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Risks of Monday stress and what you watch on TV that could speed up the aging of your arteries: Fight or flight response to stress raises cortisol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar

Stress and high cortisol Mondays: Why more people die on the first business day of the week.
Anne Hart, Photography and Illustration.

When it comes to nutrition, you don't need stimulating caffeine, chocolate, or central nervous system depressive foods or beverages at the time your body is perceiving stress when you don't want it to. You don't need foods that calm you down so much that you feel sedated or brain fog. You also may wish to check out the Dr. Stephen Sinatra's article, "Why More People Die On Mondays." One reason why more people die on Mondays is the cortisol and other stress hormones that surge because your body always remembers not only stressful events, but the anticipation of those events.

So, even though the participants in the study were not working, the fact that their bodies anticipated going to work on Monday triggered the identical biochemical stress hormones that led to potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmia. You also may want to check out the article, "People's perception of the effect of stress on their health is linked to risk of heart attacks."

 

Why do more heart attacks occur between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. than at any other time of day?

 

A study reported in the journal Heart also showed that people who have a heart attack between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. have 20 percent more damage to their heart tissue than those who have heart attacks at other times of the day. If you're retired, some people think they may want to lay in bed and meditate or stretch in relaxing ways until 10:00 a.m. if the individual is genetically a highly reactive, high stress type who now is no longer required to get up and work in the early hours of the day.

 

Check out the study, "People who believe stress adversely affects their health may be at risk." In that the response to stress can vary greatly between individuals, a team of French researchers explored whether individuals who report that stress adversely affects their health are at increased risk for physical ailment, specifically – coronary heart disease (CHD). See the site, "Mind over Matter." You may think you can control mind over matter, but unless you know how to breathe slowly or calm yourself down, your body may take over as the hormones pour out the more you try to stop the stressful feelings.

 

Here's why, notes Dr. Sinatra: Cardiovascular events follow a circadian rhythm and they're also triggered by physical and emotional stresses. It's believed that your sympathetic nervous system is activated when you assume an upright position in the morning, increasing your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This is why morning sex can trigger a heart attack in some people.

 

People's perception of the effect of stress on their health is linked to risk of heart attacks

 

People who believe that stress is having an adverse impact on their health are probably right, because they have an increased risk of suffering a heart attack, according to new research published online June 26, 2013 in the European Heart Journal. You can check out the original study or its abstract, "Increased risk of coronary heart disease among individuals reporting adverse impact of stress on their health: The Whitehall II prospective cohort study." Authors are Hermann Nabi, Mika Kivimäki, G David Batty, Martin J Shipley, Annie Britton, Eric J Brunner, Jussi Vahtera, Cédric Lemogne, Alexis Elbaz, and Archana Singh-Manoux. European Heart Journal, June 26, 2013.

 

The latest findings from the UK's Whitehall II study, which has followed several thousand London-based civil servants since 1985, found that people who believe stress is affecting their health "a lot or extremely" had double the risk of a heart attack compared to people who didn't believe stress was having a significant effect on their health. After adjusting for factors that could affect this result, such as biological, behavioral or psychological risk factors, they still had a 50% greater risk of suffering or dying from a heart attack.

 

The Whitehall II study is supported by grants from the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (US), NIH (US), and the National Institute on Aging (US). Previous results from Whitehall II and other studies have already shown that stress can have an adverse effect on people's health, but this is the first time researchers have investigated people's perceptions of how stress is affecting their health and linked it to their risk of subsequent heart disease.

 

Individual differences are genetic

 

"This current analysis allows us to take account of individual differences in response to stress," said Dr Hermann Nabi, the first author of the study, according to the news release. Nabi is a senior research associate at the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at Inserm (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), Villejuif, France. You may also want to take a look at the site, European Society of Cardiology. Some people die as a reaction to the anesthetic or even the fear of not surviving the anesthetic, depending on their genetic variations.

