Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Aromatherapy Massages With Music Reduced Stress Levels in Nurses

Aromatherapy Massages With Music Dramatically Reduced Stress Levels In Nurses
Source: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Date: September 24, 2007

"Introducing stress reduction strategies in the workplace could be a valuable tool for employers who are keen to tackle anxiety levels in high pressure roles and increase job satisfaction."
Science Daily — Nurses working in an accident and emergency department reported that their anxiety levels fell dramatically when they were given aromatherapy massages while listening to music, according to recent research in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Two 12-week alternative therapy sessions were provided over the course of a year. 86 nurses participated in the study, with 39 taking part in both the summer and winter sessions. Researchers found that 60 per cent of the staff - 54 per cent in summer and 65 per cent in winter - suffered from moderate to extreme anxiety. But this fell to just eight per cent, regardless of the season, once staff had received 15-minute aromatherapy massages while listening to relaxing new-age music.

The study also sought to examine whether there were any seasonal differences in stress levels.
"There's always been a perception that staff feel more stressed in the winter months -- when they deal with more serious respiratory and cardiac cases -- and the stress levels we recorded would seem to support this" says Marie Cooke, Deputy Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.

"But when we analyzed the workload figures and case distribution we found little difference between winter and summer patient levels during the study periods. Staff dealt with just over 10,700 patients each season and the number of deaths and the percentage of patients in each triage category (which determines how quickly people need to be seen) was fairly consistent between the seasons.

"However the fact remains that providing alternative therapy was more effective during the winter months. During both study periods the number of staff feeling stressed fell to eight per cent, but there was a greater reduction in winter, when the number fell from 65 per cent, than in the summer, when the pre-massage score was 54 per cent. As well as measuring staff's anxiety levels before and after aromatherapy massages, 68 responded to a detailed occupational stress survey -- 33 who had taken part in the summer sessions and 35 from the winter sessions.

The survey - which included measuring occupational stress factors such as pressure of responsibility, quality concerns, role conflict, job satisfaction and self esteem - was carried out before and after each 12-week period. It revealed that occupational stress levels were consistent between the summer and winter trials.

Staff who took part in the study had an average age of 38 and had spent just over seven years working in the emergency department. 80 per cent were female and 60 per cent worked full time. Comparisons with national statistics showed that the sample had more male and full-time staff than national averages.

Massages were provided by a qualified therapist who sprayed aromatherapy mist above the heads of participants and then massaged their shoulders, mid back, neck, scalp forehead and temples, while they listened to relaxing music on headphones. Participants, who were seated in a quiet room, were able to choose the essential oil used, from rose, lavender, lime or ocean breeze -- a combination of lavender, ylang ylang, bergamot and patchouli. Sixteen massages were carried out over a two-day work period each week, with the names of all staff working those days put into an envelope and selected at random.

"There is scope for a lot more research into this area," concludes Dr Cooke. "We would be interested to see if different types of alternative therapy produced different results and whether factors such as age, gender and health status had any effect on the outcome. "But what is clear from this study is that providing aromatherapy massage had an immediate and dramatic effect on staff who traditionally suffer high anxiety levels because of the nature of their work.

Reference: "The effect of aromatherapy massage with music on the stress and anxiety levels of emergency nurses: comparison between summer and winter." Cooke et al. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 16, pages 1695-1703 (September 2007).

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Blackwell Publishing Ltd..

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Stress Breaks Hearts

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Medical News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 20, 2007 -- Here's a health fact most of us understand better than our doctors do: Emotional stress really can harm our hearts.

Intense grief, acute anger, and sudden fear can have direct -- sometimes fatal -- effects on the human heart. And long-term emotional stress shortens lives by increasing the risk of heart disease, notes Daniel J. Brotman, MD, director of the hospitalist program at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore.

"What is intuitive to people is not necessarily intuitive to physicians," Brotman tells WebMD. "Emotional stress, conceptually, is the same thing for cardiovascular risk as physical stress. But a lot of doctors blow that off, because they think emotional stress is a psychological problem, not a physical problem."

To overcome this false impression, Brotman and colleagues reviewed recent studies looking at the short- and long-term effects of emotional stress on the heart. Their resulting report, "The Cardiovascular Toll of Stress," appears in the Sept. 22 issue of The Lancet.

"In the hospital, I see people under all sorts of stress all the time -- and I see what happens to bodies under stress," Brotman says. "Our study illustrates how important the body's stress responses are in precipitating cardiovascular effects."

