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Stress

Stress is an epidemic in our country....
- Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, quoted in ANA MARIE COX, Vivek Murthy Thinks We Need to Learn How to Deal With Stress, NYT, DEC. 28, 2016


Violence, bitter partisanship, an uncertain future. These are dark times.

In fact, humanity just had its gloomiest year in more than a decade, according to a new survey of the emotional lives of more than 154,000 people around the world.

More people reported negative experiences, defined as worry, stress, physical pain, anger or sadness, than at any point since 2005, when Gallup, the analytics and consulting company, introduced the survey.

“This is the first time that we’ve seen a really significant uptick in negative emotions,” said Julie Ray, the chief writer and editor of the report and survey, known as the Gallup World Poll. “It’s as high as we’ve ever measured it.” ...

- Niraj Chokshi, It’s Not Just You: 2017 Was Rough for Humanity, Study Finds, NYT, Sept. 12, 2018


... an increasing body of evidence suggests that the time we spend on our smartphones is interfering with our sleep, self-esteem, relationships, memory, attention spans, creativity, productivity and problem-solving and decision-making skills.

But there is another reason for us to rethink our relationships with our devices. By chronically raising levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, our phones may be threatening our health and shortening our lives.

Until now, most discussions of phones’ biochemical effects have focused on dopamine, a brain chemical that helps us form habits — and addictions. Like slot machines, smartphones and apps are explicitly designed to trigger dopamine’s release, with the goal of making our devices difficult to put down.

This manipulation of our dopamine systems is why many experts believe that we are developing behavioral addictions to our phones. But our phones’ effects on cortisol are potentially even more alarming. ...

And chronically elevated cortisol levels have been tied to an increased risk of serious health problems, including depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, high blood pressure, heart attack, dementia and stroke.

“Every chronic disease we know of is exacerbated by stress,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, emeritus professor in pediatric endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “The Hacking of the American Mind.” “And our phones are absolutely contributing to this.”
- Catherine Price, Putting Down Your Phone May Help You Live Longer, NYT, April 24, 2019


Dr. McEwen, who died on Jan. 2 at 81, described three forms of stress: good stress — a response to an immediate challenge with a burst of energy that focuses the mind; transient stress — a response to daily frustrations that resolve quickly; and chronic stress — a response to a toxic, unrelenting barrage of challenges that eventually breaks down the body.

It was Dr. McEwen’s research into chronic stress that proved groundbreaking. He and his research team at Rockefeller University in Manhattan discovered in 1968 that stress hormones had a profound effect on the brain.
In studies using animals (five rats in the initial one), Dr. McEwen and his colleagues demonstrated that toxic stress atrophied neurons near the hippocampus, the brain’s memory and learning center. Their findings also paved the way for a later discovery by other scientists: that toxic stress also expands neurons near the amygdala, an area of the brain that promotes vigilance toward threats. ...
He also wrote popular books, including “The Hostage Brain” (1994), about how the brain can be overtaken by both external and internal forces, written with Harold M. Schmeck Jr., then a science reporter for The New York Times; and “The End of Stress as We Know It” (2002, with Elizabeth Norton Lasley).
- Randi Hutter Epstein, Bruce McEwen, 81, Is Dead; Found Stress Can Alter the Brain, NYT, Feb. 10, 2020


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