 

Dr Nabi and his colleagues from France, Finland and the UK, followed 7268 men and women for a maximum of 18 years from 1991 when the question about perceived impact of stress on health was first introduced into the questionnaire answered by study participants. The average age of the civil servants in this analysis was 49.5 and during the 18 years of follow-up there were 352 heart attacks or deaths as a result of heart attack (myocardial infarction).

 

The participants were asked to what extent they felt that stress or pressure they experienced in their lives had affected their health

 

They could answer: "not at all", "slightly", "moderately", "a lot", or "extremely". The researchers put their answers into three groups: 1) "not at all", 2) "slightly or moderately", and 3) "a lot or extremely".

 

The civil servants were also asked about their perceived levels of stress, as well as about other lifestyle factors that could influence their health, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and levels of physical activity. Medical information, such as blood pressure, diabetes and body mass index, and socio-demographic data, such as marital status, age, sex, ethnicity and socio-economic status, was also collected. Data from the British National Health Service enabled researchers to follow the participants for subsequent years and to see whether or not they had a heart attack or died from it by 2009.

 

After adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, civil servants who reported at the beginning of the study that their health had been affected "a lot or extremely" by stress had more than double the risk (2.12 higher) of having a heart attack or dying from it compared with those who reported no effect of stress on their health. After further adjustments for biological, behavioural and other psychological risk factors, including stress levels and measures of social support, the risk was not as great, but still higher – nearly half as much again (49% higher) – than that seen in people who reported no effect on their health.

 

Dr Nabi explained in the news release, "We found that the association we observed between an individual's perception of the impact of stress on their health and their risk of a heart attack was independent of biological factors, unhealthy behaviors and other psychological factors." He added: "One of the important messages from our findings is that people's perceptions about the impact of stress on their health are likely to be correct."

 

The authors say that their findings have far-reaching implications

 

Future studies of stress should include people's perceptions of its impact on their health. From a clinical point of view, doctors should consider patients' subjective perceptions and take them into account when managing stress-related health complaints.

Dr Nabi explained in the news release, "Our findings show that responses to stress or abilities to cope with stress differ greatly between individuals, depending on the resources available to them, such as social support, social activities and previous experiences of stress. Concerning the management of stress, I think that the first step is to identify the stressors or sources of stress, for example job pressures, relationship problems or financial difficulties, and then look for solutions.

 

"There are several ways to cope with stress, including relaxation techniques, physical activity, and even medications, particularly for severe cases. Finally, I think that the healthcare system has a role to play. The conclusion of a recent study conducted for the American Psychological Association tells us that health care systems are falling short on stress management, even though a significant proportion of people believe that the stress or pressure they experienced has an impact on their health."

 

In their conclusion, the authors write: "Although, stress, anxiety, and worry are thought to have increased in recent years, we found only participants (8%) who reported stress to have affected their health 'a lot or extremely' had an increased risk of CHD. In the future, randomized controlled trials are needed to determine whether disease risk can be reduced by increasing clinical attention to those who complain that stress greatly affects their health."

 

There are some limitations to the study, including the fact that it did not include blue-collar workers or the unemployed and therefore it may not be representative of the general population

 

Going to bed earlier in the evening puts you more in line with your body's natural sleep/wake cycle—and a good night's sleep is critical to heart health, you can read in Dr. Stephen Sinatra's article. His article notes how research has found is that a chronic lack of sleep heightens your sympathetic tone, which is a part of your autonomic nervous system. That in turn raises the adrenal-cortisone "stress" response in your body. The release of these stress chemicals increases your risk of developing not only heart disease and stroke, but also diabetes and high blood pressure.

 

How your body perceive stress even when you tell it logically not to, is what counts most

 

If you fear dental work on your teeth, no matter how much you tell yourself to calm down, when the needle hits your gum, if your body responds as if there were stress present, you'll feel the fear, especially if you have a genetic predisposition to have an adverse reaction in your brain from the specific ingredient in the the anesthetic. An example might be adverse reactions to carbon in the brain, acidosis in your brain, high cortisol levels, or a mixture of stress hormones being released.