Heartache, Heart Harm

Psychological disorders, personality types, and other psychological stressors are linked to various heart problems:

  • People who suffer from depression, hopelessness, or a pessimistic outlook are more likely than others to suffer heart attack and sudden heart death. They are more likely to develop conditions that increase heart risk, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and impaired heart rate.
  • People who suffer chronic anxiety are more likely than others to suffer heart attack, atrial fibrillation, and sudden heart death. Their propensity for high blood pressure and impaired heart rate increases their heart risk.
  • Emotional trauma -- such as the death of a spouse, mental or physical abuse, or posttraumatic stress disorder -- increases risk of heart attack and heart death.
  • People with type D personalities (characterized by pessimistic emotions and inability to share emotions with others) and type A personalities (characterized by anxiety directed outward as aggressive, irritable, or hostile behaviors) are more likely than others to suffer heart attacks.
  • People with angry or hostile temperaments are more likely than others to suffer heart death.
  • Acute fear, grief, startling, or anger can cause "stunned heart." Wallops of emotion also can cause sudden death due to life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm.

Even when intense bouts of emotion don't kill, they may cause long-lasting heart damage.

"Most people who suffer the death of a loved one are not coming to medical attention, but that does not mean their hearts are not stunned for a period of time," Brotman says. "We doctors only see those with heart failure, or those with already-damaged hearts whose defibrillators fire. But probably, in every body, what stress hormones do today have some impact on how healthy your cardiovascular system will be 20 years from now."

It would seem to be wise for all of us to learn to deal with stressful emotions. But Brotman warns that there does not seem to be any one-size-fits-all way to do this.

"We don't have concrete evidence to suggest that if you manage your stress levels you will reduce your cardiovascular risk," he says. "People are different and have different ways of reducing stress. It is disingenuous to suggest that stress reduction is going to be simple."

Meanwhile, he urges doctors to pay more attention to what their patients are telling them when they talk about stress.

"Real-time physical effects correlate with intense emotional states," Brotman says. "We should think beyond cholesterol, beyond blood pressure, when thinking about what it means to live a heart-healthy lifestyle."

Bigger Brains, Better Genes. Dean Ornish, M.D.

Believe it or not, those are among the benefits of exercising more and eating healthier.
By Dean Ornish, M.D.Special to Newsweek, Updated: 12:47 p.m. PT Sept 12, 2007

“Go pump some neurons! Expand your craniums!”
—Robin Williams, in “Mrs. Doubtfire”

You don’t need to read this column to know that exercise is good for you. You probably already know that regular, moderate exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health and well-being. What you may not know is that new research is showing that exercise beneficially affects your genes, helps reverse the aging process at a cellular level, gives you more energy, makes you smarter, and may even help you grow so many new brain cells (a process called neurogenesis) that your brain actually gets bigger.


So does improving your nutrition. A diet high in sugar and saturated fat diminishes neurogenesis, whereas other foods increase it, including chocolate (in moderate amounts), tea and blackberries, which contain a substance called epicatechin that improves memory. Small amounts of alcohol increase neurogenesis, whereas larger amounts decrease it. Chronic emotional stress decreases neurogenesis, but stress management techniques increase it. Drugs such as nicotine, opiates and cocaine decrease neurogenesis, whereas a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 1995 showed that cannabinoids (found in marijuana) increase it, at least in rats. (Uh, what were we just talking about?)

Use It or Lose It
Until about nine years ago it was thought that you were born with a certain number of neurons, and they tended to decrease in number as you got older. The best you could hope to do was to slow the rate at which you lost brain cells.

Fortunately, it’s not true. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and at Columbia University showed that older adults continue to generate new neurons at virtually any age. Earlier this year these researchers found that in addition to growing new neurons, exercise doubled blood flow to the brain. A study published last year by researchers at the University of Illinois reported that just walking for three hours per week for only three months caused so many new neurons to grow that it actually increased the size of people’s brains.

Best of all, the region of the brain that grew the most was the hippocampus, the part most involved with memory and cognition. After only three months, those who exercised had brain volumes typical of people who were three years younger! Also, the new neurons tend to find their way to well-established existing connections and replace ones that are damaged or nonfunctioning. Those who showed the most improvement in fitness also showed the greatest enhancement in memory. The authors concluded, “These results suggest that cardiovascular fitness is associated with the sparing of brain tissue in aging humans. Furthermore, these results suggest a strong biological basis for the role of aerobic fitness in maintaining and enhancing central nervous system health and cognitive functioning in older adults.”

