Med School Success Basics: Worried, Feeling Anxious? Stop It NOW

Med School Success Basics

One of the greatest ways to relieve stress may sound impotent, but trust me when I tell you it’s not.

I’ve learned this over the years–find something to laugh about.  No joke.

It can change your physiology immediately, and take your body from stress, dis-ease to ease and relaxation.

I couldn’t believe it either, when I first heard about Norman Cousins’ seminal book, Anatomy of an Illness on a television interview.  I was intrigued, but stupified by the thought that watching comedy films could put a severe, chronic degenerative disorder as anklyosing spondylitis to be healed.

Today, thanks to his work, there’s a field of humor therapy, that has clearly defined the benefits of laughter.

If you can’t laugh–take a few deep breaths.  That will stop your brain from releasing stress hormones. You can mediate–even 2 to 5 minutes are beneficial. .  Meditate.

Also  there are nutrients phytochemicals (botanicals), vitamins, minerals and amino acids which can make a difference in your brain functioning.  Check out our Med School Basic Resources for more information.

Or you  can take a few minutes and immerse yourself in nature.

How are you feeling about what’s going on in the world?  I know a lot of people have been experiencing more fear, uncertainty, and despair, for a variety of reasons.  I want to share with you something that can help you and our world.

Several years ago while walking through the parking lot of a major big box store, I saw a beautiful little boy sitting in a shopping cart being pushed by his mother. His arms were outstretched as if to embrace everyone in his presence, and as they approached me, he turned his joyful smile in my direction. As he looked at me, beaming, he held out his arms toward me. I felt his heart embracing me, as though he’d actually wrapped his arms around me, and I also felt my heart returning his embrace.

It all happened in just a few seconds, but it was a powerful and beautiful moment that I will never forget.

His mother looked and me and said, “He’s like this everywhere we go. He just wants to love the world. It’s so embarrassing.”

“Don’t be embarrassed,” I replied. “He’s beautiful.”

I believe babies and young children are our purest and most accessible example of spiritual engagement. They live entirely in the moment and are always express their truth. Upset one moment, they can become happy with lightning speed. It’s not until much later in life that we linger in sadness.

Children haven’t experienced enough involvement with the external world to displace their natural awareness of love, and they are naturally and openly connected to their spirits. There are no prolonged interfering thoughts or emotions that separate them from their spirits. They remind us of who we are and of the beauty that lies within us. Over time, however, that engagement with spirit dwindles, and as adults, we shift our focus to the physical realm. Still, spirit remains the core of our being and waits for our conscious return to it.

And lovingkindness, is the doorway to our spirit.  There are many ways to give. Explore new avenues for giving of yourself to others: family, friends, colleagues, coworkers, and strangers. The purest and easiest way is to be fully present with a person when you are together.

Committing random and conscious acts of kindness and volunteering on a regular basis, particularly when engaging in the acts from a place of spiritual awareness, are remarkable ways to experience optimal well-being.

The Kindness Diaries

A couple of weeks ago, my sister shared a powerful program with me, The Kindness Diaries, currently airing on Netflix.  It’s a powerful series, capturing the highlights of one man’s journey across the globe seeking and sharing random acts of kindness.

While we don’t have to travel as Leon did, committing acts of kindness can make a difference in our lives and those we touch.

Here’s a link to his website

Study Find Benefits of Doing Good

Laboratory-based experiments have shown that providing support can help individuals cope with stress, increasing their experiences of positive emotion. To investigate whether this holds true in daily  functioning in the real world, researchers at Yale University and UCLA  Ansell and co-authors Elizabeth B. Raposa (UCLA and Yale University School of Medicine) and Holly B. Laws (Yale University School of Medicine) conducted a study in which people used their smartphones to report on their feelings and experiences in daily life.

The results indicated that helping others boosted participants’ daily well-being. A greater number of helping behaviors was associated with higher levels of daily positive emotion and better overall mental health.

Significantly, their helping behavior also influenced how they responded to stress. People who reported lower-than-usual helping behavior reported lower positive emotion and higher negative emotion in response to high daily stress. Those who reported higher-than-usual levels of helping behavior, on the other hand, showed no dampening of positive emotion or mental health, and a lower increase in negative emotion, in response to high daily stress. In other words, helping behavior seemed to buffer the negative effects of stress on well-being.

