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8/8/2014
09:06 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Geekend: Scare Yourself for Health

Acute stress -- in short bursts -- can heal, scientists say. But watch out for chronic stress.

If you have a skin irritation or minor wound, I’m going to cure it. Seriously. All you have to do is watch this:

Scary, right? Your body has probably just gone through a bunch of changes. You might not realize it, but you are probably sweating. Your extremities might have gotten colder. Your heart rate almost assuredly went up. Your pupils may have dilated. You may have noticed these things, but one thing you probably don't know is right now your adrenal glands are pumping steroids into your body.

All of these things are evolutionary responses to stress. They are left over from our days as hunter-gatherers. Why does this matter?

Because scientists at the University of California in San Francisco have determined that if you scare the crap out of mice, their skin heals. Those hormones released from acute stress can do wonders to heal your body. They subjected mice to various skin irritants that caused three different types of rashes on the mice: contact dermatitis (like you'd get from touching something irritating), acute allergic dermatitis (like you'd get from touching poison ivy), and eczema.

[Want more Geekend health tips? Read Geekend: Doing Nothing Is Worse Than Hurting Yourself.]

Now here's the crazy part: They put some of the mice back in their cages and some of the mice in tiny boxes for 18 hours per day for four days. Obviously, this was really stressful to the mice who probably didn't like being put into tiny mouse coffins. So their bodies released hormones called glucocorticoids as part of that stress reaction I described above.

The good news is that after four days in the cooler, the mice came out with much healthier skin than their counterparts who just sat around in their cage running on their little wheels.

Yes, that was just a gratuitous mouse video. Yes, you're welcome. Anyway, those glucocorticoids did the trick with significant anti-inflammatory effects. And, of course, there are other types of inflammation this might work on, including arthritis and other chronic pain.

But before you go just scare yourself to get rid of your arthritis, there's a catch. Stress that is chronic inhibits healing in humans. One reason this might happen is that long-term stress releases other hormones that can interfere with natural anti-inflammatories. What this study showed, however, is that acute stress might be beneficial. Acute stress either overwhelms those inhibitors or keeps them from being created.

The researchers say it is way too early to show how these findings could lead to better healthcare in humans, but they do point out that current steroid treatment is often overaggressive and has negative side effects. A more natural release of hormones with anti-inflammatory effect might help.

So this is what I suggest. Start with yoga. Maybe add your pet. Studies say pets can be very soothing. Maybe yoga with your pet.

Then, right after the yoga, scare the bajeebers out of yourself with more killer clown videos. Rinse. Repeat.

In no time your skin will glow and your trick knee will thank you. Of course, then we'll have to cure your paranoia, but at least your skin will look good.

Seriously, right now there isn't an obvious practical thing we can do with this study, but it might have serious implications in the way we understand recovery from surgery, wound healing, chronic pain, and even skin disease. So while this seems silly, it has real-world value.

What do you think? Will you be trying my new scare therapy at home? What will you use to get rid of the chronic stress that is inhibiting your healing process? If they ever prove this works, what would you scare yourself with? Comment below.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 1:01:23 PM
Re: Either way it is scary
That is true. It seems like that it is easy to live in constant stress these days with all our electronic gadgets taking up so much of our attention. It allows us to be chained to work at all times, to Facebook, to receive breaking news within moments of the event and track our whereabouts. When I was a child all we had to know was how to "Duck & Cover". That seems a lot less stressful than what goes on today.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
8/28/2014 | 3:31:25 PM
Sometimes life is one big acute scary moment
Oh please no scary clowns! I have enough acute scary moments in traffic and watching as my kids bounce themselves off random surfaces. I still need to work on countering the chronic stress bit. It seems we are living in a general state of 'gotta do' or 'should do' with to do lists that should take a week that we somehow expect to get done in a day. One of the best things I did to let go of some chronic stress was to learn to politely say no to time eaters that other people wanted me to do for them (usually on short notice when the stress got to them).
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/18/2014 | 5:01:53 PM
Re: Either way it is scary
Some stress is good. It gets all those hormones flowing so we become more focused, creative, and intelligent (or at least we think we are!). But living in a perpetual state of stress is bad for us in so many ways. I guess it'd be equally bad to be sad all the time or even happy all day, every day. If we don't undergo peaks and valleys, we don't appreciate the good times and things.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 2:33:59 PM
Re: Either way it is scary
From everything I have read regarding performers, the stress does not end. That could explain the reason why there are so many drugs being used. There is probably a balance somewhere when the stress level is positive for a good performance and once that level is exceeded then you go into pure stress which will have a negative affect. Not really sure how to quantify it though as everyone has different tolerance levels.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 11:41:50 AM
Re: Either way it is scary
@David: I agree with you about the software developer and other corporate positions. However stress will rear its ugly head if that lot gets too comfortable and the management throws them something outside their comfort zone. With regards to performers and athletes, I think there is a motivating factor for them with regard to stress. Having done both I can tell you that I really liked going out and performing because the stress was rewarded by the audience reaction. And same thing when I played ball. I am highly competitive and the competition and folks in the stand was stressful and motivating at the same time. You get a buzz out of it. I am guessing the bungy jumpers and parachute crowd get it from the dare of fate.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/13/2014 | 9:24:05 AM
Re: Either way it is scary
Yes, in my dad's colleague's case he basically snapped, would be my unprofessional diagnosis! I think most of us dream, occasionally at least, of that cottage in the woods, beach hut, or deserted island, free of all noise, chaos and stress. It would probably get really dull though after a few days or weeks!
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/13/2014 | 9:22:22 AM
Re: Either way it is scary
Yes, US employees are given fewer vacations than many of their peers across the world -- and many US workers don't even take all the time they're alloted! Of those who do take time off, a large number continue to check-in during their vacations -- reading emails, calling voicemail, and even finishing or starting projects. It's vital to truly disconnect sometimes, though. Most of us are not truly indispensable at work and if we are, then we need to do some successor planning in case of emergency!
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
8/13/2014 | 7:26:17 AM
Re: Either way it is scary
I wonder how the next generation's work/life balance is going to affect the current workforce.  Will we learn to back off or will we just pick up the slack and work ourselves harder to make up for those who want more down time.  

I'm not surprised about that retirement story, I've had days where I was ready to move to a desert and farm dirt.  I couldn't leave my family behind though.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2014 | 4:50:42 PM
Re: Either way it is scary
It really is sad because stressed out employees are not productive or along term asset. The value of de stressing employees is not recognized in many businesses. In other countries vacations are lengthier and businesses still function and succeed without their employees for up to 5 weeks at a time.

 

The impulse stress described may actually be an overall stress reliever to more intense and long term stress! Who want to try it out on their most stressed coworker!
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
8/12/2014 | 11:22:11 AM
Re: scaring yourself vs skin creams
>> I think you have all the stress you need for all your life after contacting tech support.

 

You said it Pedro! 
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