Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Managers suffer less stress when work relationships are good

Managers who enjoy a good relationship with their employees, suffer less dangerous stress at work, according to a study of nearly 3000 managers.
It's tough at the top, people say. Managers have heavy responsibilities, both for their workers and for the organization's results. They need to make hard, and at times unpopular, decisions. Such factors will make us think it is stressful to be a manager.

Much research has been conducted regarding stress, but not many studies have looked specifically at stress among managers.  How is life among those in the driving seat in companies and organizations? Are they more stressed than what is good for them?

Pressure and stress among managers
Professors Astrid M. Richardsen and Stig Berge Matthiesen at BI Norwegian Business School have analysed the responses from over 2900 professional managers.

The study measures four key stress factors:
  1. Time pressures and workload, 
  2. Emotional strain, 
  3. Role stress at work (role conflict between the demands from the top management and from the employees) 
  4. Role conflict between work and private life.
More than six out of ten managers surveyed (61.8 per cent) indicate that they often or all the time experience time pressure or a heavy workload. Fewer than five per cent say they rarely or never have time pressure at work.

"Although a clear majority of the managers experience time pressure at work, there are relatively few who have role stress at work, or a role conflict between work and private life," the BI researchers conclude.

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Few allow themselves to get stressed
Only five out of 100 managers surveyed experience role stress at work often or all the time, while just over one third (36.6 per cent) feel it some of the time. A little more than one of ten managers (11 per cent) experience a role conflict between work and private life often or all the time.

Managers who feel they have control of their work situation and great freedom to make decisions, experience less work pressure and emotional strain, and they also suffer considerably less role stress than managers who do not have such control.

The factors that contribute the most to the managers' workload and work stress, are the degree of unpredictability in the company and the unit they manage, and the amount of changes that have been made in the course of the last year.

Good relationships prevent stress
Managers under a high work pressure considered their work performance and efficiency to be high, the study shows. This is probably because they quite simply spend more hours at work. It is worth noting that managers experience significantly less stress when they feel they have a good relationship to their employees, and the employees show a positive conduct and confidence in their managers.
"The best thing a manager can do to prevent work stress, is to develop good relationships with the employees at work," Astrid M. Richardsen recommends.
When employees are happy with what the manager does, understand his or her challenges and participate actively in solving the problems, the manager will have less stress. This will probably be because the manager trusts the employees more and delegates more tasks to them. Hence the work pressure will decrease, Richardsen believes.
Ten tips for stress management

Stress can come from many sources. Here are four common stress factors: • Stress may relate to factors in the job itself (e.g. the work requirements facing the manager).
  • Stress may be caused by the manager's own reactions to a specific job situation (e.g. anxiety for how people will respond, a feeling of fatigue or exhaustion).
  • Stress may be about how one handles work tasks that are challenging or straining (e.g. works harder, works overtime, takes work home).
  • Any conflict between the demands at work and family considerations / leisure activities may also be a source of stress.
Managers who suffer work-related stress factors over time, may develop individual reactions such as frustration, irritation and anger, reduced self-confidence and depression. That again might lead to lower concentration, reduced motivation and work satisfaction, and a low work effort and performance.

According to the researchers, stress can impact the organization in the form of e.g. reduced productivity and a poorer bottom line result. The perception of a high workload and role stress may reduce the manager's loyalty and commitment to the organization and make it more likely that he or she will look for a job somewhere else.
Astrid Richardsen and Stig Berge Matthisen at BI Norwegian Business School have prepared ten research-based tips that may help managers to handle work stress.
  1. Find out what is creating the stress:
    • Identify the sources of work stress. Knowledge makes it easier to implement stress management measures.
  2. More knowledge about stress:
    • Increase the general knowledge of the nature of stress. How do various conditions for stress interact? What can be done about it?
  3. Have a healthy lifestyle.
    • Make sure you have sufficient rest and sleep, exercise and a healthy diet. A healthy mind in a healthy body ("Mens sana in corpore sano"). There are good reasons why so many managers are keen on their exercise.
  4. Learn to rest and relax.
    • Practice the skill of stressing down or relaxing. Muscle relaxation, meditation and tools that tell you whether your body really is relaxing, may be a help here.
  5. Manage your time more efficiently.
    • Learn to prioritize work tasks better. Identify the time thieves, and try to get rid of them.
  6. Increase your employees' skills.
    • By increasing the skills of your employees, you yourself will have less stress. You will feel more confident that the jobs you delegate will be done.
  7. Establish relationships for support.
    • Do you have someone to ask for help and support when you need it? Is there anyone you can go to with your joys and sorrows? Social support in everyday life is important for managers, too.
  8. Plan your career.
    • For managers as for others, a job or work commitment may have a "best before" date. Remaining too long in a job may lead to unnecessary stress or strain.
  9. Switch jobs in time.
    • Make the switch while you still have good control of the job and its related stress.
  10. Seek outside, professional help if the job becomes too much of a strain.
    • Major work stress can have serious consequences, both for the person suffering it and for his/her surroundings.
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Story Source:  The above story is based on materials provided by BI Norwegian Business School. "Managers: Less stress when work relationships are good." ScienceDaily