“It was surprising how strong and uniform the effects were across daily experiences,” says Ansell. “For example, if a participant did engage in more prosocial behaviors on stressful days there was essentially no impact of stress on positive emotion or daily mental health. And there was only a slight increase in negative emotion from stress if the participant engaged in more prosocial behaviors.”

So the next time, you’re feeling out of harmony with the world, please remember, you can make a difference, one that will help another and yourself.  That is the beauty of sharing kindness.


Superhealing: Engaging Your Mind, Body and Spirit to Create Optimal Health and Well-Being: Chapter 9

The article abstract is available online: “Prosocial Behavior Mitigates the Negative Effects of Stress in Everyday Life” and access to other Clinical Psychological Science research findings

Is Stress Interrupting Your Sleep? Here’s a Solution

We know that stressful events certainly prevent a good night’s sleep.  Researchers at the Japanese Sleep Institute found that the active component rich in sugarcane and other natural products may stop stress and improve the chances of having sound sleep.

In today’s world ever-changing environment, demanding job works and socio-economic factors enforces sleep deprivation in human population. Sleep deprivation induces tremendous amount of stress, and stress itself is one of the major factors responsible for sleep loss or difficulty in falling into sleep. Currently available sleeping pills does not address stress component and often have severe side effects. Sleep loss is also associated with certain other diseases including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, depression, anxiety, mania deficits etc.

The research group led by Mahesh K. Kaushik and Yoshihiro Urade of the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (WPI-IIIS), University of Tsukuba, found that octacosanol reduces stress and restores stress-affected sleep back to normal.

Octacosanol is abundantly present in various everyday foods such as sugarcane (thin whitish layer on surface), rice bran, wheat germ oil, bee wax etc. The crude extract is policosanol, where octacosanol is the major constituent. Policosanol and octacosanol have already been used in humans for various other medical conditions.

In the current study, authors made an advancement and investigated the effect of octacosanol on sleep regulation in mildly stressed mice by oral administration. Octacosanol reduced corticosterone level in blood plasma, which is a stress marker. The octacosanol-administered mice also showed normal sleep, which was previously disturbed due to stress. They therefore claim that the octacosanol mitigates stress in mice and restores stress-affected sleep to normal in mice. The sleep induced by octacosanol was similar to natural sleep and physiological in nature. However, authors also claimed that octacosanol does not affect sleep in normal animals. These results clearly demonstrated that octacosanol is an active compound that has potential to reduce stress and to increase sleep, and it could potentially be useful for the therapy of insomnia caused by stress. Octacosanol can be considered safe for human use as a therapy, because it is a food-based compound and believed to show no side effects.

Octacosanol/policosanol supplements are used by humans for functions such as lipid metabolism, cholesterol lowering or to provide strength. However, well-planned clinical studies need to be carried out to confirm its effect on humans for its stress-mitigation and sleep-inducing potentials. “Future studies include the identification of target brain area of octacosanol, its BBB permeability, and the mechanism via which octacosanol lowers stress,” Kaushik says.

A sugarcane field in Okinawa. Whitish layers of sugarcane (left lower panel) abundantly contain octacosanol.


Kaushik MK, Aritake K, Takeuchi A, Yanagisawa M, Urade Y. (2017) Octacosanol restores stress-affected sleep in mice by alleviating stress. Scientific Reports 7: 8892

Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

In the face of significant stress, medical students face increasing anxiety and laughter is a viable tool to immediately reduce stress.

Have you ever caught someone else’s boisterous laughter?  Of course you have! Stronger bonds are formed when laughter is shared, and nothing beats the feeling of happiness when you indeed share a great laugh with another. Did you know that laughter is also now confirmed as a powerful medicine?

A continuously expanding body of medical research recognizes the benefits of laughter in terms of preventing and reversing disease caused by the impact of stressful events on our lives. This finding isn’t actually as new as it appears to be.  Throughout history, and for thousands of years, sages have recognized the importance of laughter, as recorded in the ancient scriptures. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” says the Bible (Proverbs 17:22).

The Healing Laughter Revolution

In 1964 when the contemporary idea of humor therapy was reborn for our time.  Shortly after a trip to the Soviet Union, Norman Cousins, former editor of Saturday Review, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a progressive, degenerative disease of collagen tissue often affecting the spine. His doctors indicated heavy metal poisoning as a possible cause of his illness.

