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Coping with Stress Depends on Mind and Body Regulation

By the American Friends of Tel Aviv University

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How our mind and body copes with stress depends on our ability to regulate it.

Poor recovery from extremely stressful encounters can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or even chronic somatic dysfunction (such as pain and fatigue) in some people. Insight into the multi-level sequence of events — from cellular changes to brain function, emotional responses, and observed behavior — will help medical professionals make more informed decisions concerning interventions.

A new Tel Aviv University study published in PLOS ONE provides it. Researchers have used cutting-edge genetic research and brain imaging technologies to determine that the brain function responsible for regulating our stress response intertwines with molecular regulatory elements to produce a personal profile of resilience to stress. Their findings may lead to a future blood test that would facilitate preventive or early intervention in professions prone to high stress or trauma (combat soldiers and policemen, for example).

The research was led jointly by Prof. Talma Hendler of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and the Director of the Functional Brain Center at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Dr. Noam Shomron of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and Sackler School of Medicine. Research for the study was conducted by TAU doctoral students Dr. Sharon Vaisvaser and Dr. Shira Modai.

The biological complexity of stress

“We can’t look at one measurement at one point in time and think we have the whole picture of the stress response,” Prof. Hendler explained. “This is perhaps the first study to induce stress in the lab and look at resulting changes to three levels of the stress response — neural (seen in brain imaging), cellular (measured through epigenetics), and experience (assessed through behavioral report).”

“We found that vulnerability to stress is not only related to a predisposition due to a certain gene,” said Dr. Shomron. “The relevant gene can be expressed or not expressed according to a person’s experience, environment, and many other context-related factors.

“This type of interaction between the environment and our genome has been conceptualized lately as the ‘epigenetic process.’ It has become clear that these processes are of an utmost importance to our health and well being, and are probably, in some cases, above and beyond our predispositions.”

The research for this study was conducted on 49 healthy young male adults. Researchers integrated the analysis of fMRI images of brain function during an acute social stress task and also measured levels of microRNAs — small RNAs that exert potent regulatory effects — obtained in a blood test before and three hours after the induced stress. Dr. Vaisvaser explains, “Twenty minutes after the stress drill ended, we had two groups: the sustainers, those still stressed, and the recovered, those no longer stressed. The sustainers either didn’t go back to baseline or took much longer to do so.”

The researchers found that a specific alteration in the expression of the microRNA miR-29c was greater among the stress sustainers, implying a marker of slow recovery. Intriguingly, this change corresponded with modified connectivity of a major stress regulation node in the brain, the vento-medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).

The researchers were able to interpret functions in the brain through RNA molecules tested in the blood. They found that miR-29c played a mediating role, linking the enhancement of vmPFC connectivity with the anterior insula, a core node in the saliency network, sustaining the feeling of stress.

From basic research to practical treatment

“We all need to react to stress; it’s healthy to react to something considered a challenge or a threat,” said Prof. Hendler. “The problem is when you don’t recover in a day, or a week, or more. This indicates your brain and’or body do not regulate properly and have a hard time returning to homeostasis (i.e., a balanced baseline). We found that this recovery involves both neural and epigenetic/cellular mechanisms, together contributing to our subjective experience of the stress.

“Knowing the brain metric that corresponds to such genetic vulnerability will make it possible to develop a personalized plan for brain-guided treatment based on a blood test.”

“If you can identify through a simple blood test those likely to develop maladaptive responses to stress, you can offer a helpful prevention or early intervention,” Dr. Shomron added.

“Conducting a collaborative interdisciplinary study is a great challenge,” said Dr. Vaisvaser. “But the challenge is worth it, opening up new ways of looking at dynamics between concurrent factors contributing to the overall experience of stress.”

The researchers are currently taking the study forward to look for the dynamic oscillations in the epigenetic markers of people suffering from stress disorders to confirm whether they can be modified via brain-targeted treatments. Article Source

Related Online Continuing Education Courses

Nearly every client who walks through a health professional’s door is experiencing some form of anxiety. Even if they are not seeking treatment for a specific anxiety disorder, they are likely experiencing anxiety as a side effect of other clinical issues. For this reason, a solid knowledge of anxiety management skills should be a basic component of every therapist’s repertoire. Clinicians who can teach practical anxiety management techniques have tools that can be used in nearly all clinical settings and client diagnoses. Anxiety management benefits the clinician as well, helping to maintain energy, focus, and inner peace both during and between sessions. The purpose of this course is to offer a collection of ready-to-use anxiety management tools.

