By Diane Israel
Anxiety and its kinfolk, namely fear and stress, are by definition traumatic experiences for which we would all like to rid ourselves, go hand-in-mind with the human condition. And while we cannot extract it like special forces from a hostile environment, we can do something almost as good.
Almost everyone would like to be happier. But what we often focus is on just that. Happiness. Meaning, when we project future happiness upon our being, rarely, if ever, do such musings consider how merely reducing those moments, those moments when we can’t think straight, might be another path to the same end.
An acquaintance of mine put it this way:
When you’re reacting instead of responding, your suffering some degree of an anxiety attack.
And while her words are true, and qualify as an important self-awareness tool to add to our personal psychology, more traumatic experiences call for scientific innovations like the recent breakthrough by Israeli researchers that addresses this problem head-on.
Many people have difficulties with turning off their response to stress factors. According to Weizmann Institute of Science researchers, they may be missing a special set of proteins.
A pounding heart, sweating palms, tense muscles and that metallic taste in your mouth is normal – when you perceive a threat to your existence, be it through anxiety, fear, or stress, each of which overlaps the other considerably.
It’s a typical anxiety response, one that often comes along with the “flight or fight” reaction generated by an adrenaline rush brought on by stress.
People who have a tough time turning that response off often have suffered a psychological trauma as the result of a frightening experience such as a missile attack or other type of physical threat. Such victims can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other conditions related to stress and anxiety include anorexia, depression and a myriad of anxiety disorders.
According to the findings of a new study led by Dr. Alon Chen at the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, however, there is solid evidence that three related proteins are responsible for the body’s ability to turn off the stress response.
The research, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that urocortin proteins 1, 2, and 3 are crucial for returning the body to normal.
To identify how exactly this is done, Chen and his team tested the gene expression levels of genes involved in the stress response in a group of genetically engineered mice who were lacking the proteins, and a control group of mice.
The levels remained constant both during and after stress in the engineered mice, who were missing the proteins. In contrast, patterns of gene expression in the control mice showed significant change 24 hours after the stress.
In other words, without the urocortin system, the “return to normal” program could not be activated, and the stress genes continued to function.
“This may have implications for anxiety disorders, depression, anorexia and other conditions,” noted Dr. Chen. “The genetically engineered mice we created could be effective research models for these diseases.”