 

Work pressure, tension at home, financial difficulties … the list of causes of stress grows longer every day. There have been several studies in the past showing that stress can have negative effects on health (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure and more).

 

In the study from the Inserm (INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) researchers at unit 1018, of “The Epidemiology and Public Health Research Center,” working in collaboration with researchers from England and Finland have demonstrated that it is essential to be vigilant about this and to take it very seriously when people say that they are stressed, particularly if they believe that stress is affecting their health. So if someone feels stressed, it's time to stop and relax. In some instances you can't stop work, but you can relax. The problem comes up when you're driving a vehicle or flying a plane and feel stressed out. Somebody has to be there whose body isn't perceiving the situation as stressful as your body is at that moment.

 

According to the study performed by these researchers, with 7268 participants, such stressed out people have twice as much risk of a heart attack, compared with others, reports the June 27, 2013 news release, "Stress: It should never be ignored!" The results of a new new study says that the participants who reported, at the start of the study, that their health was “a lot” or “extremely” affected by stress had more than twice the risk (2.12 times higher) of having or dying from a heart attack, compared with those who had not indicated any effect of stress on their health. These results have been published in the European Heart Journal.

 

Today, stress is recognized as one of the main health problems

 

When people face a situation that is considered stressful, they may experience several physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms (anxiety, difficulty in concentrating, skin problems, migraines, etc.). Previous studies, particularly the recent studies performed within the Whitehall II cohort composed of several thousand British civil servants, have already shown that the physiological changes associated with stress can have an adverse effect on health.

 

Created in 1985, the Whitehall II cohort, consisting of British civil servants, is making a major contribution to research in social epidemiology and is considered internationally to be one of the main sources of scientific knowledge concerning social determinant factors for health. Herman Nabi, Inserm researcher at Unit 1018 “The Epidemiology and Public Health Research Center," and his team went further and studied people who declared themselves to be stressed, in order to look more closely at whether there was a link between their feeling and the occurrence of coronary disease some years later.

 

How high are the effects of stress on your health?

 

Using a questionnaire prepared for the Whitehall II cohort, the participants were invited to answer the following question: “to what extent do you consider the stress or pressure that you have experienced in your life has an effect on your health”, the participants had the following answers to choose from: “not at all,” “a little,” “moderately,” “a lot,” or “extremely.”

 

The participants were also asked about their stress level, as well as about other factors that might affect their health, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and levels of physical activity. Arterial pressure, diabetes, body mass index and socio-demographic data such as marital status, age, sex, ethnicity and socio-economic status were also taken into account.

 

Stressed people had twice the risk of having a heart attack than those not stating they were under stress and it was bringing down their health

 

According to the results, the participants who reported, at the start of the study, that their health was “a lot” or “extremely” affected by stress had more than twice the risk (2.12 times higher) of having or dying from a heart attack, compared with those who had not indicated any effect of stress on their health.

 

From a clinical point of view, these results suggest that the patient’s perception of the impact of stress on their health may be highly accurate, to the extent that it can predict a health event as serious and common as coronary disease.

 

Capacities for dealing with stress differ between people depending upon resources

 

In addition, this study also shows that this link is not affected by differences between individuals related to biological, behavioral or psychological factors. However, capacities for dealing with stress do differ massively between individuals depending on the resources available to them, such as support from close friends and family.

Check out the June 27, 2013 news release, "Stress: It should never be ignored!"

 

According to Hermann Nabi,“The main message is that complaints from patients concerning the effect of stress on their health should not be ignored in a clinical environment, because they may indicate an increased risk of developing and dying of coronary disease. Future studies of stress should include perceptions of patients concerning the effect of stress on their health."

