Why Does Stress Cause More Depression in Men Than in Women?

Sex and gender differences are central to our lives. We all think about them, struggle with them, and seek to better understand them. From Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady who lamented “Why can’t a woman be more like a man” to Sigmund Freud who wondered “What do women really want?” to our nursery rhymes which taught us to believe that “Little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice,” while “Little boys are made of snakes and snails and puppy-dogs tails” to Charles Boyer who proclaimed Vive La Différence!

There is an exciting new field emerging that offers new insights into the age-old questions, “Are men and women really all that different?” In a world that still limits the lives of women in significant ways, it’s not surprising that many feminists have argued that the differences between men and women are superficial and more the result of our sexist attitudes than real differences in the ways our brains and bodies are built.

However, an emerging new field called “gender-specific medicine” recognizes that sexism still exists and must be eliminated if women and men are going to reach their full potential, but there are real differences between the sexes that need to be understood and respected.

One of the leaders in this field is Marianne J. Legato M.D. In her book, Eve’s Rib:  The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine, she says, “Everywhere we look, the two sexes are startlingly and unexpectedly different not only in their internal function but in the way they experience illness.” Dr. Legato is a cardiologist who was one of the first clinicians to recognize that heart disease presents differently in men and women. Men feel a crushing pain in their chest, while many women experience fleeting pain in the upper abdomen or back, nausea, shortness of breath, and sweating. [Read more…]

Why Bernie Sanders May Be the Youngest Presidential Candidate And the Most Qualified

544928_b2edaa294b_oAs the Presidential primaries begin and the candidates try and convince us that their opponents are not qualified, it might be good to consider what neuroscience might teach us about the aging brain.

According to a recent headline in the magazine Politico, “Clinton surrogate to demand Sanders release medical records.” The article goes on to say, “A top surrogate for Hillary Clinton, David Brock founder of the Clinton-aligned Correct the Record PAC, is prepping a new attack in an intensifying and increasingly personal war against rival Bernie Sanders — calling on the 74-year-old to release his medical records before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.”

It’s true Bernie is 74 year’s old, while Donald Trump is 69 and Hillary Clinton is a mere 68. We certainly want the candidate who may be our next President to be able to function at a high level. But mental function may have more to do with the stresses and traumas we experience in life than the number of years we have lived. The youngest brain may be housed in the cranium of the oldest candidate. [Read more…]

7 Surprising Reasons Stress is Good for You

Good StressMost of us could claim to be experts on stress. We know the feelings of being rushed and overwhelmed, of running around trying to get more and more done with less and less time. But some of us are more expert than others. I’ve written two books on stress and the harm it does to our lives: MenAlive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools and Stress Relief for Men. I taught people how to recognize the damage stress did to our body, mind, and spirit and how to combat stress. But like many experts on stress I was wrong, wrong, wrong.  

Recently I’ve learned that there are different kinds of stress and not all stress is bad. In fact, stress can be good for us and rather than avoiding stress, reducing stress, or combating stress, we might learn how to use stress more effectively.  In my books I described the work of Dr. Robert Sapolsky, who did some of the early research on stress in the 1970s that many professionals, like myself, have used as foundational material in our own studies. Sapolsky’s work was the subject of the National Geographic documentary Killer Stress.   The film focused on groundbreaking research that revealed surprising facts about the impact of stress on our bodies. It showed how it can shrink our brains, add fat to our bellies, and even unravel our chromosomes.

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. is another expert on stress. For years she counseled and taught people about the dangers of stress. “I told people that stress makes you sick, that it increases your risk of everything from the common cold to heart disease, depression, and addiction, and that it kills brain cells, damages your DNA, and makes you age faster.” In a TED talk that has garnered more than 10 million viewers she told people why she had changed her mind about stress and offered the latest research she found that lead to her book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.

Here are some of the upsides of stress that we are now coming to recognize: [Read more…]

Independence Day and The Birth of Civ 2

dawning of civ2Last 4th of July Carlin and I decided to get out of town and watch the parade in Mendocino. I brought a book to read while we waited for the parade to begin–Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for the Future of the Earth by Alan Weisman. Weisman also wrote the widely acclaimed The World Without Us.