Mr. Cousins, on the other hand, suspected that a stress-induced condition of adrenal exhaustion lessened his body’s ability to tolerate repeated toxic exposure to diesel exhaust fumes during his travels. He then recalled reading about a research that concluded negative emotions caused biochemical changes that had deleterious effects on the body. He theorized that positive emotions might create changes in the body that would enhance his recovery process. With the assistance of his very open-minded physician, he checked into a hotel and laughed for hours watching Marx Brothers and Three Stooges movies, while an IV infused with large amounts of vitamin C flowed into his veins.

He reported that watching the films decreased his pain and helped him to sleep better. Significant changes in his blood chemistry were recorded. The sedimentation rate (an indicator of inflammation) was taken daily, before and after “laughter” sessions; significant decreases were noted after. Cousins’ controversial personal account was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It prompted an outpouring of disbelief and heated discussion within medical circles.

His book, Anatomy of an Illness, became a best-seller and is now considered a classic in the world of mind-body medicine. So if you feel like catching someone else’s contagious laughter, by all means do so! Nothing’s wrong with letting out a hearty laugh every now and then. Furthermore, you could already be doing your health a big favor in the process.

The 1998 film, “Patch Adams,” starring Robin Williams, triggered a flurry of attention and renewed interest in the use of laughter as therapy? Based on a true story, Williams portrayed a doctor who saw and used humor as an important component of medical treatment.

Health tip: Laugh several times a day.  Children laugh over three hundred times a day, while adults, usually laugh under twenty times daily.

Is This More Important than Reducing Stress?

While reducing our responses to stress is important, a Stanford University research psychologist shares a unique perspective, indicating that stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier – if we learn how to open our minds to it.

Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.,  says that viewing stress more positively seems to encourage people to cope in ways that help them thrive.

If people actually embrace the concept of stress, it can make them stronger, smarter and happier, a Stanford expert says.

“Stress isn’t always harmful,” said Kelly McGonigal, a business school lecturer at Stanford and program developer for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. “Once you appreciate that going through stress makes you better at it, it can be easier to face each new challenge.”

The Stanford News Service interviewed McGonigal, recently published a new book, The Upside of Stress, on the subject.


Embracing Stress

The initial study on stress mindsets, which was conducted by Stanford psychology Assistant Professor Alia Crum.  It found the perspective that stress is a helpful part of life, rather than as harmful, is associated with better health, emotional well-being and productivity at work – even during periods of high stress.

This study reminds me of the groundbreaking research conducted over 30 years ago by Susan Kobialka, Ph.D., who determined that one of  three protective “Hardiness” traits (against stressful circumstances) is viewing stress as a challenge (the other two are commitment and a sense of control).

Your perspective matters because it changes how your body respond to stress.  Also, perceiving  stress as harmful unhealthy coping responses, whether it’s getting drunk to “release” stress, procrastinating to avoid stress, or imagining worst-case scenarios.

Another study found that simply having the goal to avoid stress increased the long-term risk of outcomes like depression, divorce and getting fired, by increasing people’s reliance on harmful coping strategies. A more positive stress perception encourages coping in ways that will help you to thrive, whether it’s tackling the source of stress, seeking social support or finding meaning in it.


So Should You Tell Yourself Stress is Good For You?

In the course of researching his book and developing her own stress mindset interventions,  Dr. McGonigal discovered that the most helpful mindset toward stress goes beyond a generally positive attitude toward stress. The three most protective beliefs about stress are: 1) to view your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating – for example, to view stress as energy you can use; 2) to view yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life; and 3) to view stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is.

The emerging science on stress mindsets shows that it is possible to change all of these attitudes, even if we are used to thinking of stress as harmful.  For example, when you feel your heart pounding from anxiety, you think about how your body is trying to give you the energy you need to rise to the challenge. More importantly, changing any one of these attitudes can help you thrive in the face of ordinary stress as well as chronic or even traumatic stress.


When is Stress Harmful?

There is a reason stress has a bad reputation, and part of it is the evidence that chronic and traumatic stress can increase the risk of illness, depression and early mortality, among other things.

Choosing to see the upside of stress isn’t about denying the fact that stress can be harmful. It’s about trying to balance your mindset so that you feel less overwhelmed and hopeless about the fact that your life is stressful. We rarely get to choose the stress in our lives, and it isn’t realistic to think we can avoid stress. Given that life is going to be stressful, what do you gain by focusing on the fear that the reality of your life is killing you?