 

This course will give you the mindfulness skills necessary to work directly, effectively and courageously, with your own and your client’s life struggles. Compassion towards others starts with compassion towards self. Practicing mindfulness cultivates our ability to pay intentional attention to our experience from moment to moment. Mindfulness teaches us to become patiently and spaciously aware of what is going on in our mind and body without judgment, reaction, and distraction, thus inviting into the clinical process, the inner strengths and resources that help achieve healing results not otherwise possible. Bringing the power of mindful presence to your clinical practice produces considerable clinical impact in the treatment of anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic pain, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, colitis/IBS, and migraines/tension headaches. The emphasis of this course is largely experiential and will offer you the benefit of having a direct experience of the mindfulness experience in a safe and supportive fashion. You will utilize the power of “taking the client there” as an effective technique of introducing the mindful experience in your practice setting. As you will learn, the mindfulness practice has to be experienced rather than talked about. This course will provide you with an excellent understanding of exactly what mindfulness is, why it works, and how to use it. You will also develop the tools that help you introduce mindful experiences in your practice, and how to deal with possible client resistance.

 

This CE test is based on the book “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook” (2010, 224 pages). Stress and pain are nearly unavoidable in our daily lives; they are part of the human condition. This stress can often leave us feeling irritable, tense, overwhelmed, and burned-out. The key to maintaining balance is responding to stress not with frustration and self-criticism, but with mindful, nonjudgmental awareness of our bodies and minds. Impossible? Actually, it’s easier than it seems. In just weeks, you can learn mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a clinically proven program for alleviating stress, anxiety, panic, depression, chronic pain, and a wide range of medical conditions. Taught in classes and clinics worldwide, this powerful approach shows you how to focus on the present moment in order to permanently change the way you handle stress. As you work through A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, you’ll learn how to replace stress-promoting habits with mindful ones-a skill that will last a lifetime.

Professional Development Resources is approved to offer online continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; and by the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners.

 

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Helping the Helpers of Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 5.3 million people in the U.S. who have Alzheimer’s and nearly 11 million unpaid caregivers involved in their daily care. It is the 7th leading cause of death, and it costs us around 172 billion dollars each year. While there are a number of causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common type, accounting for 60-80% of cases. In advanced Alzheimer’s, people need help with bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, eating, and other daily activities. Those in the final stages of the disease lose their ability to communicate, fail to recognize loved ones, and become bed-bound and are reliant on 24/7 care. Their needs can become an almost unbearable burden for their caregivers.

alzheimer's continuing education“This is where family members and other unpaid caregivers begin to come to the attention of health and mental health professionals,” says Leo Christie, PhD, CEO of Professional Development Resources. “While most caregivers are proud of the help they provide, many of them also experience very high levels of stress and depression associated with their caregiving roles. One study showed that family members who provided care to a person with dementia spent at least 46 hours per week assisting the person in the last year before the person’s death. The majority felt they were on duty 24 hours a day. Our goal is to provide continuing education (CE) courses that give professionals the tools they need to help the helpers.”

Negative health effects can run the gamut from stress to heart disease. Research has indicated that caregivers – many of whom are elderly themselves – may show high levels of stress hormones, reduced immune function, new hypertension, and new coronary heart disease. In one study, 24% of spouse caregivers had at least one ER visit or hospitalization in the previous six months. Mental health effects include severe stress and depression. There are also social and economic impacts, such as isolation and reduced employment.

“Our main task is to convince caregivers that it’s OK to ask for help and take time for themselves,” adds Christie. “They feel that they should be able to do everything themselves, that it’s not all right to leave the person with someone else, that no one will help even if they ask, or that they don’t have the money to pay someone to watch the person for an hour or two. It all adds up to burnout.”

Among the Alzheimer’s courses offered by Professional Development Resources are:

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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in General

 

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