In his review of Countdown in the New York Times, Nathaniel Rich begins with these unsettling words:  “If we wanted to bring about the extinction of the human race as quickly as possible, how might we proceed? We could begin by destroying the planet’s atmosphere, making it incapable of supporting human life. We could invent bombs capable of obliterating the entire planet, and place them in the hands of those desperate enough to detonate them. We could bioengineer our main food sources — rice, wheat and corn — in such a way that a single disease could bring about catastrophic famine. But the most effective measure, counterintuitive as it may be, would be to increase our numbers. Population is what economists call a multiplier. The more people, the greater the likelihood of ecological collapse, nuclear war, plague.”

How can we keep from being overwhelmed with fear and anxiety facing these kinds of realities? Do we simply “eat, drink, and be merry” and deny that anything bad can happen?  Do we sink into depression and despair or check out with Alzheimer’s? If we believe humanity still has a “last, best hope,” what can we do to make a difference?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions since 1995 when I sat in a sweat lodge at the 4th Annual Men’s Leaders’ Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. During the third round I had a vision of how the “Ship of Civilization” was sinking. Fortunately, I also saw that many people survived in lifeboats and created a world where humans lived in balance with nature. The human species woke up from our destructive dream of domination and once again claimed our place in the community of life. [Read more…]

How to Make More Money, Work Less, Stress Less, and Live in the Country

Less Stess picCarlin and I moved to Willits in 1992 because I thought I was going to die. I had recently had surgery for life-threatening adrenal tumor. My doctors told me that I was fine now. The tumor had been removed and I had fully recovered from surgery. When I asked them why I had gotten the tumor in the first place, they just shrugged and said, “It just happened. Maybe something you were born with that finally caught up with you.” They never asked me about being increasingly stressed and depressed living the fast-paced life in Marin County.

Like many of my friends and colleagues I was busting my butt trying to make a living. It seemed the harder I worked and the faster I ran, the farther behind I got. The fact that we were living in a beautiful house and could go into San Francisco whenever we wanted a night in the big city blinded me to the fact that I was one of many living a rat-race of life.

I had just taken my car in for service and was jogging home (needed to get my exercise in whenever I could). All of a sudden my head felt like it was about to explode. The pain was so severe, it literally knocked me off my feet. It took the doctors a month to finally figure out what I had. “This falls under the category of rare diseases you learn about in medical school, but usually never see in your lifetime,” my doctor told me. “It’s called a pheochromocytoma, basically an adrenal tumor. What you felt when you thought your head was exploding was the sudden increase in blood pressure due to the upsurge of adrenaline.”

Even after the surgery I wasn’t satisfied with my doctor’s explanation that “it’s just one of those things. We don’t know why you got it, there was nothing you could have done to prevent it, and you should just be grateful that you are fine now.” Instead I consulted my own doctor, the one that lives inside my psyche, the one who often has deeper information that the specialists who are licensed to practice medicine. [Read more…]

Life, Death, and Leaving: The Next Step on the Journey

life and deathSome of the neighbors got together the other night to support our friend who is planning a service for her husband who died last week. We’ve known Scott since we moved here nearly 25 years ago. His death was a shock and a great sadness. His passing coincides for us with our decision to leave our home here in the country and to move into town.

When we first moved to our home in the hills it was motivated by a recent near-death experience. We had been living in Marin County and while jogging home one day after dropping my car off for repairs, I had a sudden surge of adrenaline and my head felt like it was about to explode. When I finally was able to make it home and saw my doctor, he was perplexed about what might have caused the symptoms.  Following numerous tests, it was determined that I had a rare kind of adrenal tumor that releases so much adrenaline into the system, it usually blows out a blood vessel in the brain and death is immediate.

That’s exactly how I felt, though I was lucky to be in good shape so I didn’t die, had the surgery, and recovered well. I asked my doctors why I had developed a tumor. Their Western-medicine answer was that “you were probably born with the potential and it just happened.” That didn’t satisfy me so I consulted the best specialist I knew. His name is Guntar and he’s been my inner healer for many years. I’ve found that our inner wisdom often provides answers that are not always available from modern medicine. I’ve used Guntar to help me deal with my depression, my bipolar illness, and my stresses, though I also use Western medicine as well. A combination of both usually gets me through a medical emergency to a more healthy balance. [Read more…]

5 Ways to Achieve Peak Prosperity as We Face the Biggest Economic, Environmental, and Energy Transformation of All Times

change machineAs Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changin’.” Indeed they are, big time. We are facing the biggest crisis in human history as we deal with our economy, environment, and energy use. Although we face great danger, there is also great opportunity. We often experience the impact of change through illness and pain—everything from Alzheimer’s and depression to anger and arthritis are on the rise.

