Posttraumatic stress disorder

Why a Little Bit of Stress Is Good For You | Greatist

There are times when I think I’d be much happier if I could spend the rest of my life lounging on the sands of the Mediterranean, having someone fan me with palm fronds while feeding me superfood grapes. In other words, life would be better without any stress. Or would it?

According to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, a little stress may not be so bad for us after all. While chronic stress may be harmful, acute (short-term) stress may actually boost our cognitive function. The findings are supported by other research suggesting a little bit o’ stress may have beneficial effects for our brains and bodies. The key, of course, is knowing when we’re too harried for our own good.

What’s the Deal?

Before we get into the science, let’s be clear that most of the research in this area involves rats, not humans, so it’s not entirely clear that the findings apply to people. For a while now, researchers have suspected that the effect of stress on the (rat) brain is like an upside-down U: Up to a certain point, stress boosts cognitive function; after that, it starts to take a negative toll [1] [2].

In this latest study, researchers wanted to see if short-term stress really would turn regular old rats into geniuses. So they subjected rats to acute stress by confining them in their cages for a few hours. The stress caused the rats’ corticosterone (a stress hormone) levels to shoot up for a few hours, and also caused the growth of new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory function.

Two days after the stressful event, the researchers tested rats’ memories, and found nothing had changed. But two weeks later, the rats’ memories had significantly improved. Then the researchers got super-techy and figured out that the cells produced after the stressful event were the same cells involved in learning during the second round of memory tests. In other words, the acute stress had made the rats smarter. The scientists concluded that acute stress has a beneficial effect on cognitive function.

Is It Legit?

Possibly. Again, we’re talking about rats here. And while the researchers behind the latest study believe the findings apply to humans as well, there’s currently no way to monitor neural stem cells in the human brain, according to study co-author Daniela Kaufer.

There’s some evidence that acute stress is not only beneficial for rats’ brains, but also for their immune system. Stress hormones released in response to acute stress may warn the immune system about upcoming threats such as an infection [3]. On the other hand, studies of humans suggest that if the immune system is chronically exposed to stress hormones, we may become more susceptible to diseases [4].

Together these findings imply that acute stress ­— think a job interview or even a ride on a scary rollercoaster — might actually be necessary for our physical and mental health. It’s chronic stress — like being stuck in a bad job or relationship — that causes our health to decline, contributing to issues as serious as heart disease and obesity.

Still, it’s worth noting that some forms of acute stress may actually cause serious damage, as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder. The UC Berkeley researchers say it’s still unclear why some types of acute stress have positive effects, and others can be so damaging. It might just be a question of individual experience, so it’s worth figuring out where our own optimal stress level lies.

Do you think a certain level of stress can be beneficial? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.

via Why a Little Bit of Stress Is Good For You | Greatist.

 

Transcendental Meditation significantly reduces posttraumatic stress in African refugees

April 8, 2013 in Psychology & Psychiatry

via Transcendental Meditation significantly reduces posttraumatic stress in African refugees. graph shows the changes in posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptoms as reflected in scores on the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL) in the two groups. Both groups indicated severe PTS symptoms at baseline. Visible improvements can be seen in the TM group. While a drop in 11 points on this measure is considered clinically significant, TM practice led to three times that drop in PTS symptoms after 30 days practice. The TM group went to a non-symptomatic level after 30-days and remained low at 135-days. Credit: Maharishi University of Management

A significant percentage of veterans returning from wars exhibit symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTS). This is now recognized as a serious health problem, but what about the victims of such violence? Refugees live with the constant reminder of what war has done to their lives and those of their families. A randomized/matched study published today in the April 2013 issue of Journal of Traumatic Stress (Volume 26, Issue 2, pp. 295-298.) measured the severity of posttraumatic stress symptoms in refugees in Africa before and after learning the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. The reductions were dramatic.

