Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stress and Women-An Alternative to Fight or Flight

Are you wondering why mothers of large adoptive families rely so heavily on their online groups? Read this study from UCLA.

They say it's chemical, but it's really a gift from God, who knew we'd need it.

An alternative to fight or flight

©2002 Gale Berkowitz

A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are. By the way, they may do even more.

Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women. It's a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research---most of it on men---upside down. Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible, explains Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University and one of the study's authors. It's an ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased across the planet by saber-toothed tigers.

Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just fight or flight; In fact, says Dr. Klein, it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is release as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone---which men produce in high levels when they're under stress---seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.

The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was made in a classic "aha" moment shared by two women scientists who were talking one day in a lab at UCLA. There was this joke that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the lab, had coffee, and bonded, says Dr. Klein. When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we were onto something.

The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one scientist after another from various research specialties. Very quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor discovered that by not including women in stress research, scientists had made a huge mistake: The fact that women respond to stress differently than men has significant implications for our health.

It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the "tend and befriend" notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. There's no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live longer.

In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.

Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses' Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

And that's not all. When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate. Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That's a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and Women's Friendships (Three Rivers Press, 1998). The following paragraph is, in my opinion, very, very true and something all women should be aware of and NOT put our female friends on the back burners.

Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women, explains Dr. Josselson. We push the m right to the back burner. That's really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they're with other women. It's a very healing experience.

Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. Behaviorial Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight" Psychol Rev, 107(3):41-429. (Full text of article in PDF format)

Geary DC, Flinn MV. Sex differences in behavioral and hormonal response to social threat: commentary on Taylor et al. Psychol Rev 2002 Oct;109(4):745-50; discussion 751-3

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Painless Graduation

In our 39 years of parenting we've attended a heck of a lot of graduations. Of course you are there for you child, but they can be trying, too.

First there is the traffic and long wait to get seated. Then the stand in line that leads around the convention center twice.

Then there are the long directions:

Please don't yell and scream or use noisemakers or air horns when you student is announced (like that is going be obeyed.) Don't stand on the chairs. Don't run up the aisle with your camera, blah blah. You have to listen to a couple guest speakers who go on and on, long speeches from the head of the school district, long messages from the principal, the salutatorian, the valedictorian, "reflections" from another student. Then there is the choir singing the school alma mater, and the band playing.

Then, of course is the parade across the stage to get the diploma and shake hands with a bunch of dignitaries. And the brief moment when you see your beautiful daughter walk across the stage. Well, you only see her on the big screen above the stage, because you are so far away and everyone is seated on a flat floor.

Then you have to try to find your graduate, find your car, sit in line to get out... I mean yes it's worth it to see your child up there graduating, but normally it takes 2-3 hours to get through.

This year the school district, in an effort to cut costs, is holding ALL the graduations at the county owned convention center. So for Danielle's graduation, she had to be there at 6:30 AM for the 8 AM ceremony.

They cut the guest speakers, limited all other speeches to like 10 minutes and then moved all the graduates through the line on the stage ( a little over 500 of them) and managed to get it done in one hour exactly. We were amazed.

We took Danielle out to breakfast at McDonald's. Then at 9 PM she went to the class graduation party, which is a lock down at the school until 2 AM. This to cut down on all the deaths by car that happen late at night after graduation.

Now, Danielle is intellectually disabled, and she was the only Special Ed student at the party, and no parents were permitted. We were kind of shaky on it. But the school nurse said she'd watch out for her. And Danielle spent the evening in the company of the class president, a wonderful girl who had volunteered in that classroom.

I don't think Danielle ever had a more wonderful day. And the way the students included her in their evening festivities was superb. I'm so proud of her.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Losing a Child

I have been watching a British tv series through Netflix's watch instantly on your computer feature. I'm up to episode 6. It's called "Monarch of the Glen" and it's about a contemporary Laird's family and how they go about trying to save their estate.

On one of the episodes the mother of the main character was telling another woman about losing her 18 year old son years ago to drowning. The other woman told of having lost an infant years ago. Then the older woman made a comment, "It changes you forever, doesn't it?"

And I sat there and thought Yes, it does. I've lost four children over the years, and the hurt never goes away. I am so not the same woman I'd be today if those four kids hadn't gone to heaven.

Losing a child changes a mother in ways that women who haven't been through it will never understand.

And it makes absolutely no difference that the children were adopted. In some ways it makes it worse, in that you know you were given a gift, and that somehow you should have been able to keep that gift alive. One woman at the funeral of my first son who died made the comment "At least he wasn't one of your own." Such a hurtful comment, and probably the main reason we don't do funerals anymore.

People who haven't adopted a child also don't know that an adopted child IS your child 100%. They simply can't know that, now, can they?

It is wonderful, yes, that I know that those children are safe in heaven, and that someday I'll see them again. But I am changed forever.

I can only guess at the pain a mother feels when her adopted children are removed by CPS. How much worse it must be to not know who is caring for your child, how frightened they must be and you can't do anything to help them. You don't know anything about the people caring for your child. Are they being abused?

My heart goes out to those mothers whose lives have forever been changed by CPS. And I will never say that I understand. I haven't been there.

But what I can say for sure is that losing a child does change a woman forever . The old you goes away with the child, and the new you is a being you would never have expected to see.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What would you do to save the life of a dying child?

How far would you go to save the life of a child?

Would you do a simple cheek swab?

Now you might be thinking that this particular child lives far away from you. But the truth is that there are hundreds of children, moms, dads, daughters and sons who need a bone marrow transplant near you! And marrow can be transported just like donor hearts and kidneys.

What if it were YOUR child who needed a bone marrow transplant to survive? You can say, well, it isn't, Thank God. But just because you can't see the face of a child in need doesn't mean that there isn't a child who needs you right now.

If eventually you are matched with a person in need, bone marrow donation is a simple procedure, done with anesthetics. It is NOT surgery. Wouldn't you go that far to save the life of a beautiful child like Kai?

Call the number below to be sent a cheek swab kit. You just rub the swab inside your cheek and mail it back in. Maybe there never will be a child you can save. But, again, perhaps you WILL get to save the life of a child.

And If you have a BLOG, Let's start a revolution!
Please post this youtube video by pasting the embed code for this video into your own blog. Go Here
for the embed code.