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Work-related stress a risk factor for type 2 diabetes

Credit: © Alliance / Fotolia

Roughly one in five people in employment is affected by high levels of mental
 stress at work.not mean 'normal job stress' but when the demands made
 are very high, with little or no scope for maneuver or decision making.
Workplace stress can have a range of adverse effects on health with an increased risk of cardio-vascular diseases in the first line. However, to date, convincing evidence for a strong association between work stress and incident Type 2 diabetes mellitus is missing. Researchers have now discovered that individuals who are under a high level of pressure at work face an about 45 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who are subjected to less stress at their workplace.

Workplace stress can have a range of adverse effects on health with an increased risk of cardio-vascular diseases in the first line. However, to date, convincing evidence for a strong association between work stress and incident Type 2 diabetes mellitus is missing.

Risk of diabetes about 45 percent higher
As the team of scientists headed by Dr. Cornelia Huth and Prof. Karl-Heinz Ladwig has now discovered that individuals who are under a high level of pressure at work and at the same time perceive little control over the activities they perform face an about 45 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who are subjected to less stress at their workplace.

The scientists from the Institute of Epidemiology II (EPI II) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU) in collaboration with Prof. Johannes Kruse from the University Hospital of Giessen and Marburg examined data prospectively collected from more than 5,300 employed individuals aged between 29 and 66 who took part in the population-based MONICA/KORA cohort study. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants had diabetes, while in the post-observation period, which covered an average of 13 years, almost 300 of them were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The increase in risk in work-related stress was identified independently of classic risk factors such as obesity, age or gender.

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Holistic prevention is important -- also at the workplace
"According to our data, roughly one in five people in employment is affected by high levels of mental stress at work. By that, scientists do not mean 'normal job stress' but rather the situation in which the individuals concerned rate the demands made upon them as very high, and at the same time they have little scope for maneuver or for decision making. We covered both these aspects in great detail in our surveys," explains Prof. Ladwig, who led the study. "In view of the huge health implications of stress-related disorders, preventive measures to prevent common diseases such as diabetes should therefore also begin at this point," he added.
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Story Source: Materials provided by Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen - German Research Centre for Environmental Health.  Huth, C. et al. Job Strain as a Risk Factor for the Onset of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Findings From the MONICA/KORA Augsburg Cohort Study. Psychosomatic Medicine, August 2014

Friday, August 8, 2014

Stress brings on pimples? Then, reducing stress may help lead to clearer skin

Anyone who's had a pimple form right before an important event may wonder if stress caused the break out. While commonly linked anecdotally, proving the relationship between stress and inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis and rosacea, is another matter.
"Nearly everyone has some form of stress in their life, so it's difficult to determine whether stress can actually make the skin's appearance worse," said board-certified dermatologist Richard D. Granstein, MD, FAAD, the George W. Hambrick Jr., professor and chairman of the department of dermatology, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. "However, it's been known for a long time that the nervous system, which processes our stress, has an impact on conditions such as psoriasis."

Dr. Granstein discusses the latest research on the impact stress has on inflammatory skin conditions and his thoughts on how this research could change treatment options.

How does stress play a role in inflammatory skin conditions? Dr. Granstein said research linking the nervous system and the skin has long been understood. "If you interrupt the nerves' path to an area of a patient's skin affected by psoriasis, the psoriasis improves," said Dr. Granstein. "In addition, the condition improves if you inject local anesthetic into psoriasis patches. This information strongly suggests that nerves play a role in how psoriasis operates."