 

In the future, as Hermann Nabi emphasizes in the news release, “Tests will be needed to determine whether the risk of disease can be reduced by increasing the clinical attention given to patients who complain of stress having an effect on their health”. For more information, check out the site, "INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale)."

 

Hair biomarkers reveal a link between chronic stress: High cortisol levels and heart attack

Seniors need to be aware of how chronic stress shows up in their hair. Your hair is a biological marker for chronic stress. And according to medical studies, these markers showing up in strands of your hair can reveal links between chronic stress and a pending heart attack. There are various tests you can take that involve analyzing your hair. But what you want to look for are the biomarkers of chronic stress.

 

According to a September 3, 2010 news release, "Hair provides proof of the link between chronic stress and heart attack," researchers at The University of Western Ontario have provided the first direct evidence using a biological marker, to show chronic stress plays an important role in heart attacks. Also see the site, Accu-Metrics- Hair Cortisol Testing, Hair Cortisol Test, Hair. That site is informative as to how you can have your hair tested for various biomarkers of chronic stress such as your cortisol levels.

 

The researchers say the blunted cortisol levels they found in some children may indicate an adaptive response to chronic stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system, which is responsible for producing hormones that help our bodies respond to stressful situations.

 

Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone pumped out by the adrenal glands as part of a body's fight-or-flight response to stress. It raises blood pressure and blood sugar levels to help with quick bursts of energy, and is naturally found at higher levels in the early morning, declining to its lowest point at bedtime.

 

Seniors need to understand that heart attacks are caused by a variety of factors including stress, lifestyle, genetics, and physiology. However, a study released in September 2010 shows the very important correlation between the risk of a heart attack and the stress levels as reflected in the level of cortisol deposited and stored in a person’s hair.

 

It's not how dry your hair is as a senior or how gray. It's about the cortex of the hair shaft. This cortex usually holds up to six months of deposited cortisol, providing a measurable record of stress levels.

 

Stress levels have been identified as a significant indicator of the potential for heart attacks. The study was published in the International Journal on the Biology of Stress. Leading universities in the USA, Canada, and internationally performed the research. The studies have confirmed the direct relationship between cortisol levels and predisposition to a heart attack. The studies were widely publicized in the media because of their importance.

 

How Hair Provides Proof of the Link Between Chronic Stress and Heart Attack

According to the Sept 3, 2010 news release, "Hair provides proof of the link between chronic stress and heart attack," stressors such as job, marital and financial problems have been linked to the increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease including heart attack. But there hasn't been a biological marker found in the past to measure chronic stress.

 

In 2010 study, Drs. Gideon Koren and Stan Van Uum developed a method to measure cortisol levels in hair providing an accurate assessment of stress levels in the months prior to an acute event such as a heart attack. The research is published on-line in the journal Stress. Read the study, "Elevated content of cortisol in hair of patients with severe chronic pain: A novel biomarker for stress: Short communication."

 

Cortisol is considered to be a stress hormone. Its secretion is increased during times of stress. Traditionally it's been measured in serum, urine and saliva, but that only shows stress at the time of measurement, not over longer periods of time. Cortisol is also captured in the hair shaft.

 

"Intuitively we know stress is not good for you, but it's not easy to measure," explained Dr. Koren in the Sept. 3, 2010 news release. Dr. Koren holds the Ivey Chair in Molecular Toxicology at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "We know that on average, hair grows one centimetre (cm) a month, and so if we take a hair sample six cm long, we can determine stress levels for six months by measuring the cortisol level in the hair."

 

In the study, hair samples three cm long were collected from 56 male adults who were admitted to the Meir Medical Centre in Kfar-Saba, Israel suffering heart attacks. A control group, made up of 56 male patients who were hospitalized for reasons other than a heart attack, was also asked for hair samples. Higher hair cortisol levels corresponding to the previous three months were found in the heart attack patients compared to the control group.