Psychologists have found that the ability to embrace stress requires a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. You have to be able to understand that two seemingly opposite things can be true at the same time. It can be true that going through something stressful can make you sick or depressed, and it can also be true that the same stressful experience can ultimately make you stronger, more compassionate and more resilient over time.


What Should You DO When a Stressful Situation Occurs?

Stress is most likely to be harmful when the following conditions are present: it feels against your will, out of your control and utterly devoid of meaning. If you can change any of these conditions – by finding some meaning in it – you can reduce the harmful effects of stress.

The relationship between stress and meaning can be very helpful to understand. A 2013 study asked a broad national sample of adults in the U.S to rate how much they agreed with the statement, “Taking all things together, I feel my life is meaningful. “The researchers then looked at what distinguished people who strongly agreed with the statement from those who did not.

Surprisingly, every measure of stress that the researchers asked about predicted a greater sense of meaning in life. People who had experienced the highest number of stressful life events in the past were most likely to consider their lives meaningful. People who said they were under a lot of stress right now also rated their lives as more meaningful. Even time spent worrying about the future was associated with meaning.

One of the researchers’ main conclusions from this study is, “People with very meaningful lives worry more and have more stress than people with less meaningful lives.”

Rather than being a sign that something is wrong with your life, feeling stressed can be a barometer for how engaged you are in activities and relationships that are personally meaningful.


Additional Stress Mindset Tips

Dr. Konigal adds, one simple mindset reset that can help us face and find the good in the stress in our lives is to view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. The ability to learn from stress is built into the basic biology of the stress response. For several hours after you have a strong stress response, the brain is rewiring itself to remember and learn from the experience.

Stress alters your brain an imprint on your brain that prepares you to handle similar stress the next time you encounter it. Psychologists call the process of learning and growing from a difficult experience stress inoculation. Going through the experience gives your brain and body a stress vaccine.

This is why putting people through practice stress is a key training technique for NASA astronauts, emergency responders, elite athletes and others who have to thrive under high levels of stress.

An abundance of literature has pointed toward a clear link between stress and performance. This association is critical for understand the contextually-dependent nature of testing, diagnosis, and assessment, which can be influenced by such intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

Research in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) suggests that cognitive reappraisal, or the ability to change one’s thoughts in the presence of emotionally-charged stimuli, can improve responses to stressful situations such as test-taking. However, this body of work does not adequately address the role of stress mindset, or how one views the nature of stress itself and whether thoughts need to be changed in the first place.

A recent study (Crum, Akinola, Martin, & Fath, 2017) suggests that one’s overall mindset about the nature of stress is related to differential patterns of hormone production, emotional experience, attention biases, and cognitive flexibility (thinking with flexibility). The initial findings of the study were published on January 27 in the journal Anxiety, Stress, & Coping.

Stress mindset is the overarching belief that stress is either enhancing or debilitating for cognitive, psychological, affective, and hormonal outcomes. Individuals who hold a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset see daily life stressors as challenges for which they have adequate resources to meet expected demands. Those who hold a “stress-is-debilitating” mindset see stressors as overwhelming events for which they are lacking internal resources to meet external pressures. Specifically, individuals who endorse stress as a challenge, rather than as a problem, on a measure of stress mindset (Crum, Salovey, & Achor, 2013) tend to have better health, greater life satisfaction, lower cortisol reactivity (the “stress” hormone), and are more receptive to performance feedback by others.


Watch Dr. McGonigal’s Ted Talk on Stress



Charney, D. S. (2004). Psychobiological mechanisms of resilience and vulnerability: Implications for successful adaption to extreme stress. American Journal of Psychiatry 161(2). Pp. 195-216.

Crum, A., Akinola, M., Martin, A., & Fath, S. (2017). The Role of Stress Mindset in Shaping Cognitive, Emotional, & Physiological Responses to Challenging & Threatening Stress. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping. 

Crum, A., Salovey, P. & Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Frye, C. A., & Lacey, E. H. (1999). The neurosteroids DHEA and DHEAS may influence cognitive performance by altering affective state. Physiology & Behavior 66(1). Pp. 85-92.