Stress shown to make inflammatory skin conditions worse
Dr. Granstein notes that animal studies have demonstrated that stress can make inflammatory skin conditions worse. In a Japanese study , mice genetically prone to develop a rash similar to the inflammatory skin condition atopic dermatitis did so when stressed, while mice that were not exposed to stress did not develop the rash.

Dr. Granstein said experimental data support the idea that the nervous system and stress affect inflammatory skin conditions in humans. Many types of cells in the skin, including immune cells and endothelial cells (cells that line blood vessels), can be regulated by neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, which are chemicals released by the skin's nerve endings. Stress can result in the skin's nerve endings releasing an increased level of these chemicals. When this occurs, it can affect how and at what level our body responds to many important functions, such as sensation and control of blood flow, and can contribute to the symptoms of stress that we feel. In addition, the release of these chemicals can lead to inflammation of the skin.

"If we could block specific steps in certain pathways between the nervous system and the skin -- without impacting the whole body -- we would likely have new ways to prevent or treat some skin disorders," said Dr. Granstein. "We're gaining a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying many skin conditions, which will help us develop new therapies."

Has stress been shown to impact the skin in other ways? While commonly believed, Dr. Granstein said research has not proven that stress causes skin aging.

When combined with exposure to ultraviolet rays, Dr. Granstein noted that animal studies have shown that stress could have an impact on the development of skin cancer. "When exposed to ultraviolet radiation, stressed mice developed skin cancers more quickly than mice that were not exposed to stress," he said.

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How does current research impact how people with inflammatory skin conditions are treated? Dr. Granstein said more research needs to be done to further understand the role of the nervous system and stress on inflammatory skin conditions, especially since other factors play a role, including genetics.

Meditation, yoga, or tai chi
He encourages people with inflammatory skin conditions to tell their dermatologist if they believe stress is impacting their condition. They can experiment with stress reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi, but they should continue their treatment plan as prescribed by their dermatologist.
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Story Source:  The above story is based on materials provided by American Academy of Dermatology. "Reducing stress may help lead to clearer skin." ScienceDaily

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Have a problem to solve? Try non-directive meditation.

Credit: NTNU
The left images show the brain during concentrative meditation, while images to the right show the brain during non-directive meditation.

Meditation is more than just a way to calm our thoughts and lower stress levels: our brain processes more thoughts and feelings during meditation than when you are simply relaxing, a coalition of researchers from Norway and Australia has found.

Mindfulness. Zen. Acem. Meditation drumming. Chakra. Buddhist and transcendental meditation. There are countless ways of meditating, but the purpose behind them all remains basically the same: more peace, less stress, better concentration, greater self-awareness and better processing of thoughts and feelings.

But which of these techniques should a poor stressed-out wretch choose? What does the research say? Very little -- at least until now.

A team of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Oslo and the University of Sydney is now working to determine how the brain works during different kinds of meditation. Their most recent results were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Different meditation techniques can actually be divided into two main groups. One type is concentrative meditation, where the meditating person focuses attention on his or her breathing or on specific thoughts, and in doing so, suppresses other thoughts.

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The other type may be called non-directive meditation, where the person who is meditating effortlessly focuses on his or her breathing or on a meditation sound, but beyond that the mind is allowed to wander as it pleases. Some modern meditation methods are of this nondirective kind.
"No one knows how the brain works when you meditate. That is why I'd like to study it," says Jian Xu, who is a physician at St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, Norway and a researcher at the Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging at NTNU.

Fourteen people who had extensive experience with the Norwegian technique Acem meditation were tested in an MRI machine. In addition to simple resting, they undertook two different mental meditation activities, non-directive meditation and a more concentrative meditation task.

The research team wanted to test people who were used to meditation because it meant fewer misunderstandings about what the subjects should actually be doing while they lay in the MRI machine.

Non-directive meditation led to higher activity than during rest in the part of the brain dedicated to processing self-related thoughts and feelings. When test subjects performed concentrative meditation, the activity in this part of the brain was almost the same as when they were just resting.

