Sunday, January 27, 2019

 Stress and the Immune System

How the immune system responds to stress depends on the time of day

What was the research about?
Forty-two undergraduate students participated in the study. The participants either did mental arithmetic (i.e., stressful task) or read magazines (i.e., nonstressful task) at either 8 AM or 2 PM. Blood samples were taken from each participant before the task, 2 minutes after beginning the task, and 60 and 90 minutes after completing the task.
The results showed that time of day mattered, but only after the stressful task. Compared to the nonstressful task, the number of natural killer cells during the stressful task were higher, regardless of the time of day. The elevated number of natural killer cells for those who had completed the stressful task at 8 AM remained elevated 60 and 90 minutes afterwards. For those who had completed the stressful task at 2 PM, however, the elevated number of natural killer cells 60 and 90 minutes afterwards dropped to less than before the task. Thus, although natural killer cells increased in number during the stressful task, afterwards, they remained higher if it was completed in the morning but dropped lower than they were to begin with if it was completed in the afternoon.
Why should it matter to me?
If possible, people should try to get stressful tasks out of the way in the morning. In this way, the immune system would be in better, instead of worse, shape for a short while after stressful tasks.
Source: Delahanty, D. L., Wang, T., Maravich, C., Forlenza, M., & Baum, A. (2000). Time-of-day effects on response of natural killer cells to acute stress in men and women. Health Psychology, 19, 39-45.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Exercise and Depression
Age-related declines in exercise are associated with depression
Many studies have shown that exercise is related to mental health. Few studies, however, have looked at whether exercise is related to mental health among older people, and those that have had a number problems that made interpretations of the results difficult. Researchers in Finland recently reported the findings from a study investigating the association between depression and exercise as people age.
What was the research about?
Six hundred and sixty-three people who were involved with the Evergreen Project participated in the study. The Evergreen Project is a large-scale study on health-related issues among the 65-year-old or older residents of a city in Finland. The participants were interviewed in their homes in 1988 and 1996. Among other things, the interviews gathered information about exercise intensity (e.g., necessary chores, regular walking, strenuous exercise) and depressive symptoms.
The results showed that participants who engaged in less intense exercise as they aged tended to suffer from more depressive symptoms over time. Participants for whom exercise intensity increased or did not change as they aged did not tend to suffer from more depressive symptoms over time.
Why should it matter to me?
Older people may want to make an effort to keep the intensity of their exercise from declining over time because doing so may decrease their risk for depression.
Source: Lampinen, P., Heikkinen, R.-L., & Ruoppila, I. (2000). Changes in intensity of physical exercise as predictors of depressive symptoms among older adults: An eight-year follow-up. Preventive Medicine, 30,371-380.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Walking Makes People Feel Better

Walking has become one of the exercises of choice for many people to stay healthy. It is simple, inexpensive, and unlikely to lead to injuries. Is it also beneficial for other reasons? A team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently looked at whether walking influences how people feel emotionally.
What was the research about?The researchers conducted four studies. In the first two studies, participants integrated 10 to 15 min walks into their daily routines. In the second two studies, participants came into the laboratory and walked on a treadmill for 10 to 15 min. Participants also completed questionnaires measuring emotions.
Across all four studies, the findings demonstrated that short (10 to 15 min) walks could make people feel happier and more energized. Additionally, after a short walk, people tend to feel calm and relaxed.
Why should it matter to me?When people feel stressed out, a short walk may be just what they need to relieve their tension or boost their mood or energy level.
Source: Ekkekakis, P., Hall, E. E., VanLanduyt, L. M., & Petruzzello, S. J. (2000). Walking in (affective) circles: Can short walks enhance affect? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23, 245-275.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Progressive Relaxation vs. Classical Music
Progressive relaxation is more relaxing
When people are stressed, they have many options for reducing the stress they are experiencing. A number of stress management techniques (e.g., progressive relaxation) or other means (e.g., classical music) can be used. A researcher at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences recently investigated whether actual stress management techniques are any better at relieving stress than are other approaches to relaxation.
What was the research about?
Sixty participants ranging from 18 to 59 years of age were recruited from the community. Each participant was assigned to one of four conditions after engaging in a stressful activity. To make participants stressed, they were given 15 minutes and asked to prepare a 5-minute speech about their personal faults or undesirable habits that was to be videotaped after the 15 minutes had passed. In the progressive relaxation condition, participants engaged in progressive relaxation, which is a stress management technique that involves tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups one at a time. In the classical music condition, participants listened to a segment of Sonata in D major for Two Pianos by W. A. Mozart. In the attention control condition, participants listened to stories on audiotape and wrote down as much as they could remember afterwards. In the silence control condition, participants waited silently. Before, during, and after the speech-writing task, measures of attention, relaxation, and heart rate were obtained.
The results demonstrated that progressive relaxation led to more relaxation than did classical music, attention, or silence. All for conditions did lead to a lower heart rate, though. It appears as though there is something special about stress management techniques that make them more effective than other, less formal, attempts at stress reduction. Classical music, for example, did lead to more relaxation than did attention or silence, but it only served as a distraction from the stressor. Progressive relaxation not only provided a distraction but also assisted with receptivity, which is another component of relaxation.
Why should it matter to me?
People should be aware that some approaches to relaxation and stress reduction in general are more effective than others are.
Source: Scheufele, P. M. (2000). Effects of progressive relaxation and classical music on measurement of attention, relaxation, and stress responses. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23, 207-228.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Ethnicity-Related Sources of Stress
People encounter many stressful events in their lives. Unfortunately, ethnic minorities have additional sources of stress related to being in an ethnic minority group. Several researchers at New Jersey colleges and universities recently reviewed the research findings on ethnicity-related sources of stress.
What was the research about?
In particular, they described ethnicity-related sources of stress stemming from discrimination, stereotypes, and conformity pressure.
Ethnic discrimination involves unfair treatment that a person attributes to his or her ethnicity. At lest five types of ethnic discrimination occur: (a) insults and ethnic slurs; (b) shunning; (c) actions that express negative evaluations; (d) denial of equal treatment or access; and (e) actual or threatened harm. Ethnic discrimination is a source of stress because members of ethnic minority groups can become stressed about the ever-present possibility of being discriminating against. Ethnic minorities need to decide whether ethnic discrimination will occur in situations they encounter, decide whether to become part of these situations or avoid them, and prepare for the possibility of being discriminated against.
Two ethnicity-related sources of stress are stereotype threat and stereotype-confirmation concern. Stereotype threat is the condition of being at risk of appearing to confirm a negative stereotype about a group to which one belongs. Stereotype-confirmation concern is the long-term or recurring experience of stereotype threat. Worrying about acting in ways that others would expect based on stereotypes about one’s ethnic minority group can be stressful.
Own-group conformity pressure is the experience of being pressured or held back by one’s ethnic group’s expectations specifying appropriate or inappropriate behavior for the group. Some African Americans who do well in school, for example, get ridiculed by their peers about “acting white.”
Ethnicity-related sources of stress are real. Research has shown that they are related to negative mental and bodily declines in health
Why should it matter to me?
Member of ethnic minority groups may want to look at discrimination, stereotypes, and conformity pressure as possible reasons for the stress they experience and focus on them when trying to mange their stress.
Source: Contrada, R. J., Ashmore, R. D., Gary, M. L., Coups, E., Egeth, J. D., Sewell, A., Ewell, K., Goyal, T. M., Chasse, V. (2000). Ethnicity-related sources of stress and their effects on well-being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 136-139.