 

The prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, smoking and family history of coronary artery disease did not differ significantly between the two groups, although the heart attack group had more cholesterol problems. After accounting for the known risk factors, hair cortisol content emerged as the strongest predictor of heart attack.

 

"Stress is a serious part of modern life affecting many areas of health and life," says Dr. Koren. "This study has implications for research and for practice, as stress can be managed with lifestyle changes and psychotherapy." The study was supported by Physician Services Inc. and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Also see the article, "Maternal prenatal stress and cortisol reactivity to stressors in human infants."

 

At the University of California, Davis researchers also study chronic stress and cortisol levels. You can read further information in the UC Davis magazine article by Pat Bailey, "Creature Discomforts," and also the article, "Low cortisol levels found in kids whose mothers show signs of depression."

 

A University of California study of young children living in extreme poverty found that those whose mothers showed symptoms of depression had low levels of cortisol, a hormone activated during times of stress, compared with children whose mothers did not exhibit depressive symptoms. For seniors, not only rising cortisol levels can reveal chronic stress, but also the biomarkers in your hair.

 

Hair cortisol content emerged as the strongest predictor of heart attack in a study that looked at stress and the body's chemical reaction to psychological issues

 

The University of California, Davis also studied stress and cortisol levels. Perhaps, for some, it's time for relaxing meditation, Qi Gong, and slow, de-stressing music. And giving up grudges also can help.

 

See the UC Davis magazine article by Pat Bailey, "Creature Discomforts," and also the article, "Low cortisol levels found in kids whose mothers show signs of depression."A University of California study of young children living in extreme poverty found that those whose mothers showed symptoms of depression had low levels of cortisol, a hormone activated during times of stress, compared with children whose mothers did not exhibit depressive symptoms.

 

For some, it's time to do relaxing exercises and meditation to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels to also lower heart attack risk. And for others, low cortisol levels point to a depressed state rather than to high-stress, agitation, and anxiety.

 

Chronic stress plays an important role in heart attack risk

 

Two years ago a study published back in 2010 from the University of Western Ontario have provided the first direct evidence using a biological marker, to show chronic stress plays an important role in heart attacks using a method to measure cortisol levels in hair. Check out the study, Hair, link between stress & heart attack.

 

The cortisol levels provide an accurate assessment of stress levels in the months prior to an acute event such as a heart attack. The research is published on-line in the journal Stress. You can read studies of cortisol and stress. For example see studies also published in the journal Stress, such as "Higher cortisol content in hair among long-term unemployed individuals compared to controls."

 

Cortisol is considered to be a stress hormone

 

Its secretion is increased during times of stress. Traditionally it's been measured in serum, urine and saliva, but that only shows stress at the time of measurement, not over longer periods of time. Cortisol is also captured in the hair shaft.

 

"Intuitively we know stress is not good for you, but it's not easy to measure," explains Dr. Koren, who holds the Ivey Chair in Molecular Toxicology at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "We know that on average, hair grows one centimeter (cm) a month, and so if we take a hair sample six cm long, we can determine stress levels for six months by measuring the cortisol level in the hair."

 

In the study, hair samples three cm long were collected from 56 male adults who were admitted to the Meir Medical Centre in Kfar-Saba, Israel suffering heart attacks. A control group, made up of 56 male patients who were hospitalized for reasons other than a heart attack, was also asked for hair samples. Higher hair cortisol levels corresponding to the previous three months were found in the heart attack patients compared to the control group.

 

The prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, smoking and family history of coronary artery disease did not differ significantly between the two groups, although the heart attack group had more cholesterol problems. After accounting for the known risk factors, hair cortisol content emerged as the strongest predictor of heart attack.

 

"Stress is a serious part of modern life affecting many areas of health and life," says Dr. Koren, according to the September 3, 2010 news release, Hair provides proof of the link between chronic stress and heart attack. "This study has implications for research and for practice, as stress can be managed with lifestyle changes and psychotherapy."