"I was surprised that the activity of the brain was greatest when the person's thoughts wandered freely on their own, rather than when the brain worked to be more strongly focused," said Xu. "When the subjects stopped doing a specific task and were not really doing anything special, there was an increase in activity in the area of the brain where we process thoughts and feelings. It is described as a kind of resting network. And it was this area that was most active during non-directive meditation."

"The study indicates that non-directive meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation," says Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo, and co-author of the study.

"This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest. It represents a kind of basic operating system, a resting network that takes over when external tasks do not require our attention. It is remarkable that a mental task like non-directive meditation results in even higher activity in this network than regular rest," says Davanger.

Most of the research team behind the study does not practice meditation, although three do: Professors Are Holen and Øyvind Ellingsen from NTNU and Professor Svend Davanger from the University of Oslo.

Acem meditation is a technique that falls under the category of non-directive meditation. Davanger believes that good research depends on having a team that can combine personal experience with meditation with a critical attitude towards results.

"Meditation is an activity that is practiced by millions of people. It is important that we find out how this really works. In recent years there has been a sharp increase in international research on meditation. Several universities in the US spend a great deal of money to research in the field. So I think it is important that we are also active," says Davanger.
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Story Source:  Materials provided by The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), original article written by Nancy Bazilchuk.  Jian Xu, Alexandra Vik, Inge R. Groote, Jim Lagopoulos, Are Holen, Øyvind Ellingsen, Asta K. Håberg, Svend Davanger. Nondirective meditation activates default mode network and areas associated with memory retrieval and emotional processing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Want spring allergy relief? Avoid stress

Stress doesn’t cause allergies, but easing your mind might mean less allergy flare-ups this spring. According to a study, allergy sufferers with persistent stress experience more allergy flares. "Stress can cause several negative effects on the body, including causing more symptoms for allergy sufferers," said an allergist.

"Stress can cause several negative effects on the body, including causing more symptoms for allergy sufferers," said allergist Amber Patterson, MD, lead study author and ACAAI member. "Our study also found those with more frequent allergy flares also have a greater negative mood, which may be leading to these flares."

Researchers from The Ohio State University analyzed 179 patients for 12 weeks. Thirty-nine percent had more than one allergy flare. This group had higher stress than the group without allergy symptoms. Of this group, 64 percent had more than four flares over two, 14 day periods.

While there were no significant findings between allergy flares and stress on the same day, a number of sufferers reported allergy flares within days of increased daily stress.

"Symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes can cause added stress for allergy sufferers, and may even be the root of stress for some," said Dr. Patterson. "While alleviating stress won't cure allergies, it may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms."

Allergy sufferers can help alleviate stress by:

  • Meditating and breathing deeply
  • Reducing things that may be responsible for stress and learning how to cope better (i.e. not turning to smoking or caffeine which can do more damage than good)
  • Asking for help whether from a social worker, family member or colleague
  • Making time for fun and relaxation
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle by eating right, getting enough sleep and taking care of health conditions
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"Allergy sufferers can also alleviate stress and allergy symptoms by seeing their board-certified allergist," said allergist James Sublett, MD, ACAAI president-elect. "An allergist will help you develop an action plan with ways to avoid allergy triggers and what treatment will be best for your individual needs.
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Story Source: Materials provided by American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Amber M. Patterson, Vedat O. Yildiz, Maryanna D. Klatt, William B. Malarkey. Perceived stress predicts allergy flares. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

Does more stress equal more headaches?

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A new study provides evidence for what many people who experience headache have long suspected—having more stress in your life leads to more headaches.

For the study, 5,159 people age 21 to 71 in the general population were surveyed about their stress levels and headaches four times a year for two years. Participants stated how many headaches they had per month and rated their stress level on a scale of zero to 100.

A total of 31 percent of the participants had tension-type headache, 
  • 14 percent had migraine, 
  • 11 percent had migraine combined with tension-type headache and for 
  • 17 percent the headache type was not classified. 
Those with tension-type headache rated their stress at an average of 52 out of 100.
  • For migraine, it was 62 out of 100 and 
  • 59 for those with migraine and tension-type headache.