In 1993 I participated in a Native American sweat lodge ceremony. During the sweat lodge I had a vision where I saw the sinking of the “Ship of Industrial Civilization” and the emergence of “Life Boats to a New Way of Life.” Since that time I’ve gotten a clearer understanding of the reality of this change and how we can all find our lifeboats, get on board, and create a new way of life that is more sustainable and satisfying than anything the world has ever known.

  1. Recognize the Opportunity Within the Crisis

If a raging tiger broke into our yard, we’d immediately recognize the danger and run for our lives or fight to survive. But economic, environmental, and energy changes occur slowly enough that our brain doesn’t register them. We have to use our creative imaginations to see the danger we are in.

In his book and video series, The Crash Course, economic researcher and futurist Chris Martenson describes the three major forces that are impacting our future: Economy, Energy, and Environment, how these big three Es interact, and how they determine our prosperity or decline.

Our Industrial Civilization has been driven by the use of more and more of the Earth’s resources.  As Richard Heinberg points out in his book Peak Everything, our use of fossil fuels is damaging the environment and we’re reaching the end of “cheap oil” that drives our energy economy. But if we understand the trends and address them wisely, Martenson and Heinberg believe we can move towards Peak Prosperity. [Read more…]

5 Surprising Reasons a Good Relationship Is the Best Stress Reliever in the World

The stress response was our secret weapon for success through most of human history. It saved our lives, making us run from predators and enabling us to take down prey. The problem is that we are no longer responding to a wild animal attack that might occur once every six months, but instead we are dealing with hundreds of stresses every day. Human beings are turning on the same life-saving physical reaction to cope with aging parents, unhappy teenagers, costly gasoline, increasing food prices, traffic jams, and job insecurity. As a result, our stress response never turns off, and we’re constantly marinated in corrosive hormones that used to prepare us for fight or flight, but now they just make us sick.

We know that stress is implicated in 80-90% of the illnesses we all suffer, everything from arthritis and Alzheimer’s to irritability and depression. Richard O’Connor, PhD, is an expert on treating stress and believes that our modern medical approach misses the mark. “Current practice overemphasizes control of symptoms: take an antidepressant; learn self-hypnosis for anxiety; take a pill to overcome your addiction to alcohol; find a doctor to give you drugs to make you feel less pain or discomfort. By focusing on symptoms like this, we play into the vicious circle of disease.”

There’s a better way to prevent chronic stress and I describe it in my new book, Stress Relief for Men: How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well.  In working with stressed-out men and women for more than 40 years, I’ve learned we need to change how we understand and deal with stress in our lives. Here are some important findings from my research: [Read more…]

Heart Coherence: 3 Simple Steps for Reducing Stress and Living Well

I’ve always prided myself on having a healthy heart. When I’d have my yearly health checkups, the doctor always commented that I had the low blood pressure of an athlete. I do keep in good shape, but I haven’t considered myself an athlete since high school when I played basketball and wrestled.

At age sixty-six, I decided I wanted to do some kind of physical challenge to recapture some of the feeling I used to get when I really stretched myself physically.  I decided to train for a marathon, something I had never attempted, even when I was young and in shape.  I trained for 6 months and thought I was good to go.

A week before the race, I ran into an unexpected problem. At odd times, my heart would begin speeding up and beating hard. I’d get a bit light-headed and short of breath. I’d never had anything like that happen before so I went to see my doctor. She didn’t think it was anything serious, but she sent me to a cardiologist to get a thorough checkup. I have to admit, I was more worried that the doctor wouldn’t let me run the marathon than that there might be something wrong with my heart.

But having been in medical school and being the worrying type, my mind wandered to problems like pulmonary arterial hypertension and chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI).  Luckily, I didn’t have any problems that the doctor could find. I decided the more likely reason for my speeding heart was the stress and worry about the race. I wondered if I could do it, whether I would injure myself, or make a fool of myself running so slowly the snails might pass me by. [Read more…]

Men and Stress: Saving Your Sanity and the Only Brain You’ll Ever Have

Although we have known for some time that stress can cause damage to the heart, the gastrointestinal tract, and other parts of the body, we have recently learned that stress can actually damage the brain.  J. Douglas Bremner, M.D., is Director of Mental Health Research at the Atlanta Veterans Administration Medical Center, and is editor of Trauma, Memory, and Dissociation and Stress Disorder.  In Bremner’s book Does Stress Damage the Brain? he explains, “Research in only the past decade or so has shown that extreme stress has effects on the brain that last throughout the lifespan.”

As a result many of those emotional distresses that we have, in the past, viewed as purely psychological, may be the result of physical damage to the brain.  “A group of psychiatric disorders related to stress, what I call trauma-spectrum disorders,” says Bremner, “could share in common a basis in brain abnormalities that are caused by stress.”

Bremner continues saying that “Trauma-spectrum disorders are those that are known to be linked to stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociative disorders, borderline personality disorders, adjustment disorder, depression, and anxiety.”  I would include the Irritable Male Syndrome as another one of these trauma-spectrum disorders.

Trauma-spectrum Disorders and Gender:  Why Women Cry and Men Run Away 

One of Dr. Bremner’s experiments helps us understand the difference between the way men and women experience these disorders.  He gathered a group of former depression patients.  With their permission, he gave them a beverage that was spiked with an amino acid that blocks the brain’s ability to absorb serotonin, the neurotransmitter that allows us to feel upbeat and happy.

Using the new brain scan techniques he took pictures of the subject’s brains to see if he could pinpoint the areas that were associated with depression. If we knew the areas of the brain associated with depression, he reasoned then we could come up with better medications and treatment approaches.  In looking at the color brain scans he was able to show that a loss of serotonin affects all three major areas of the brain.

What I found even more fascinating were the gender specific differences in the way men and women reacted to the potion that blocked the effects of the serotonin.  Typical of the males was John, a middle-aged businessman who had fully recovered from a bout of depression, thanks to a combination of psychotherapy and Prozac. Within minutes of drinking the brew, however, “He wanted to escape to a bar across the street,” recalls Bremner. “He didn’t express sadness … he didn’t really express anything. He just wanted to go to Larry’s Lounge.”  Contrast John’s response with that of female subjects like Sue, a mother of two in her mid-thirties. After taking the cocktail, “She began to cry and express her sadness over the loss of her father two years ago,” recalls Bremmer. “She was overwhelmed by her emotions.”

So we see a very real contrast in the ways men and women respond to a loss of the brain chemicals that keep our emotions in a healthy balance.  Men tend to withdraw and go for the alcohol to prevent us from feeling our pain.  Women tend to share their emotions with others.  I have found that chronic irritability is one of the principal ways men withdraw, rather than dealing directly with our feelings.

 Men and Stress:  What’s a Man to Do?

Men and stress can be a killer combination.  We can make decisions that help eliminate or decrease the stress response in life by once again paying attention to the physical, emotional, and chemical components of our health. Physical stressors include accidents, physical inactivity, and changes in temperature. Chemical stressors include sugar, high fat foods, cigarettes, alcohol, and toxic work or environment. Emotional stressors include fear, anger, guilt, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

When we get out of balance with our lives, many of us overload on all aspects of our stress capacity, stopping our regular exercise regimen, eating poorly, and navigating family get-togethers or loneliness. Come up with a plan for how you can circumvent illness by planning ahead.

Make sure you are able to identify when your stress levels are high, and have some ways of interrupting the process. An increased heart rate, sweat, tense muscles, irritability, moodiness and dilated pupils are clear signs of fight or flight and an increased stress response.

When you notice these signs stop what you’re doing and check in with yourself for at least five minutes. Check in and see if HALT is a problem.  These letters stand for hungry, angry, lonely, tired.  These are some of the more common ways that stress manifests.  Ways to re-set the system are going for a brisk walk, taking a few deep breaths, visualizing yourself somewhere refreshing, relaxing tight muscles, and shifting your perception to a different space. This does not have to be a long task. Just check in and re-set every hour until you get the hang of it and feel some shift in your overall tension pattern.

You can practice using the energy healing tools I describe in my book, MenAlive:  Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing ToolsLearn about Earthing, Heart Coherence, Attachment Love, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (Also known as EFT or Tapping).  These simple tools combat stress in men and the women who love them.  You can get your brain back in balance and allow you to more effectively deal with the ups and downs of life without becoming overwhelmed or stressed out.

Please share your story or experience.

Together we heal.

Photo credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalshotgun/454380458/