 

According to that news release, "Hair provides proof of the link between chronic stress and heart attack," researchers at The University of Western Ontario have provided the first direct evidence using a biological marker, to show chronic stress plays an important role in heart attacks. The researchers say the blunted cortisol levels they found in some children may indicate an adaptive response to chronic stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system, which is responsible for producing hormones that help our bodies respond to stressful situations.

 

Fight or flight response to stress raises cortisol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar

 

Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone pumped out by the adrenal glands as part of a body's fight-or-flight response to stress. It raises blood pressure and blood sugar levels to help with quick bursts of energy, and is naturally found at higher levels in the early morning, declining to its lowest point at bedtime.

 

According to the Sept 3, 2010 news release, "Hair provides proof of the link between chronic stress and heart attack," stressors such as job, marital and financial problems have been linked to the increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease including heart attack. But there hasn't been a biological marker found in the past to measure chronic stress.

 

How Hair Provides Proof of the Link Between Chronic Stress and Heart Attack

 

In this new study, Drs. Gideon Koren and Stan Van Uum developed a method to measure cortisol levels in hair providing an accurate assessment of stress levels in the months prior to an acute event such as a heart attack. The research is published on-line in the journal Stress. Read the study, "Elevated content of cortisol in hair of patients with severe chronic pain: A novel biomarker for stress: Short communication."

Cortisol is considered to be a stress hormone. Its secretion is increased during times of stress. Traditionally it's been measured in serum, urine and saliva, but that only shows stress at the time of measurement, not over longer periods of time. Cortisol is also captured in the hair shaft.

Stress is not easy to measure in the lab

"Intuitively we know stress is not good for you, but it's not easy to measure," explained Dr. Koren in the Sept. 3, 2010 news release. Dr. Koren holds the Ivey Chair in Molecular Toxicology at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "We know that on average, hair grows one centimetre (cm) a month, and so if we take a hair sample six cm long, we can determine stress levels for six months by measuring the cortisol level in the hair."

In the study, hair samples three cm long were collected from 56 male adults who were admitted to the Meir Medical Centre in Kfar-Saba, Israel suffering heart attacks. A control group, made up of 56 male patients who were hospitalized for reasons other than a heart attack, was also asked for hair samples. Higher hair cortisol levels corresponding to the previous three months were found in the heart attack patients compared to the control group.

The heart attack group had more cholesterol issues

The prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, smoking and family history of coronary artery disease did not differ significantly between the two groups, although the heart attack group had more cholesterol problems. After accounting for the known risk factors, hair cortisol content emerged as the strongest predictor of heart attack.

"Stress is a serious part of modern life affecting many areas of health and life," says Dr. Koren. "This study has implications for research and for practice, as stress can be managed with lifestyle changes and psychotherapy." The study was supported by Physician Services Inc. and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Also see the article, "Maternal prenatal stress and cortisol reactivity to stressors in human infants."

Viewing stress on TV can age you from the inside out

Like yawns, people catch stress just from watching it, real or in the movies. You may wish to check out the abstract of a recent study, "Cortisol increase in empathic stress is modulated by social closeness and observation modality." It's published online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, since April 17, 2014. Authors are Engert, V., Plessow, F., Miller, R., Kirschbaum, C., and Singer, T.

Merely observing stressful situations can trigger a physical stress response. Your stress is my stress, says a new study. Merely observing stressful situations can trigger a physical stress response. If you're habitually watching stressful situations on TV, in movies, in games, or on those talk shows where a family counselor deals with very troubled, stressed people on TV programs, you're also stressing your own body, particularly your heart, brain, and other organs, raising your blood pressure, and prematurely aging out your arteries.

 

How many people watch programs that only make them laugh as compared to reality TV presenting stressful situations or bad news on the news each day or evening? On the other hand, how your perceive stress is how it will affect you, and the only way to know is the measure your physiology such as stress levels, blood pressure, heart rate and other signs that the stress you're watching is stressing you and damaging your health or putting wear and tear on your body just by watching.