For each type of headache, an increase in stress was associated with an increase in the number of headaches per month. 
  • For those with tension headache, an increase of 10 points on the stress scale was associated with a 6.3-percent increase in the number of headache days per month. 
  • For migraine, the number of headache days per month went up by 4.3 percent, and 
  • 4 percent for those with migraine and tension headache. 
The results were adjusted to account for factors that could affect the number of headaches, such as drinking, smoking and frequent use of headache drugs.

"These results show that this is a problem for everyone who suffers from headaches and emphasize the importance of stress management approaches for people with migraine and those who treat them," said study author Sara H. Schramm, MD, of University Hospital of University Duisburg-Essen in Germany. "The results add weight to the concept that stress can be a factor contributing to the onset of headache disorders, that it accelerates the progression to chronic headache, exacerbates headache episodes, and that the headache experience itself can serve as a stressor."
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Story Source:  Materials provided by American Academy of Neurology (AAN). "Does more stress equal more headaches?." ScienceDaily.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chronic Stress Predisposes Sufferer to Mental Disorders

Biologists have shown that chronic stress effects the stem cells in the brain, possibly affecting the speed of connections between cells as well as memory and learning. This could explain why stress leads to mental illness, such as PTSD, anxiety and mood disorders, later in life.University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown that chronic stress generates long-term changes in the brain that may explain why people suffering chronic stress are prone to mental problems such as anxiety and mood disorders later in life.

Doctors know that people with stress-related illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have abnormalities in the brain, including differences in the amount of gray matter versus white matter. Gray matter consists mostly of cells -- neurons, which store and process information, and support cells called glia -- while white matter is composed of axons, which create a network of fibers that interconnect neurons. White matter gets its name from the white, fatty myelin sheath that surrounds the axons and speeds the flow of electrical signals from cell to cell.

How chronic stress creates these long-lasting changes in brain structure is a mystery that researchers are only now beginning to unravel.

In a series of experiments, Daniela Kaufer, UC Berkeley associate professor of integrative biology, and her colleagues, including graduate students Sundari Chetty and Aaron Freidman, discovered that chronic stress generates more myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal. This results in an excess of myelin -- and thus, white matter -- in some areas of the brain, which disrupts the delicate balance and timing of communication within the brain.

"We studied only one part of the brain, the hippocampus, but our findings could provide insight into how white matter is changing in conditions such as schizophrenia, autism, depression, suicide, ADHD and PTSD," she said.

The hippocampus regulates memory and emotions, and plays a role in various emotional disorders.
Kaufer and her colleagues published their findings in the Feb. 11 issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Does stress affect brain connectivity?
Kaufer's findings suggest a mechanism that may explain some changes in brain connectivity in people with PTSD, for example. One can imagine, she said, that PTSD patients could develop a stronger connectivity between the hippocampus and the amygdala -- the seat of the brain's fight or flight response -- and lower than normal connectivity between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which moderates our responses.

"You can imagine that if your amygdala and hippocampus are better connected, that could mean that your fear responses are much quicker, which is something you see in stress survivors," she said. "On the other hand, if your connections are not so good to the prefrontal cortex, your ability to shut down responses is impaired. So, when you are in a stressful situation, the inhibitory pathways from the prefrontal cortex telling you not to get stressed don't work as well as the amygdala shouting to the hippocampus, 'This is terrible!' You have a much bigger response than you should."

She is involved in a study to test this hypothesis in PTSD patients, and continues to study brain changes in rodents subjected to chronic stress or to adverse environments in early life.

Stress tweaks stem cells
Kaufer's lab, which conducts research on the molecular and cellular effects of acute and chronic stress, focused in this study on neural stem cells in the hippocampus of the brains of adult rats. These stem cells were previously thought to mature only into neurons or a type of glial cell called an astrocyte. The researchers found, however, that chronic stress also made stem cells in the hippocampus mature into another type of glial cell called an oligodendrocyte, which produces the myelin that sheaths nerve cells.

The finding, which they demonstrated in rats and cultured rat brain cells, suggests a key role for oligodendrocytes in long-term and perhaps permanent changes in the brain that could set the stage for later mental problems. Oligodendrocytes also help form synapses -- sites where one cell talks to another -- and help control the growth pathway of axons, which make those synapse connections.
The fact that chronic stress also decreases the number of stem cells that mature into neurons could provide an explanation for how chronic stress also affects learning and memory, she said.