Kirschbaum, C., Pirke, K. M., Hellhammer, D. H. (1993). The “Trier Social Stress Test” – a tool for investigating psychobiological stress responses in a laboratory setting. Neuropsychobiology, 28(1-2), Pp. 76-81.


Researchers Discover A Hidden Stress Benefit

Please use photo

Stress is a vital response, needed to prepare us for dangerous situations. Without it, we can’t  survive. It triggers several biochemical responses that mobilizes the organism and enables it to manage threatening situations. The so called fight or flight response has been repeatedly called into question, due to the results of behavioral studies. Newer findings revealed that humans show an increase in prosocial behavior under stress. In their investigation, Claus Lamm and his team from the University of Vienna shed light on the neural processes underlying this behavior.

In an experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants were exposed to acute stress while trying to empathize with another person. At the same time, their brain activity was measured using fMRI. The researchers focused especially on stress-related changes of neural activity in the so-called “empathy network”.

A total of 80 male participants were asked to empathize with others while solving difficult tasks under time pressure, all the while receiving negative feedback on their performance. The effects of this psychological stress induction were measured through cortisol increase. Subsequently, participants were shown photos of painful medical procedures performed on the hand, and asked to vividly imagine the pain of the depicted patient. For some photos, participants received the additional information that the patient’s hand had been under anesthesia during the procedure. This required them to distinguish between their automatic aversive reaction to the image and the actual feelings of the patient, and thus intended to measure the participants’ ability to take the patient’s perspective and to regulate their own emotions. In the following, the researchers used the “dictator game”, a game developed in behavioral economics, to measure prosocial behavior. In this game, participants had to distribute a sum of money in whichever ratio they wanted between themselves and a stranger.

The results showed that the neural empathy network reacted more strongly to images of painful medical procedures when under stress. However, their neural reaction was equally strong when participants knew that the procedure was in fact not painful, speaking for a lack of perspective taking under stress. Additionally, neural activation correlated with the amount of money shared in a prosocial manner – the stronger the brain’s reaction to others’ pain, the more money the participant shared with the stranger.

Claus Lamm summarizes the findings as follows: “Based on their neural responses, stressed participants had a stronger emotional reaction to the pictures. However, this implies that they also ignored complex information about the actual situation the shown person was in. Our results thus support the hypothesis that humans show more empathy and are more prone to helping others when they are under stress, but that their perspective taking skills might deteriorate. In some circumstances, the stronger emotional response might thus result in aid that is uncalled for or inappropriate, for example when one’s first impression of another’s mental state does not match their actual emotion – e.g. when someone is crying out of joy. Hence, depending on the context and situation, stress can be either beneficial or detrimental in social situations.”


Increased neural responses to empathy for pain might explain how acute stress increases prosociality L. Tomova; J. Majdandzic; A. Hummer; C. Windischberger; M. Heinrichs; C. Lamm Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2016; doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw146

6 Profoundly Simple Ways to Reduce Your Stress

It seems like today we are more stressed than ever, without any relief in sight.  Throughout history, our ancestors around the globe, recognized the connection between stress, emotions, attitudes, physical health and long term well-being.

The presence of unmanaged emotional stress increases the risk of developing heart disease and cancer six times in comparison to standard risk facts including obesity, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, and hypertension.  But the good news is-it is far more responsive to intervention.

Also, according to a government report and the American Stress Institute-it’s also the cause of 90-95% of all doctor’s office visits.

Haven’t you seen people do all of the right things and still get sick? They exercised, ate the right food, and you wondered what happened to them? Clearly something else was going on.  They probably ignored their emotions which wreaked havoc on their health.  Then they went to their doctors to get treatment for their symptoms.

A study found that men who complain of high anxiety are up to six times more likely to suffer sudden death than calmer men.  While a twenty year study at the Harvard School of Public health involving over 1700 men conducted at the found that worry about social conditions, health and personal finances all significantly increased the risk of heart disease.

Did you know that more heart attacks occur on Monday morning?  They do  because of the extremely stressful emotional changes caused by not wanting to go to work on the dreaded Monday morning, after a weekend off!

Whatever you feel is REAL to your cells, even if you know it isn’t true.  Every thought, feeling and emotion you experience triggers the release of matching chemicals that affect all of your cells. It’s normal to have emotional ups and downs, that’s part of being human.  However, it’s your ongoing emotional trend that affects your health.  So if you’re trending with ongoing stress and anxiety—you’re trending in the direction of dis-ease.