Forty-two refugees from the Congolese civil war, living in Uganda, were assigned to learn TM immediately or wait until after the study. The participants were matched on age, gender and severity of posttraumatic stress symptoms at baseline. All participants were given the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL) at baseline, and 30-day and 135-day after learning TM. PCL scores in the control group trended upward from baseline to the two posttests. In contrast, PCL scores in the TM group went from high at baseline, indicating severe PTS symptoms, to a non-symptomatic level after 30-days TM practice, and remained low at 135-days. “We anticipated improvement, but I didn’t expect this magnitude of change,” said lead author Colonel Brian Rees MD, MPH. “The continued improvement at four months also led us to conclude that TM may be a very worthwhile intervention for anyone suffering from posttraumatic stress.” This graph shows the changes in PTS symptoms in the two groups. A drop in 11 points on this measure is considered clinically significant—visible improvements can be seen. TM practice led to three times the drop in posttraumatic stress symptoms after 30 days practice. “I was surprised to see how quickly TM practice had an effect on posttraumatic stress symptoms in these refugees, who had no home, no job, and very little support from their environment,” said co-author Fred Travis, Ph.D., Director for the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management. “These findings suggest that TM may be an effective antidote to the rising incidence of PTS in the world.” A person with posttraumatic stress may be hyper-vigilant, sleep poorly, distrust others, have memory problems, and have difficulty making decisions and following through. Traumatized populations are challenged both by outer circumstances and by inner conditions to help themselves. Thus, posttraumatic stress symptoms are resistant to change by usual therapy. The state of restful alertness gained during TM practice appears to reverse the damage done by traumatic experiences. Reductions in posttraumatic stress in African refuges replicate findings in previous research with Vietnam veterans and Iraqi/Afghanistan veterans. TM practice was more effective than psychotherapy in reducing anxiety, depression, insomnia, alcohol abuse, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and stress reactivity in 18 Vietnam veterans randomly assigned to group. Three-months practice of TM was also reported to decrease anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress symptoms in veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Findings from these studies support the efficacy of TM practice for reducing posttraumatic stress symptoms. Large-scale studies assessing both quantitative and qualitative measures are warranted to investigate the effects of TM on reducing behavioral, psychological and physiological symptoms resulting from traumatic experiences across cultures. More information: Funding was provided by the David Lynch Foundation.

Read more at: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-04-transcendental-meditation-significantly-posttraumatic-stress.html#jCp

 

Marines Testing Meditation Training; May Teach ‘Mindfulness’ To Young Recruits For Mental Stamina

BY IBTimes Staff Reporter | January 20 2013 1:51 PM

In an effort to alleviate the physical and mental strain on troops, the U.S. Marine Corps is now including meditation in its training regimen. It is launching a pilot program using concepts of meditation and mindfulness — concepts aimed at teaching Marines how to keep their attention active and minds focused.

U.S. Marines from Lima Company 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, return fire during a shootout with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s Karez-e-Sayyidi, in the outskirts of Marjah district, Helmand province, on May 15, 2010.Ideally, the training program will help Marines to think more clearly when they are under pressure by having them practice yoga and by having them slow their breathing while concentrating on a single body part, the Associated Press reported.

via Marines Testing Meditation Training; May Teach ‘Mindfulness’ To Young Recruits For Mental Stamina.

 

Meditation for turning Tragedy into Creative Solutions

The horrific tragedy of the school shooting last week is still echoing through our collective conscience, triggering arguments on-line and in the media.

When we struggle to take premature action in response to strong emotions instead of allowing the emotions to be fully processed, our creative mind can become blocked and solutions evade us.

Our reaction to feeling  powerless and to the fears it will happen again create a reactionary divisiveness within ourselves and with others that is unproductive. This is true whether the trauma is recent or in the past, but still unprocessed such as with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

The following meditation is designed  to help us find our way through trauma by utilizing a practice of embracing strong emotions and transmuting them within us:

Turtle Breathing: Sublimation of Opposites

This meditation will help you to learn how to change your mental constructs.  With practice, this thought reversal process will become a reflex that can be applied to more complex thought and feeling patterns.

Begin by breathing easily, in through the nose, out through the mouth.  Gently allow each breath to be deeper and longer than the last.

Prepare yourself for meditation by thinking of all the blessings of your life and all the beauty in the world.  Feel gratitude and well-being,  filling yourself with its radiance.

Begin Turtle Breathing.  With each long, slow, deep breath:

Breathe in the suffering, pain, fear, anger.  Breathe easily, deeply and slowly, drawing the emotion into you with your breath.

Breathe out peace, love, joy. Breathe easily, deeply and slowly, allowing the peace, love and joy to expand in all directions, with each out breath.