 

Empathic stress can happen without you actually realizing you're being stressed

 

Stress is contagious. Observing another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make our own bodies release the stress hormone cortisol. This is the conclusion reached by scientists involved in a large-scale cooperation project between the departments of Tania Singer at the Max-Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and Clemens Kirschbaum at the Technische Universität Dresden.

 

Empathic stress arose primarily when the observer and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship and the stressful situation could be directly observed through a one-way mirror. However, even the observation of stressed strangers via video transmission was enough to put some people on red alert. In our stress-ridden society, empathic stress is a phenomenon that should not be ignored by the health care system.

 

Stress is a major health threat in today’s society

 

It causes a range of psychological problems like burnout, depression and anxiety. Even those who lead relatively relaxed lives constantly come into contact with stressed individuals. Whether at work or on television: someone is always experiencing stress, and this stress can affect the general environment in a physiologically quantifiable way through increased concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol.

 

“The fact that we could actually measure this empathic stress in the form of a significant hormone release was astonishing,” says Veronika Engert, according to the April 30, 2014 news release, "Your stress is my stress." Engert is one of the study’s first authors. “There must be a transmission mechanism via which the target’s state can elicit a similar state in the observer down to the level of a hormonal stress response.“

 

This is particularly true considering that many studies experience difficulties to induce firsthand stress to begin with. The authors found that empathic stress reactions could be independent of (“vicarious stress”) or proportional to (“stress resonance”) the stress reactions of the actively stressed individuals.

 

Mental arithmetic tasks and interviews also are stressful

 

During the stress test, the test subjects had to struggle with difficult mental arithmetic tasks and interviews, while two supposed behavioral analysts assessed their performance. Only five percent of the directly stressed test subjects managed to remain calm; the others displayed a physiologically significant increase in their cortisol levels.

In total, 26 percent of observers who were not directly exposed to any stress whatsoever also showed a significant increase in cortisol.

 

The effect was particularly strong when observer and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship (40 percent). However, even when watching a complete stranger, the stress was transmitted to ten percent of the observers. Accordingly, emotional closeness is a facilitator but not a necessary condition for the occurrence of empathic stress.

 

When the observers watched the events directly through a one-way mirror, 30 percent of them experienced a stress response: Stress is contagious

 

Even presenting the stress test only virtually via video transmission was sufficient to significantly increase the cortisol levels of 24 percent of the observers. “This means that even television programs depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers,” says Engert, according to the news release. “Stress has enormous contagion potential.”

 

Stress becomes a problem primarily when it is chronic. “A hormonal stress response has an evolutionary purpose, of course. When you are exposed to danger, you want your body to respond with an increase in cortisol,” explains Engert, according to the news release. “However, permanently elevated cortisol levels are not good. They have a negative impact on the immune system and neurotoxic properties in the long term.”

 

Individuals working as caregivers or the family members of chronically stressed individuals have an increased risk to suffer from the potentially harmful consequences of empathic stress. Anyone who is confronted with the suffering and stress of another person, particularly when sustained, has a higher risk of being affected by it themselves.

 

Caregivers may be chronically stressed

 

The results of the study also debunked a common prejudice: men and women actually experience empathic stress reactions with equal frequency. “In surveys however, women tend to assess themselves as being more empathic compared to men’s self-assessments. This self-perception does not seem to hold if probed by implicit measures”

 

Future studies are intended to reveal exactly how the stress is transmitted and what can be done to reduce its potentially negative influence on society. If you're caring for someone for a length of time, you can become chronically stressed. But not everyone can afford the cost of respite such as adult day care for someone with mental issues or dementia or a visiting caregiver that allows the usual caregiver to someone confined to the home to have some time away from the caring duties of a loved one.

You also may wish to check out, "Celebration of compassion." It's a unique multimedia eBook that presents various scientists’, practitioners’, and therapists’ experiences. Or see, "Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior."