Tag: stress

Violent Robot Rat Harassing Laboratory Rodents So Scientists Can Learn About Stress And Depression

Lab rats don’t have the easiest of lives but now Japanese scientists have added to their burden by putting a robotic bully in their midst.

The mechanical menace was designed to harass the rodents by chasing them around a cage before rearing up. However, this seemingly pointless study does have a serious purpose.

Mice and rats are often used as models to test treatments for human conditions including drugs for mental disorders. But that left scientists with the perplexing question, how do you depress a rat?

Up till now, they have relied on stressful physical activities such as forced swimming, giving them electric shocks or severing their sense of smell.

But scientists from Wakeda University in Japan, came up with the novel approach of creating a machine that could induce social stress, which is a common trigger for depression.

The team studied rat behaviour before creating a model that was capable to mimicking actions such as chasing, rearing, grooming and mounting.

The robot, called WR-3, moves on two wheels and has a mechanical skeleton allowing basic movements. Its shape and size were comparable to a typical white adult male rat.

The researchers timed how long it took rats to make certain moves, such as rearing up on hind legs and then programmed the robot to match them.

Early tests revealed that the robot could successfully interact with lab rats.

The researchers then performed a study on two groups of 12 rats, to see if WR-3 could induce depression. This was based on the assumption that a stressed rat would move around less.

Rats in group A was constantly harassed by their robot counterpart, while rats in group B were attacked intermittently or when they moved.

The team, led by Hiroyuki Ishii, found the deepest depression was triggered when a rat was constantly harassed in its youth and then attacked now and then as an adult.

It is not clear how closely the rodent reactions predict those of humans placed under stress, but the team said it was a subject worthy of further research.

They next plan to see if these ‘mental disorder‘ rats become more socially active after receiving particular anti-depressants. They have already developed a more sophisticated rat model called WR-4.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Yes, You Can Actually Work Yourself To Death. But Is That A Surprise?

A recent study found that the less control you have over your job, the more likely you are to drop dead.

Researchers studied 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s for seven years, and found that “those in high-stress jobs with little control over their workflow die younger or are less healthy than those who have more flexibility and discretion in their jobs and are able to set their own goals as part of their employment.

They also found that people with less control in demanding jobs were 15.4% more likely to die than those with more liberty to structure their own timelines and goals.

They recommend that employers ease up a bit, for the good of all and suggest “job crafting,” which involves employees to redesign their jobs to make them more meaningful.

The more freedom employees in stressful jobs have, in other words, the more they flourish.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a Twinkie factory or managing a hedge fund – if you get to choose when you have your coffee break and what you want to get done before that, you’re more likely to be productive, and to live to work another day.

If the boss lays off trying to control you all the time, you also get better at your job.

These research subjects were a bunch of 60-year-olds, but the principles easily transfer to managing, say, 6-year-olds.

We parents know this – give ‘em freedom (or the illusion of freedom) and they’ll grow in confidence and become more competent human beings.

Job angst is very real. In Japan, there is a word for dropping dead from work stress: karoshi. However, let us remember the word for dropping dead from no work and no possibility of work: starvation.

Sure, spending your days feeling seasick in a Twinkie factory is awful. But spending your days wondering how you’re going to feed your children has to be worse.

We don’t all have control of our work circumstances, our bosses or too many other factors that box us in to the lives we’ve (sort of) chosen. But sometimes there are choices even within tight constraints.

Herman Melville’s character Bartleby, who had a drab office job, one day simply said: “I would prefer not to.” He got away with it.

Perhaps, armed with scientific proof that the alternative might be a shorter life on this marvelous earth, we can all find some courage and fight to have more autonomy at our jobs.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Psychology Of Roller Coasters Thrills

Where else in the world can you scream at the top of your lungs and throw your arms in the air?” Frank Farley asks.

If you did that in most other places, they’d take you to your parents and probably put you through a psychological evaluation.” Farley is a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia.

The freedom to act wildly is one reason why millions of people flock to amusement parks every year.

Roller coasters are a major part of this attraction, and the people who run the parks keep looking for ways to make coasters taller, faster, and scarier.

The new Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, for example, rises 420 feet into the air and travels at speeds up to 120 miles per hour.