If the strength of the emotions is a challenge for you, start by practicing with breathing in Dark and breathing out Light.  You can then try practicing with Thickness and Lightness/weightlessness, and/or Hot and Cold.  Once you are comfortable with the process of sublimating into opposites, it becomes easier to transmute more active pain and emotions.

Here is a MP3 download from the Unwind your Mind CD to help guide you:

Karah Pino is an origami and meditation teacher working with kids and adults.  She is the creator of the Unwind your Mind meditation course.

Meditation study seeks to help cadets prevent PTSD – Nation – The Boston Globe

Study suggests meditation may help prevent PTSD

By Bryan Bender

| Globe Staff

December 02, 2012

NORTHFIELD, Vt. — It is part of a highly regimented daily routine at Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military academy and a cultivator of battlefield leaders for nearly two centuries.

Dressed in combat fatigues and boots, a platoon of first-year cadets — “Rooks” — are up early in their barracks. On the orders of their instructor, the young men and women take their places. At 0800 sharp, they sit on wooden chairs in a circle and begin — to meditate.

The first-of-its-kind training is part of a long-term study to determine whether regular brief periods of silent, peaceful consciousness can improve troops’ performance. Ultimately, researchers hope the transcendental meditation training might be made available across all branches of the military to help inoculate troops against acute post-traumatic stress disorder, which has reached epidemic proportions and is blamed for a record number of suicides in the ranks.

For an institution that demands that incoming cadets exhibit physical and mental toughness, meditation training is a radical approach. The broader military culture had long associated meditation with a leftist, antiwar philosophy. Known by its shorthand, TM was widely introduced to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Hindu leader who once served as the spiritual guru to the Beatles.

I was very skeptical at first,” said Norwich president Richard W. Schneider, a retired Coast Guard admiral who is among several university officials who have also been trained in the technique. “I’m not a touchy-feely guy.”

‘We want to send people to war whole and for them to come back whole.’

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But the preliminary results of the study, now in its second year, surprised even its lead researchers. They have been methodically tracking the dozens of participants and several control groups of non-meditating cadets through detailed questionnaires as well as brain wave and eye scans to measure levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

“All those things decreased significantly,” said Dr. Carole Bandy, a Norwich psychology professor overseeing the project. “In fact, they decreased very significantly.”

Positive traits such as critical thinking and mental resilience improved, according to preliminary findings shared with the Globe that Bandy and her team plan to publish next year.

The project has garnered high-level attention from the Army.

“Becoming more psychologically fit is just like becoming physically fit. It is better to do it before you are injured,” said retired Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum, a surgeon who until recently ran the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program and visited Norwich three times to be briefed on the work. “There seems to be no question that meditation is, frankly, good for you. I am very encouraged by the Norwich University study.”

Not everyone at Norwich is on board. Top university officials acknowledged that a few people in the university community have privately snickered over how meditation is “not Norwichy,” though there has been no formal opposition from the faculty or board of trustees.

But Reverend William S. Wick, the university’s chaplain, remains concerned that its practice could undercut the school’s Judeo-Christian foundation.

“Contrary to what is claimed by its advocates and presenters, transcendental meditation is not a neutral discipline but is, rather, philosophically, spiritually, mystically, and religiously based — having Hindu monism and a pantheistic world view as its underlying base,” Wick told the Globe in an e-mail.

Some ‘jokes about nap time’

The participating cadets, however, seem to share a single-minded commitment to the meditation sessions, which for now are voluntary.

Each of the six men and three women who attended the first of their twice-daily meditation sessions last week sit silently, focusing thoughts on their mantra, a word or phrase privately assigned to them by their instructor in August.

For the next 20 minutes they sit motionless, some with their arms crossed, others with hands resting in their laps. Some can be heard breathing, others cannot.

“Ok, let’s take a few minutes and then open our eyes. Take your time,” David Zobeck, one of two meditation instructors, breaks in.

The approach is one among a variety of meditation techniques that date back thousands of years. The periods of silent reflection are intended to nurture what practitioners call “restful alertness” to improve overall mental health.

Zobeck, an Air Force veteran, works for the David Lynch Foundation, founded in 2005 by the film director to provide TM to adults and children suffering from PTSD. Since 2010, it has donated nearly $1 million to teach the technique to military veterans and their families.

The foundation is funding Norwich’s program.

“It seems like some wacko thing from the Far East but there has been so much research done, including on veterans suffering from PTSD who say they have got their life back again,” Lynch, who has been meditating for four decades, said in an interview. “It’s not a hippie thing, it’s a human being thing.”

“It’s like putting on a flak jacket against stress,” he added. “The things that used to almost kill you in the stress department have less power. For a soldier this is money in the bank.”

The meditating cadets at Norwich agree. “At first it’s silly,” said Chandler Camlin, 18, a first-year cadet from Stamford, Conn. “But at the end of that 20 minutes, you feel refreshed.”

“It feels like a whole tremendous thing off your chest,” said Dayne Valencia, 19, of Houston. “You feel so much lighter — like you told the truth after holding back for a long time.”

Before she arrived at Norwich, said Hana Kita, 18, of Titusville, N.J., “I had less activities and I was more tired. I feel less stressed now than I did back home.”

Yet the meditating cadets have also faced ridicule from fellow Rooks.

“There are a lot of jokes about nap time,” said Anthony Russo, 18, of Rockland.

But much of the razzing has dissipated since the group recently outperformed the 17 other Rook platoons in the so-called “culminating event,” a grueling competition requiring tests of mental and physical resilience. Said Russo: “That pretty much speaks for itself.”

No help with mental health

More senior cadets who have participated in the study bring a unique perspective. A few of them also serve in the National Guard or Reserves and have already been to combat.

Against the din of upperclassmen berating three Rooks running to class, Shea Burke, a 21-year-old junior who returned in February from a seven-month tour in Afghanistan, described his reaction when he learned about the study in the fall: “Are you serious?”

But the Marine Reserve lance corporal volunteered to participate. He now believes it has helped him rejoin campus life after a stressful deployment.

“You are still twisted and trying to come out of it,” he said, wrapping the fingers of both hands together and turning his hands back and forth. “It re-centers yourself.”

The native of Amherst, N.H., said he could have used it in Afghanistan and knows of other troops who need it now that they are back.

“Too many buddies are turning to substances,” he said of those who are relying on drugs and alcohol to relieve tension.

Senior Sam Lieber, 21, who was taught TM last year, said he meditated while he was completing reserve officer training last summer aboard the destroyer USS Chafee in the Pacific Ocean. “I still do it regularly when I need to recharge,” the Hampton, N.H., native said.

John Dulmage, a Norwich researcher who served in 1991 Persian Gulf War, said he wishes he had been exposed to the technique much earlier.

“They never really helped us with our mental health,” said Dulmage, 67, a 23-year Marine Corps veteran from Barnard, Vt., who is a trained nurse and the study’s chief data cruncher. “We want to send people to war whole and for them to come back whole.”

He said his recent exposure to TM has helped him cope with the loss of his wife to a debilitating disease. “It sorts stuff out for me,” he said.

Among the research project’s most influential boosters is retired Army chief of staff General Gordon R. Sullivan, a Norwich graduate and Boston native who is now chairman of Norwich’s board of trustees.

“It is a way to get out in front and expose them, in a prophylactic way, to help them handle stress before the fact,” said Sullivan, who runs the influential Association of the United States Army in Washington. “Whatever skepticism I may have had was dampened.”

Later in the training day last week, some cadets got a small taste of what might lie ahead after they receive their commissions as officers in the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps.

After a drill on the football field, some gather in a corner of the fieldhouse for a role-playing exercise designed to test their critical-thinking skills. “You have two soldiers wounded,” the instructor tells them. “One shot in the head, no pulse. Another soldier is shot in the chest.”

Consulting their handouts, the cadets have to make some quick decisions.

“We have spent nearly 200 years preparing them physically to be military leaders,” said Schneider. “What we have never spent any time doing is making them emotionally prepared for battle. We are waiting until the end of the fight. Why not give it to them before they get into the fight?”

Schneider acknowledged that it is “going to take years to track these guys to see how they do.”

But he doesn’t want to wait that long. “My plan is to make it available to anyone who wants it,” he said. “I’m not yet to the point of requiring it [but] if this works I will be shouting from the rooftops.”

via Meditation study seeks to help cadets prevent PTSD – Nation – The Boston Globe.