Relationship Between Email and Stress

Evidence continues to grow on digital technology’s health impact. A recent study on workplace email habits showed that workers who spent the most time on email had less perceived productivity and higher stress. In contrast, people who planned specific times to manage emails and who read and sent emails less frequently had higher-rated productivity. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, conducted the study to determine how email usage patterns were affecting job productivity and stress (2016; doi: 10.1145/2858036.2858262) .

Researchers tracked 40 information workers’ email usage for 12 days. In addition, investigators used biosensors and daily surveys to assess stress and perceived productivity levels. The research was part of a larger project that is studying the well-being of information workers in the workplace. While researchers found that more time spent on emails was associated with higher stress, they did not find that any particular style of responding to emails—e.g., via notifications, with frequent checking or in self-organized sessions—affected stress more than other styles. More research is needed, with a larger sample size and greater diversity among subjects.

The study was presented at the 2016 CHI (computer-human interaction) Conference on Human Factors in San Jose, California.

Exercise May Help Adult ADHD

It may be a good idea to recommend short sessions of cycling, walking or running as a complementary self-management tool for hyperactive adult clients. Preliminary research suggests that 20-minute bouts of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise may reduce symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Investigators from the University of Georgia conducted the study with 32 adult men, aged 18–33, with symptoms of ADHD. Subjects participated in 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling on 1 day and performed a task that required mental focus. On another day, participants rested for 20 minutes and performed a similar task. Before, during and after the exercise sessions, researchers collected data on ADHD symptoms, as reflected in leg movement, mood, attention and self-reported motivation, for example.

Data analysis showed that after the exercise session, participants felt more energetic and motivated to do the task and felt less confused and fatigued. Interestingly, actual performance of the task did not change, but subjects felt better about doing it. Study author Patrick J. O’Connor, PhD, professor of kinesiology at the University of Georgia, said in a university news release, “Exercise is already known as a stress reducer and mood booster, so it really has the potential to help those suffering with ADHD symptoms. And, while prescription drugs can be used to treat those symptoms, there’s an increased risk of abuse or dependence, and negative side effects. Those risks don’t exist with exercise.”

Limitations of the study included, among other things, its small sample size, the fact that participants had ADHD symptoms but did not all have an ADHD diagnosis, and the additional fact that the sample was not randomly selected from a defined population. More research is warranted. The study’s lead author, Kathryn M. Fritz, MS, a University of Georgia doctoral student, said, “We speculate that a different mode or duration or intensity of exercise, other than a boring cycle ride in a sterile lab, may show larger cognitive effects for those suffering from ADHD symptoms.”

The study is available in Medicine & Science in Sports & Medicine (2016; doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000864).

The Brain During Hypnosis

For years, mystique has surrounded hypnosis: What happens in the brain to allow certain individuals to focus attention, control physical markers like heart rate, and lack self-consciousness?

In an attempt to demystify these processes, a recent functional magnetic resonance imaging study, published in Cerebral Cortex (2016. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhw220), identified activity and functional connectivity between different brain networks during hypnosis. Lead study author David Spiegel, MD, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a university news release, “Hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it’s been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes. In fact, it’s a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.”

Researchers identified 36 people who had “high hypnotizability” and 21 control subjects with very little to no ability to experience hypnosis. The brains of all 57 participants were observed using MRI while resting, while recalling a memory and during two hypnosis sessions. “It was important to have the people who aren’t able to be hypnotized as controls,” said Spiegel. “Otherwise, you might see things happening in the brains of those being hypnotized, but you wouldn’t be sure whether it was associated with hypnosis or not.”

Data analysis showed three distinct brain activities under hypnosis as observed only among those who were highly hypnotizable and only while undergoing hypnosis. First, investigators noted less activity in the brain’s salience network. Spiegel explained, “In hypnosis, you’re so absorbed that you’re not worrying about anything else.” Second, there was an increase in connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the insula. This connectivity is related to the brain-body connection and enables the brain to process and control what’s going on in the body. Lastly, reduced connectivity occurred between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the default mode network, which indicates a disconnection between someone’s actions and awareness of those actions; in other words, a lack of self-consciousness. “When you’re really engaged in something, you don’t really think about doing it—you just do it,” said Spiegel.

Studies show that in people who can be hypnotized, sessions have helped to reduce chronic pain, pain from childbirth and other medical procedures; to treat smoking addiction and posttraumatic stress disorder; and to ease anxiety or phobias. The significance of this research is that understanding how hypnosis affects the brain may lead to treatments for those who aren’t as easily hypnotized. More research is needed, however, before such therapies can be developed.

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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