Kaufer is now conducting experiments to determine how stress in infancy affects the brain's white matter, and whether chronic early-life stress decreases resilience later in life. She also is looking at the effects of therapies, ranging from exercise to antidepressant drugs, that reduce the impact of stress and stress hormones.

Kaufer's coauthors include Chetty, formerly from UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and now at Harvard University; Friedman and K. Taravosh-Lahn at UC Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology; additional colleagues from UC Berkeley and others from Stanford University and UC Davis.
The work was supported by a BRAINS (Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists) award from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (R01 MH087495), a Berkeley Stem Cell Center Seed Grant, the Hellman Family Foundation and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.
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Story Source:  S Chetty, A R Friedman, K Taravosh-Lahn, E D Kirby, C Mirescu, F Guo, D Krupik, A Nicholas, A C Geraghty, A Krishnamurthy, M-K Tsai, D Covarrubias, A T Wong, D D Francis, R M Sapolsky, T D Palmer, D Pleasure, D Kaufer. Stress and glucocorticoids promote oligodendrogenesis in the adult hippocampus. Molecular Psychiatry, 2014

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Practicing Mindfulness Helps You Stay On Track

"Mndfulness is a mental state in which a person pays attention to the present experience without ruminating about the past or worrying about the future."

Few situations present as much distraction and time pressure as the college experience. In this environment, attention can be elusive and difficult to sustain even when it is attained. This lack of concentration interferes with learning and is associated with stress, which tends to increase during the academic term.

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A form of mental training called mindfulness training, specifically designed for undergraduate students, shows promise as a tool to train attention and improve learning during the academic semester, according to a new study by a team of University of Miami researchers.

The study is the first to examine the incidence of mind wandering and the impact of mindfulness training, at different time points in the academic calendar. The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

"This work was the first to integrate mindfulness training into the academic semester by embedding training in students' course schedules, hosting training in the academic building to best accommodate their schedules, and providing a supervised space for mindfulness exercises," says Amishi Jha, associate professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, and principal investigator of the study.

Mindfulness is a mental state in which a person pays attention to the present experience without ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness training (MT) emphasizes attention-building exercises and learning to observe the activity of the mind, according to Jha.

For the study, 58 UM undergraduate students participated in an experiment testing the effectiveness of a seven-week mental training program designed to tame the mind wandering and increase focus.

The students were assigned to either the MT group or a control group, who received no training. All participants completed two testing sessions, one at the start of the semester and again at the end of the training interval, as final exams neared. Attention was measured by examining overall accuracy and other performance measures in a computer task of sustained attention. The students also self-reported the incidence of mind wandering during the task.

The results indicate that the groups did not differ at the start of the semester. However, by the end of the training interval, the control group showed diminished attention and reported increased mind wandering, while those who participated in the program showed significant improvements in attention and no increase in reported mind wandering.
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Story Source:  Original article written by Marie Guma-Diaz and Annette Gallagher.  Alexandra B. Morrison, Merissa Goolsarran, Scott L. Rogers, Amishi P. Jha. Taming a wandering attention: short-form mindfulness training in student cohorts. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Music and the Arts Fight Depression, Promote Health

If you paint, dance or play a musical instrument -- or just enjoy going to the theater or concerts -- it's likely that you feel healthier and are less depressed than people who don't.

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The findings are drawn from studies conducted for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Nord-Trøndelag Health Study, or HUNT, which used questionnaires, interviews, clinical examinations and the collection of blood and urine samples to assemble detailed health profiles of 48,289 participants.

"There is a positive relationship between cultural participation and self-perceived health for both women and men, "says Professor Jostein Holmen, a HUNT researcher who presented the findings at a Norwegian health conference in Stjørdal in November, 2009. "For men, there is also a positive relationship between cultural participation and depression, in that there is less depression among men who participate in cultural activities, although this is not true for women."

But what surprised the medical researcher was that these findings held true no matter the individual's socio-economic status -- whether truck driver or bank president, participating in some way in the arts, theater or music, as player or participant, had a positive effect on that individual's sense of health and well-being.