It’s the tallest and fastest coaster in the world. And there’s no shortage of people willing and eager to ride it.

Coaster appeal

For many people, there’s only one good reason to go to an amusement park: the roller coaster. Other people, however, would rather hide behind the closest candy stand than go near a coaster.

What separates these two types of people—those who seek thrills and those who prefer the quiet life?

Roller coasters often appeal to kids whose lives are stressful, structured, or controlled, Farley says.

“The summers of yore where kids could be kids and float down a river in an inner tube are over,” he says. “Roller coasters are a way of breaking out of the humdrum and expectations of everyday life. You can let it all go and scream and shout or do whatever you want.”

Attendance at amusement parks shows that many adults feel the same way.

Compared with skateboarding, extreme mountain biking, and other adventure sports, riding roller coasters is safe. Parents usually don’t mind when kids go on coasters.

Roller coasters also have a way of bringing people together. Riders share the thrill and adventure of surviving what feels like an extreme experience.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Social Media Is Making You Depressed: Let’s Learn To Turn It Off

Do Facebook and Twitter make us happier? The answer it would seem is: no. A recent survey found as many as one in five people say they feel depressed as a result of using social media.

That might come as a surprise to the generation under 30; social media is part of their DNA and teenagers are rapidly losing the ability to communicate if not through their smartphones.

But the stress of constantly monitoring our statuses and endlessly documenting every aspect of our lives via networks like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram is taking its toll.

Employers claim many school leavers are unprepared for the world of work, where they will have to interact with people outside their peer group and actually speak face-to-face with total strangers.

Meanwhile, there have been countless academic studies since 2015 on the negative impacts of social media, showing that its regular use leads to feelings of anxiety, isolation and low self-esteem, not to mention poor sleep.

We use these outlets to present a false picture of our lives to the online community; with flattering selfies and faux-glamorous images of holidays, parties and meals.

It’s as if we’re starring in a movie of the life we’d like to lead, not the humdrum one we actually inhabit. An underwhelming number lack of shares or ‘likes’ can lead to debilitating feelings of inadequacy.

We post intimate fragments of our lives to total strangers, falsely believing that a ‘friend’ online is a real friend whose opinions matter.

As for Twitter, it is a vehicle for screaming, nothing more and nothing less. Best not to read tweets if you are of a vulnerable disposition.

Twitter has an effect on one’s disposition; augmenting anger and upset. Many of the women I know have come off Twitter because of the constant abuse that waits every time they pick up their phone or log in to their computer.

The latest fashion among hipsters is to have a ‘digital-free’ home. That could be a good move.

Arianna Huffington has just written a book (The Sleep Revolution) citing experts who say there should be no screens in the bedroom and we shouldn’t use social media in the hour before lights-out.

How many times have we read a message on our phones and then spent hours in turmoil? Social media never switches off: someone, somewhere, is posting pictures, comments or messages, asking you to join a chat or wade in with an opinion.

No wonder many teenagers suffer from what shrinks call “decision paralysis”. The options are simply too enormous for any human brain to deal with.

For many people (not just teenagers), it seems the only way we can validate ourselves is though a screen, a habit which is just as bad for our health as over-indulging in drink or drugs.

And just as addictive.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Relieve Stress And Anxiety With This Top-Rated Meditation App


Recently, people around the world have embraced mindfulness practices as ways to find more inner happiness and cope with difficult emotional situations.

But it isn’t just a fad propagated by yoga studios and health food companies—technology is playing a major role in helping people regain mindfulness and restore balance to their lives.

One ambassador of mindfulness-through-technology is the AI powered meditation app Aura, which was voted Apple’s #1 new app in February 2017 and currently has a 5/5 star rating in the iOS App store.

It’s available for both iOS and Android, and while it normally costs around $100 per year, Engadget readers can get a lifetime subscription today for just $60 – over 80 percent off.

While there are plenty of different meditation apps on the market, Aura stands out from the rest with a host of unique features:

1. Aura fits with your schedule and attention span.

While some competitors offer 10-30 minute meditations, Aura has options that work for anyone’s schedule.

2. It uses Machine Learning to customize your meditations.

Aura is unique in that it’s a personal meditation coach that learns from your sessions and customizes your future meditations.

