How to activate your own Placebo to reduce Stress & Anxiety

In uncertain times we all need help to calm our fears so that our bodies are not flooded with stress hormones & neurochemicals.  

A placebo is NOT imaginary but creates biological changes in the brain that actually ease our symptoms and are very similar to the biological changes when we take drugs.

There are many DOCUMENTED placebo effects, depending on what we think a treatment is going to do for us.  Examples:

  • Fake painkillers cause the release of natural painkillers in the brain called endorphins and work through the same biochemical pathway that an opiod painkiller would work through.
  • A Parkinson’s patient takes a placebo they think is their Parkinson’s drug, they get a flood of dopamine in the brain, which is exactly what you would see with the real drug.
  • Altitude sickness – someone at altitude inhales fake oxygen, there’s a reduction in prostaglandins which actually work to dilate blood vessels that cause many of the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Some explanations for the placebo effect 

Stress and anxiety — if we feel that we are in danger or under threat, the brain raises its sensitivity to symptoms like pain. Whereas, if we feel safe and cared for and things are going to get better soon, we relax and are not so alert to symptoms.

Physiological mechanisms like conditioning*   We can all be conditioned to have physiological responses to a stimulus, even immune responses. For example, take a pill that suppresses your immune system and on another occasion take a similar looking placebo pill, with no active drug, your body will mimic same immune response. Astonishingly, it doesn’t even matter if you know it’s a placebo.

Stress can rewire the brain — and create more stress

Like a muscle, the more you exercise any part the stronger it gets.

Brains are shaped by our thoughts and behaviors. Research shows your brain structure, neurochemical and electrical activity responds to and reflects how you think throughout your life.   For example: If you play a musical instrument, speak a second language, train for athletics for eight hours a day – the parts of your brain responsible for performing those activities gets more active and larger. 

If you’re thinking stressful thoughts for the whole day parts of the brain involved in the stress response get larger and other parts of the brain actually deteriorate.  Consequently, the very brain circuits we need to counter stress no longer work as well as they should.  

It’s not as simple as saying, “I’m going to change how I think now. I’m not feeling stressed.”  It takes a long time to change your brain. 

In the middle of your face – your personal placebo “pill” 

When stressed, the brain influences your body AND the body influences your brain.  The stress response speeds up your breathing to pump more oxygen when your brain perceives danger, either real or imaginary.  If you deliberately speed up your breathing when not stressed you’ll start to feel more aroused and on edge.  The opposite is true: Slow your breathing down, forcing your body into a more relaxed state.  Your brain responds with more calming thoughts and feelings.

Condition your own calming response using your breath . . . salivating optional.

Click below to read two ways to slow your breathing down:

Decrease your Anxiety & Stress Increasing Immunity

Control your Anxiety: Easy, Fast, Effective and Square

* Ivan Pavlov, a physiologist, conditioned dogs so that whenever he gave them food he made a noise, like ring a bell.  Eventually the dogs associated the bell with their food and they would salivate just to the sound of the bell.

 

 

 

https://www.npr.org/

A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant, PhD. in genetics and medical microbiology

Control your stress & anxiety – Comfort Eating Actually Comforts

When I am a little stressed I want to eat – usually carbs – but if I am very stressed I lose my appetite. Peggy

I never lose my appetite because I’m an emotional eater – eat when I’m stressed, happy, bored . . .  From now on I’m calling it “Comfort Eating” – it sounds less . . . emotional . . .  and  is a new area of research. Judy

For the second year in a row, just over a third of American adults reported eating “too much” or “unhealthy” food because of stress, according to an APA survey. Approximately 40 percent of people increase their eating when they’re stressed, 40 percent decrease their eating, and 20 percent stay the same. 

Dr. Janet Tomiyama has been trying to figure out if eating because of stress works for us.  Here is a summary of her findings:

  • Rats were given access to comfort food — usually Crisco mixed with sugar! 
  • Researchers then stressed them out
  • Over time, the comfort food actually dampened their stress hormones
  • Dampened down their brain’s responsivity to stress
  • Dampened down the signaling between the brain and the rest of the body, so they didn’t secrete as many stress hormones.”  

    CRISCO & sugar! At least they could have the decency to give us the cake under the frosting  . . .

We tend to be critical of people who eat because of stress BUT  “Not just psychologically, but also biologically — people who do a lot of comfort eating tend to show a reduced level of stress hormones and stress.”

What’s happening, according to Tomiyama:

  • “When you do anything that’s rewarding to you the reward parts of your brain light up — those parts of the brain can dampen down areas of your brain that are freaking out with negative emotion. And that’s why comfort foods tend to be foods that are high in sugar and fat. They’re really rewarding; they really do light up the reward centers of our brains.
  • There’s also some work showing that when you do comfort eating, it builds up fat in your belly region and that fat pad sends a signal to your brain to decrease the amount of stress hormones that you’re producing. 
  • Then there’s conditioning. If throughout your whole life, you’ve paired stress relief with comfort foods over and over again, then soon enough, your body is going to automatically respond to eating these comfort foods with relaxation.

Many people have had the experience of being given comfort food to cheer us up as kids. Part of the comfort t then came from bing cared for but that became associated with the food, which now gives us comfort on its own.

in addition to rodents, we also see comfort eating working in some non-human primate species as well. So my main take home from this is self-compassion: You’re not doing the comfort eating because you’re some sort of weak-willed human being; you’re biologically driven to do this. ” says Tomiyama.

What Tomiyama is trying to do now, is to see if healthy foods can also be comforting. Even in rat studies only unhealthy foods were used. Therein some data from surveys that say there are people who do use healthy foods for stress.

 “Nobody stress-eats strawberries, do they?”

Actually, strawberries might work she reports. Anything  sweet can dampen stress.

We’ll eat to that!

A. Janet Tomiyama, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab at UCLA

https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/9/18072318/does-stress-eating-work-psychology