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Chronic stress strongly linked with addictive tendencies, quality of life
by Global Good News staff writer
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4 December 2012
'One of the most important factors in determining the quality of a person's life is simply how well their stress response works,' explained Dr William Stixrud at a recent conference on Stress, Meditation, Addictions, and Self-Recovery.
Dr Stixrud, a clinical neuropsychologist who has served as consultant to the National Institutes of Health Division of Neuropsychology, spoke to the attendees about the deleterious effects of stress on managing addictive tendencies.
'We live in a chronically anxious society,' he said.
How well people cope with stress and how they respond to challenges in life play a major role in predicting addictive tendencies.
'It is assumed that we have the same fight or flight response . . . as our ancient ancestors did,' Dr Stixrud said. An animal in nature might encounter a predator and choose to run or fight. Either way, the scenario would be short-lived and stress hormones would basically normalize in about 45 minutes.
However, Dr Stixrud added, 'In a modern life, we can keep our stress response turned on for hours at a time, days at a time, weeks and months at a time.
'It turns out that chronically high levels of stress hormones are always deleterious and it also turns out that stress powerfully affects the development of the brain. . . . Kids who have a lot of stress early on, basically their stress response stays turned on long enough that the amygdala* gets bigger and it gets more interconnected with the rest of the brain.'
The amygdala, explained Dr Stixrud, is a threat detector. It is necessary, but when it gets bigger and more interconnected, it often alerts the brain to false threats.
'People will become hypervigilant—always looking over their shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop.'
Continuing to discuss effects on the brain, he explained that chronic stress will actually shrink the hippocampus, which is the major memory centre, because it kills cells in the prefrontal cortex.
On the other hand, Dr Stixrud spoke about the powerful stress-neutralizing ability of Transcendental Meditation, which has been shown to increase coherent brain activity in the prefrontal cortex.
See previous articles in this series:
∙ Using Transcendental Meditation to combat ADHD and addiction in young people: Dr William Stixrud
∙ Preventing addiction in vulnerable adolescents: Conference explores role of Transcendental Meditation
∙ What causes addictive behaviours? Neuropsychologist gives insights on stress, and an antidote
* The amygdala is one of the basal ganglia in the brain that is part of the limbic system, and described as involved in emotions of fear and aggression.
Copyright © 2013 Global Good News Service
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