Before and after each meditation, Aura asks short questions about your current mood and uses sophisticated machine learning techniques to give you a unique experience that complements your emotional state every time you use it.

3. You can track your progress over time.

Aura also keeps track of your data to paint a detailed picture of the patterns of your mental ebbs and flows.

4. You get 24/7 access for life.

Their premium subscription gives you 24/7 access to all content, so you can have it on hand whenever you need a few moments of silence.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

You Really Can Die Of A Broken Heart

When you think of a broken heart, you probably picture something out of a romantic movie or a cartoon heart, cracked like a fragile piece of china.

Indeed, so-called “broken heart syndrome” has a certified place in popular culture, and has been eloquently used in films such as The Notebook.

But while we certainly feel “heartbreak” during periods of emotional upheaval, can you actually die of a broken heart?

The answer is never going to be simple, so first we should start with a bit of science.

In the last two decades, atrial fibrillation (AF), a form of irregular heartbeat, has become one of the most important public health problems and a significant cause of increasing healthcare costs in western countries.

Individuals with AF have a five-fold and two-fold increased risk of stroke and death, respectively. It is estimated that there will be 14-17m AF patients in Europe by 2030; with 120,000–215,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

In the United States, AF prevalence is projected to increase from 5.2m in 2010 to 12.1m cases in 2030.

The exact cause of AF is still unresolved and is likely to involve multiple components such as genetic and environmental factors.

Atrial fibrillation is a progressive condition, whereby the arrhythmia begins in a “sudden onset” form, progressing through “persistent” to so-called “permanent” AF.

These steps can take many years to develop, but an essential element in this progression are the so-called “triggers”, which can be anything from illness and fatigue, to alcohol, caffeine and emotional stress.

Bereavement and ‘Broken Hearts’

But what does this have to do with a broken heart? Well, it appears that the two are linked.

In a recent article published in the online journal Open Heart, a Danish research team based at Aarhus University reported findings showing that the death of a partner is linked to heightened risk of developing AF for up to a year after the bereavement.

This retrospective study examined hospital records of 88,612 people in Denmark (19.72% of whom had lost a partner) and identified persons that were diagnosed with AF for the first time between 1995 and 2014.

For comparison, the team also randomly selected a control group (without AF) of 886,120 people (19.07% of whom had lost a partner) which was matched with the AF group on age and gender.

Other factors that were controlled included civil status and education level, and whether the subjects had cardiovascular disease, diabetes or were taking medication for cardiovascular disease.

The study revealed that individuals whose cohabiting partner or spouse had died had an increased risk of getting AF within 30 days of the bereavement – a risk estimated to be 41% higher than average.

The origins of a broken heart

Scientific findings accumulated over the past 25 years seem to support the notion that a real-life broken heart can lead to subsequent heart problems.

Broken heart syndrome”, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, was first described in 1990 in Japan and has recently been globally recognised as a real medical condition.

It should be noted here that without echocardiography, blood markers and other evidence, we can’t say for sure whether those in the published Danish cohort had “broken heart syndrome” or not.

Nevertheless, roughly in keeping with the condition described in the Danish study, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy starts abruptly and unpredictably (even in healthy individuals).

Symptoms include chest pains, often with shortness of breath, and an abnormal electrocardiogram, which resembles a heart attack but is notable for the absence of blocked heart blood vessels.

Indeed, Takotsubo syndrome accounts for about 2-5% of heart attack cases seen by doctors, with a higher predilection for women over 50 years of age (only 10% in men).

The significance of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is reflected to the fact that there is an international registry for this disorder.

What is interesting is that Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is usually triggered by an emotionally or physically stressful event such as bereavement, major surgery or being involved in a disaster such as an earthquake.

The exact mechanisms leading to Takotsubo cardiomyopathy are unknown but some evidence suggests excessive release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, acts as a trigger during the initial onset which causes the weakening of the heart muscle.

In fact, the strong emotion doesn’t have to be negative “happy heart syndrome” is initiated by happy events, such as the birth of grandchildren or a birthday, and accounts for 1.1% of broken heart syndrome cases.

The long-term affects of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy are unclear, but it does appear to be temporary and reversible. Nevertheless, it is certain that we can have our hearts broken – and that, for some, this can be very dangerous indeed.

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Pass it on: Popular Science