The most important question I learned to ask my patients is, “What’s making you sick?” Everyone knew. Over 95% identified an extremely difficult, stressful emotional situation, usually involving a family member as the cause. Even though they knew the cause, they didn’t know what to do about it.  It’s not our jobs, or our relationships, or the news that’s making us sick.  It’s how we respond to them.  We always have a choice. We can choose a healthier response.

The rest of my patients identified chronic stress as the problem, and didn’t understand how it was now causing the disease, since it had been going on for so long.  I reminded them that it takes years of cigarette smoking, to cause cancer, and it doesn’t happen after smoking one pack.  The same is true of stress. It can take years to create a disease.

So we must interrupt the stress response. Here’s a few effective ways to immediately interrupt the stress response.

  1. Take Theanine. This is my favorite recommendation.  Theanine is a powerful stress interrupter.  It is the best nutrient interrupter I have ever found! It is an amino acid extract from green tea, and biochemically stops the stress response, without any side effects.
  2. Taking B complex- or adaptogenic herbs-Rhodiola, Ginseng, Ashwaganda,
  3. Stress is also linked to magnesium deficiency
  4. Or you can close your eyes and focus on a very pleasant memory for a few minutes.
  5. Another way is to laugh. Laughter is one of the easiest ways to interrupt the flow of toxins. Call a friends, and ask them to tell you a joke or you can watch a comedy. Watch a funny movie.
  6. What always work is deep breathing.

How to Breathe Properly:

Place one hand over the middle of your abdomen and the other hand in the middle of your chest. Now breathe regularly.

Which hand moved?

If the hand on your abdomen moves, you’re breathing properly.  If the hand on your chest moves, your breathing is a little shallow.  If both move, you need to focus more on breathing from your abdomen.

Most breathe primarily with our chest muscles, which sends a survival mode signal to your brain that something’s wrong.  The healthy way, involves the diaphragm. Your abdomen drops when you inhale and pulls in when you exhale.  Practice this for a few days and you’ll notice a difference in how you feel.

You will feel better. You’re detoxifying through breathing and you will feel better.

These profoundly simple tools s will help you to go from feeling overwhelmed and anxious to feeling empowered balanced and competent.


SuperHealing Secrets with Dr. Elaine Ferguson

Lingering Negative Responses to Stress Affect Your Long Term Health

Anxiety, Depression: Mind, Body & Spirit

In general, science has tended to focus on the impact major events stress events have on our health and well-being. A recent study compared people who carry stress over to the next day in comparison to those who were able to “let it go.”

The study found those who carried it over  to the following day are more likely to report health problems and physical limitations later in life compared with peers who are able to “let it go,” according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Our research shows that negative emotions that linger after even minor, daily stressors have important implications for our long-term physical health,” says psychological scientist Kate Leger of the University of California, Irvine.

“When most people think of the types of stressors that impact health, they think of the big things, major life events that severely impact their lives, such as the death of a loved one or getting divorced,” Leger says. “But accumulating findings suggest that it’s not just the big events, but minor, everyday stressors that can impact our health as well.”

Evidence from previous studies suggests a clear association between same-day responses to stress and long-term well-being, but the impact of lingering emotional response remained unclear. That is, does it make a difference if a stressor – such as a flat tire, a bad grade, or an argument—leads to negative emotions that spill over into the following day?

To find out, Leger and colleagues Susan T. Charles and David M. Almeida analyzed data from the Midlife in the United States Survey, a nationally representative, longitudinal study of adults.

As part of the study, participants completed an 8-day survey of negative emotion; each day, they reported how much of the time over the previous 24 hours they had felt a variety of emotions (e.g., lonely, afraid, irritable, and angry). They also reported the stressors that they experienced each day.

In a subsequent part of the study that took place 10 years later, the participants completed surveys that assessed their chronic illnesses and functional limitations. Participants reported the degree to which they were able to carry out basic and everyday tasks, such as dressing themselves, climbing a flight of stairs, carrying groceries, and walking several blocks.

As expected, people tended to report higher negative emotion if they had experienced a stressor the previous day compared with if they hadn’t experienced any stressor the day before.

Critically, analyses revealed that lingering negative emotions in response to a stressor were associated with a greater number of health problems, including chronic illnesses, functional impairments, and difficulties with everyday tasks, a decade later.

These associations emerged independently of participants’ gender, education, and baseline health and they held even after the researchers took participants’ same-day emotional responses and average number of stressors into account.

“This means that health outcomes don’t just reflect how people react to daily stressors, or the number of stressors they are exposed to – there is something unique about how negative they feel the next day that has important consequences for physical health,” explains Leger.

Leger and colleagues hypothesize that this link could play out through activation of stress-related systems or through health behaviors, two potential mechanisms that offer avenues for future research.

“Stress is common in our everyday lives. It happens at work, it happens at school, it happens at home and in our relationships,” says Leger. “Our research shows that the strategy to ‘just let it go’ could be beneficial to our long term physical health.”


Kate A. Leger et al, Let It Go: Lingering Negative Affect in Response to Daily Stressors Is Associated With Physical Health Years Later, Psychological Science (2018). DOI: 10.1177/0956797618763097

Protect Your DNA

A new study reveals a remarkable link to the power of positive emotions and reducing/reversing damage caused by stress to our genes and DNA. At the end of every strand of DNA is a caplike structure called a telomere that prevents the loss DNA from unraveling.  Every time your cells divide, your telomeres shorten.

Researchers evaluated the effect of the Loving-Kindness Meditation on the length of telomeres. Fifteen practitioners were compared with 22 people in a control group. They shared around the same age. Each person had their telomeres measured.

Researchers examined relative telomere length in a group Loving-Kindness Meditation practitioners, a practice which utilizes a focus on unselfish kindness and warmth towards all people, and control participants who did not meditate. Their age, gender, race, education, or exposure to trauma, were similar, but the non-meditating control group had a higher mean body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of past depression.

Loving-Kindness meditation focuses on positive intentions, kindness, and compassion towards all people, in other studies was found to produce positive effects in individuals who practice it, including increasing positive emotions and sense of purpose, and bringing about improvement in physical symptoms including headaches, nasal congestion, and weakness.

The practitioners had longer telomeres in comparison to the control group at the trend level.  Also, the women practitioners had significantly longer telomeres than controls. This difference remained significant even after controlling for BMI and past depression.  While the study size is small, these results suggest that Loving-Kindness Meditation practice, especially in women, might alter telomere length, which is a biomarker associated with longevity.

It’s critical to understand that you have a chronological age, which is the length of time you’ve lived on earth. While your physiological age, your body’s true age is affected by your diet, lifestyle, emotional distress, attitude … and clearly love, kindness, and compassion. An unhealthy lifestyle tends to age your body faster.

Your telomeres are affected by many factors, including your cellular environment. It’s been demonstrated that stress can accelerate telomere shortening and lead to early cellular aging. Telomere length reflects not only the presence of stress but also your body’s response to it at a cellular level. Shortened telomere length is linked to aging, cancer, and heart disease.

Telomeres have become popular because they’re closely linked with the age of the body. Short telomeres tend to mean faster ageing.


Positive Emotions in The Face of Daily Stress is Good For Your Health!

Years ago Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff  was a bestselling hit.  A new study confirms the health benefits of remaining calm in our daily lives.   How are you managing the “small stuff” in your life? Relax. Breathe. It’s all small stuff. When faced with life’s daily challenges, adults who don’t maintain a positive outlook have shown elevated physiological markers for inflaming cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, according to new research by Cornell University and Penn State psychologists.

“Hassles and minor frustrations are common in day-to-day living. Our findings suggest that how people react to daily stressors may matter more than the frequency of such stressors,” explain the researchers in “Affective Reactivity to Daily Stressors is Associated with Elevated Inflammation,” published June 8 in the journal Health Psychology and co-authored by Anthony Ong, Cornell associate professor of human development; along with Penn State researchers Nancy Sin, Jennifer Graham-Engeland and David Almeida.

While many scientists have studied how chronic stress affects human health, the researchers explained that little is known about how reactivity to daily stressors affects biomarkers of inflammation.

The study found that those people who had difficulty maintaining positive emotional engagement during times of stress appeared to be particularly at risk for elevated levels of inflammation.

The researchers surveyed nearly 870 midlife and older adults. People who experienced greater decreases in positive affect on days when stress occurred were found to have increased amounts of interleukin-6 (a protein that acts as an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory agent) and C-reactive protein (an anti-inflammatory agent). Women who experience increased negative affect when faced with minor stressors may be at particular risk of elevated inflammation.

“Previous research suggests that the chronic experience of joy and happiness may slow down the physiological effects of aging,” Ong said. “This study extends that research by showing that possessing stable levels of ‘positive affect’ may be conducive to good health, while disturbances in daily positive affect may be associated with heightened inflammatory immune responses.”

Ong explained, “These findings are novel because they point to the importance of daily positive emotion regulation that until now have largely been neglected in studies of stress and inflammation.”


“Affective Reactivity to Daily Stressors Is Associated With Elevated Inflammation.” Health Psychol. 2015 Jun 1.

Are You Calm or Highly Responsive to Stressful Situations?

How do you react to stressful situations?  Do you pay attention, and make a choice to react calmly, or do you react in a way you feel you have no control?  Discover how your reaction may play a key role in your long-term health, according to researchers.

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In a study measuring adults’ reactions to stress and how it affects their bodies, researchers found that adults who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life appear to have elevated levels of inflammation. Also, women can be at heightened risk.

Nancy Sin, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Healthy Aging and Department of Biobehavioral Health, Penn State and her colleagues showed that the frequency of daily stressors, in and of itself, was less consequential for inflammation than how an individual reacted to those stressors.

Perception Plays a Key Role  

“A person’s frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress,” said Sin. “It is how a person reacts to stress that is important.”

Sin’s findings also highlight the important — but often discounted — contributions of positive affect in naturalistic stress processes.

“Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked,” Sin said.

In the short-term, with illness or exercise, the body experiences a high immune response to help repair itself. However, in the long term, heightened inflammatory immune responses may not be healthy. Individuals who have trouble regulating their responses may be at risk for certain age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, frailty and cognitive decline, Sin said.

First of Its Kind Study

“To our knowledge, this paper is the first to link biomarkers of inflammation with positive mood responses to stressors in everyday life,” said Jennifer E. Graham-Engeland, associate professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State.

Researchers measured reactions to stress and the physiological effects of stress among 872 adults enrolled in the National Study of Daily Experiences.  Blood samples of participants were obtained during a separate clinic visit and assayed for inflammatory markers.  Participants were interviewed by phone every day for eight consecutive days. They were asked to rate their positive and negative emotions, as well as whether or not they encountered stressors.

The team found that those who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life displayed elevated levels of inflammation. Among women, negative reactions to stress associated with higher C-reactive protein.

Inflammation Affected by Emotional Responses

According to the researchers, “Adults who fail to maintain positive affect when faced with minor stressors in everyday life appear to have elevated levels of IL-6, a marker of inflammation,” the study authors warn that: “Women who experience increased negative affect when faced with minor stressors may be at particular risk of elevated inflammation.”

Inflammatory responses are part of the body’s ability to protect itself via the immune system. However, chronic — long-term — inflammation can undermine health, and appears to play a role in obesity, heart disease and cancer.

Blood samples of participants were obtained during a separate clinic visit and assayed for inflammatory markers.

Subjects were interviewed by phone every day for eight consecutive days. They were asked to rate their positive and negative emotions, as well as whether or not they encountered stressors. This enabled researchers to evaluate a person’s emotional response on days when they experience stressors, and compare it to days when they do not.

These findings add to growing body of evidence regarding the health implications of affective reactivity — emotional response — to daily stressors. The researchers report their results in a recent edition of Health Psychology.

“We calculated reactivity scores to see how participants generally reacted to stressors,” Sin said. “Then we used it to predict two markers of inflammation.”

The researchers used several different types of stressors, among them were arguments and avoiding arguments at work, school or home; being discriminated against; a network stressor, i.e., a stressful event that happens to someone close to the subject; and other stressors.

Stress in Daily Life

“We examined both positive and negative affective reactions to stress and compared the effects of stress exposure with responses to stressors,” Graham-Engeland said. “Little is known about the potential role of daily stress processes on inflammation. Much of the relevant past research with humans has focused on either chronic stress or acute laboratory-based stress — methods that do not fully capture how people respond to naturalistic stressors in the context of daily life.”

Data came from the second wave of the Midlife in the United States Study, a national survey designed to investigate health and well-being in midlife and older adulthood. Its goal is to expand understanding of how daily mood and stressful events may relate to inflammation and health.