The new findings were controlled for socioeconomic status, chronic illness, social capital, smoking and alcohol. However, Holmen also reported that the same sense of well-being in people who participate in cultural activities that seemed to protect them from depression did not appear to have the same beneficial effect on anxiety.
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Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)  (2009, December 16). Music and the arts fight depression, promote health. ScienceDaily.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Health & Wealth Connected?

"Health and wealth may be more strongly connected than previously thought."

We ring in the New Year with hopes of being healthy, wealthy, and wise. A new study from researchers John W. Ayers of San Diego State University and Benjamin Althouse of the Santa Fe Institute and their colleagues suggests that health and wealth may be more strongly connected than previously thought.

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The group examined Americans' Google search patterns and discovered that during the recent Great Recession, people searched considerably more frequently for information about health ailments. The kinds of problems indicated by the queries weren't life threatening, but they could keep someone in the bed a few days, like ulcers, headaches, and back pain.

In total, the team found there were more than 200 million excess queries of this kind during the Great Recession than expected.

"While it's impossible to uncover the motives for increased searches, they likely indicate a person being ill, and ill enough to seek out online information or remedies," Ayers said. The same group previously published a report showing that queries for anxiety and depression also increased substantially during the Great Recession.

Revealing searches
In the new study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the team began with five root words indicative of the most common health problems: "chest," "headache," "heart," "pain," and "stomach." Controlling for search terms that might return false positives (such as "tool chest"), the researchers measured how frequently people in the United States searched for queries involving those root terms during the Great Recession, here defined as December 2008 through 2011, and came up with a list of 343 symptom queries.

Next, the team calculated what the search volume of those symptoms' queries would have been if there had been no Great Recession -- what statisticians call synthetic controls) -- correcting for such variables as the growing availability of the Internet and increased usage.

Comparing those values to people's actual search behavior revealed that certain symptoms were searched for with far more frequency during the recession. Searches for "stomach ulcer symptoms" were 228 percent higher than would be expected and "headache symptoms" were 193 percent higher, representing about 1.48 and 1.52 million excess searches.

Aggregating the symptoms into themes, the researchers found that several broad categories of health concerns stuck out: Queries about headaches were 41 percent higher than expected; for hernias, 37 percent; for chest pain, 35 percent; and for heart arrhythmias, 32 percent. Back pain, gastric pain, joint pain and toothache also popped up with greater-than-expected frequency among the search terms.

"The Great Recession undoubtedly got inside the body via the mind," Ayers said. "Job loss or losing a home touched nearly everyone, directly or indirectly. But those who got away unscathed were probably not immune to the Great Recession's health implications, with many thinking 'I could be next'."

Superior surveillance
Althouse, the study's lead author, said that by monitoring health-related search terms, public health officials could recognize burgeoning epidemics and direct resources to help people reduce their stress or take other precautionary measures. This technique is quicker, cheaper, and more efficient than traditional survey based methodologies, he added.

"In fact, many current approaches to public health surveillance are both slow and expensive," Althouse said. "Internet search queries may be a significantly more precise metric, suggesting precisely when and how the population's health could be changing."

"By looking for these more-frequent-than-expected search terms and matching them up to world events, public health officials can conduct population health surveillance on a truly unprecedented scale," added Mark Dredze, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University and one of the study's coauthors.

The team pointed out that their approach could be used to immediately improve public health. For example, search engines like Google could interpret these searches and suggest links to evidence-based, Internet-based treatment options in coordination with health agencies.

"The web is a stigma-reducing and cost-reducing venue to reach patients who search for, but do not otherwise receive, treatment because they cannot afford medications or copayments," said Jon-Patrick Allem, another of the study's coauthor and a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

Matthew Childers, study coauthor and professor of political science at the University of Georgia, added that their findings carry political implications, as well.

"If you just recently had your unemployment benefits slashed, in addition to becoming poorer, you just might end up sicker too," Childers said. "Of the more than $800 billion allocated by the stimulus package, only $9 billion was spent on health promotion, and our study shows how health can have greater salience in economic debates going forward."
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Story Source:  Original article was written by Michael Price:  Benjamin M. Althouse, PhD, ScM, Jon-Patrick Allem, MA, Matthew A. Childers, PhD, MPP, Mark Dredze, PhD, John W. Ayers, PhD, MA. Population Health Concerns During the United States ’ Great Recession. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, January 2013