better at processing unrelated, yet alarming, information”

“Research has shown that people are normally quite optimistic – they will ignore the bad news and embrace the good. This is what happened when the firefighters were relaxed; but when they were under stress, a different pattern emerged. Under these conditions, they became hyper-vigilant to any bad news we gave them, even when it had nothing to do with their job (such as learning that the likelihood of card fraud was higher than they’d thought), and altered their beliefs in response. In contrast, stress didn’t change how they responded to good news (such as learning that the likelihood of card fraud was lower than they’d thought).”

“Back in our lab, we observed the same pattern in undergraduates who were told they had to give a surprise public speech, which would be judged by a panel, recorded and posted online. Sure enough, their cortisol levels spiked, their heart rates went up and, lo and behold, they suddenly became better at processing unrelated, yet alarming, information about rates of disease and violence.”

“When you experience stressful events, whether personal (waiting for a medical diagnosis) or public (political turmoil), a physiological change is triggered that can cause you to take in any sort of warning and become fixated on what might go wrong. A study using brain imaging to look at the neural activity of people under stress revealed that this ‘switch’ was related to a sudden boost in a neural signal important for learning(known as a prediction error), specifically in response to unexpected signs of danger (such as faces expressing fear). This signal relies on dopamine – a neurotransmitter found in the brain – and, under stress, dopamine function is altered by another molecule called corticotropin-releasing factor.”

“Such neural engineering could have helped early humans to survive. When our ancestors found themselves in a habitat filled with hungry animals, they benefited from an increased ability to learn about hazards so as to avoid predators. In a safe environment, however, it would be wasteful to be on high alert constantly. A certain amount of ignorance can help to keep your mind at ease.”

“So a ‘neural switch’ that automatically increases or decreases your ability to process warnings in response to changes in your environment might be useful. In fact, people with clinical depression and anxiety seem unable to switch away from a state in which they absorb all the negative messages around them.”

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons and is edited for space.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180613-why-stressed-minds-are-better-at-processing-things

A Hug a Day Brings Happy Your Way!

National Hugging Day TM

January 21st

1)    Hugs make us feel “happy”! When we hug another person, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone associated with “happiness,” according to scientific studies.

2)    Hugs alleviate stress! Just as a good hug increases our oxytocin levels, it decreases our cortisol or “stress” levels.

3)    Babies need hugs as much as water and food! According to researchers at Harvard University, hugs help promote normal levels of cortisol necessary for child development.

4)    Hugs make us better students! Students who receive a supportive touch from a teacher are twice as likely to volunteer in class.

5)    Hugs improve our game! Scientists at University of California, Berkley discovered that the more affectionate members of a team are with each other, the more likely they are to win.

Snug Hug by Peggy

6)    A hug a day keeps the doctor away! A hug stimulates the thymus gland, which in turn regulates the production of white blood cells that keep us healthy and disease-free.

7)    A hug stops the bug! Researchers at Carnegie Mellon proved that individuals who were sick and received hugs had less severe symptoms and were able to get better quicker.

8)    A hugging heart is a healthy heart! Research from University of North Carolina showed that a good hug helps ease blood flow and lower cortisol levels, which in turn help lower our heart rates.

9)    A hugging couple is a happy couple! Couples that experience their partners’ love through physical affection share higher oxytocin levels.

10)    Hugs let someone know you care without having to say a word! According to Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, we can identify love from simple human touch – imagine how much love a big hug can communicate!

From http://www.nationalhuggingday.com/ 

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Get your FREE Incredibly Creative Stress Kit

“Stress-related disorders and diseases have been on the rise in the whole population for decades, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including those leading to . . . deaths of despair, but also to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.”

“National surveys by the American Psychological Association that also capture how stressed, anxious and overwhelmed we feel show a similar increasing pattern. And it shows up in our bodies, even before we get sick or start down the many roads to self-harm.”

a judy collage

I personally have experienced just that.  My fibromyalgia flared for the first time during a particularly stressful time in my life.  The truth is I didn’t realize how stressed I was at the time.  Years later, it dawned on me that I had been in the center of  “the perfect” storm of stressful circumstances: My aging parents and in-laws were dying; my work focused on anger, anxiety, depression – any and all forms of psychological tension or stress; and my own hormonal changes.

I’ve seen similar circumstances with many clients and colleagues who, like me, coped with and habituated to the level of stress they were under and often didn’t know the magnitude of impact until much later when they became ill.  

All of us experience stress from work, money worries, traffic, political news, deadline pressure, relationship difficulties etc. and an even more basic cause which lies hidden at the intersection of psychology and biology:

Biology

“A central biological pathway is from excess cortisol — the fight-or-flight hormone — that characterizes being over-stressed for long periods of time. This “stress dysregulation” leads to risky health decisions, like addiction or overeating, and directly to many health problems linked to excess cortisol.”

Psychology

  • How we THINK triggers the stress response.  We don’t have to actually be in a stressful situation – it’s our perception of it that alone can trigger a neuro-biological stress response.
  • Slow-moving and cumulative social forces “get under the skin” early in life and can show up decades later in morbidity and mortality.
  • Losing a sense of control that you believed you had, whether real or not, justified or not, creates stressful dislocations.

There are many things that can be done to “de-stress”.  Most require time, money, effort or all three.  Basically, we like what is quick and easy.  To that end we’ve accumulated information and exercises over the 30 decades each of us was in practice and have now compiled some of it into a 19 page FREE PDF.  

Click here for your free copy:

The Incredibly Creative Stress Kit

You can always access the PDF by the “Free or Cheep Page” which is located in the masthead above the CATNIP banner on every page.

Please let us know what worked for you or how you modified any of the activities. 

Recent References:
Daniel Keating is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and author of “Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity — and How to Break the Cycle,”

The Hamilton Project looked at the “physiological stress load” in the US using biological markers tied to cardiovascular, kidney and liver function to create a stress load index. This physical stress load, a precursor to many diseases, has increased in striking fashion since the late 1970s, and it is getting worse as each new age group enters adulthood.

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