Regular, moderate exercise (along with healthier eating and stress management techniques) also reduces inflammation throughout your body, including in your brain, and reduces the incidence of tiny strokes that can impair your ability to think clearly. Exercise also helps boost your sense of well-being. Levels of beneficial neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine are higher in those who exercise—the same ones elevated by many antidepressants. These, in turn, may help reduce depression, elevate mood and help you focus better.

Exercise Makes You More Intelligent
Other studies have shown that older adults who exercise regularly have better memory, are better at going from one mental task to another, and can focus and concentrate better than those who are sedentary. In other words, exercise makes older people more intelligent.

Exercise makes younger people smarter too. Kids who exercise have fewer problems with attention-deficit disorder and learn faster. Studies have shown that physical education in schools improves academic performance as well as physical fitness. For example, a study by the California Department of Education of 322,000 seventh-grade students found that the most fit scored in the 66th percentile on their SATs, whereas the least fit scored in the 28th percentile. Studies at the University of Illinois also found that those who were more fit had better standardized test scores.

Exercising Your Genes
Your genes are not your fate. The choices you make each day in your diet and lifestyle have a direct influence on how your genetic predisposition is expressed—for better and for worse. You’re only as old as your genes, but how your genes are expressed may be modified by exercise, diet and lifestyle choices much more than had previously been believed—and more quickly. For example, Finnish scientists reported in a study published in July that increased moderate to vigorous physical activity modified two genes involved in type 2 diabetes and reduced the risk of developing the disease, independent of changes in weight or diet.

Another recent study compared mitochondria in muscle biopsies of older and younger men and women. Your mitochondria are the “energy generators” of your body’s cells. One of the reasons many people feel less energetic as they get older is that their mitochondria work less efficiently with age. The investigators found that in those who were mostly sedentary, mitochondrial function declined markedly with age and was affected by more than 300 genes. Then the investigators put these older men and women through a six-month exercise program that involved strength training for one hour only two days per week using the types of weight machines found in most gyms. Resistance exercise for each session consisted of three sets of 10 repetitions for each of: leg press, chest press, leg extension, leg flexion, shoulder press, lat pull-down, seated row, calf raise, abdominal crunch and back extension, and 10 repetitions for arm flexion and arm extension.

After only six months, the subjects’ strength improved by 50 percent, and they reported feeling much more energetic. Many of the 300 genes that had declined with age began to now act more like those in younger people. In fact, the investigators found that exercise affected age-associated gene expression more than in younger people, meaning that exercise is especially beneficial as people get older.

These high-tech studies illustrate what a powerful difference low-tech interventions such as changes in exercise, nutrition and stress management techniques can play in our lives. People often believe that advances in medicine have to be a new drug, a new laser or a surgical intervention to be powerful—something really high-tech and expensive. They often have a hard time believing that the simple choices that we make in our lives each day—how much we exercise, what we eat and how we respond to stress—may make such a powerful difference in our health, our well-being, and even in our brains. But they often do.

How to remember to exercise in a way that’s sustainable? Do what you enjoy, make it fun and do it regularly. If you grow new neurons, then you won’t forget!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Seasonal Depression Tied to Serotonin

People With Seasonal Affective Disorder May Have Less of the Brain Chemical in Winter
By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Medical News

Sept. 19, 2007 -- People with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may have lower levels of the brain chemical serotonin in winter than other people, according to a new study.

But those lower serotonin levels bounce back to normal if their seasonal depression is treated -- and in summer.

Researchers say the finding could lead to improved treatments for SAD, which is a form of seasonal depression that worsens in winter and improves in summer. Symptoms include weight gain, increased need for sleep, irritability, and inability to concentrate.

SAD Tied to Serotonin Levels
Previous studies have shown that in depression the brain has too little serotonin, but it’s not known exactly why.

In this study, researchers at the Medical University of Vienna looked at how the brain removes serotonin through the serotonin transporter and compared the rate of removal in 73 people with untreated seasonal affective disorder and 70 healthy people.

The results, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, showed serotonin was removed from the brain at a faster rate among those with seasonal depression, causing serotonin levels to drop below normal. But serotonin removal rates returned to normal with treatment and during the summer months.

Researchers say the results could help identify people at risk for seasonal depression and more effective treatments.

Currently available treatments for seasonal affective disorder include increased exposure to light sources, such as natural sunlight or a light box, and antidepressants.

©2005-2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nutrition Model Stresses Positive Experience Of Eating

The Satter Eating Competence Model, also known as ecSatter, was created by Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian, family therapist and author of "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family," Kelcy Press.

Competent eaters are positive, flexible and comfortable with their eating habits and make it a priority to regularly provide themselves with enjoyable and nourishing food. They guide food intake based on the internal processes of hunger, appetite and satisfaction, and rely on the body's innate ability to maintain a preferred and stable weight. Satter observes that the eating competence model cultivates effective eating attitudes and behavior by emphasizing permission and discipline:

  • The permission to choose food you enjoy and eat it in amounts you find satisfying.
  • The discipline to provide yourself with regular and reliable meals and snacks and to pay attention when you eat them.

Being eating competent appears to mirror overall-well being, notes Satter of Madison, Wis. People with high eating competence feel more effective, are more self-aware and are more trusting and comfortable both with themselves and with other people.

"Many of us have eating problems, because as children, we are forced into eating more or less food than we need. That is traumatic. Eating becomes a mindless activity invested with conflict and anxiety, and not something to be enjoyed. To overcome those feelings, you have to ignore how you feel about eating, just eat," said Lohse.

Research by Lohse and her Penn State colleagues suggests that people with high eating competence do better nutritionally, have healthier body weights, higher levels of good cholesterol and fewer of the components of "sticky plaque," today's high-tech approach to predicting the tendency to cardiovascular disease.

According to Satter and Lohse, there are four steps to competent eating:

  • Take time to eat, and provide yourself with rewarding meals and snacks at regular and reliable times.
  • Cultivate positive attitudes about eating and about food. Emphasize providing rather than depriving; seeking food rather than avoiding it.
  • Enjoy your eating, eat things you like, and let yourself be comfortable with and relaxed about what you eat. Enjoying eating supports the natural inclination to seek variety, the keystone of healthful food selection.
  • Pay attention to sensations of hunger and fullness to determine how much to eat. Go to the table hungry, eat until you feel satisfied, and then stop, knowing another meal or snack is coming soon when you can do it again.
Excerpts from: , adapted from a news release issued by Penn State. 09-18-07

Heart Quote, Pema Chodron

Deepen Your Focus - Meditation

A good deal of mystique has grown around meditation, yet it is one of the most natural of our human capacities. You've no doubt had moments in your life when you were not thinking or analyzing your experience, but simply "going with the flow." In these moments, there was no past or future, no separation between you and what was happening. That is the essence of meditation.

Contrary to a common misunderstanding, meditation is not a limiting or narrowing of our attention so much as it is a focusing on what is relevant. Our attention can be narrow, as in observing our breath, or broad, as in cooking a five-course dinner. When the mind is able to focus on what is relevant to what is happening now, we experience ourselves as being at one with what we perceive. This experience is deeply joyful, as we become freed from the illusion that we are separate from everything else in the universe. In fact, meditation isn't a withdrawal from life but a deeper, fuller presence in life.

Meditation for Everybody

Return to Stillness

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Women For Women, Int'l Donation Matching Now

Right now any donation you make to Women for Women
International will be matched dollar for dollar.

That means the generous gift you give will offer the women
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Friday, September 7, 2007

Moonlight WildFire

Closure: At 64,997 acres, the Moonlight Fire is the largest fire in recorded Plumas County history. This equals 101.5 acres... (updated Sept. 26, 2007)

Courtesy Janet Cox, c. 2007 All Rights Reserved.

This wildfire, 12 miles from my home, has been the centerpiece of our lives this week. The fire started on Monday, Labor Day, and quickly grew into a massive firestorm, now consuming over 28,000 acres in Northeastern California. Tucked in the steep rugged terrain of the Sierras, between Susanville, Westwood, Chester, Greenville, Taylorsville and Quincy, CA. There are many photos and plenty of information updates at the website listed above as well as the Incident Information System website for wildfires on public lands. Yesterday we choked on thick smoke and ash, with brown skies and red sun most of the day. Fortunately for those of us west of the fire, winds changed direction and carried most of the smoke away. It is still listed as only 8% contained with the risk of spreading listed as extreme (according to InciWeb).