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The End Of Stress As We Know It

by Bruce Mcewen

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From Publishers Weekly
Based on the title, one might expect this to be a consumer health book offering cutting-edge stress-fighting techniques. Instead, brain researcher McEwen, who heads a neuroendocrinology lab at New York's Rockefeller University, presents a science text for laypeople who want to understand how brain biochemistry is altered during times of stress. He wrote the book to illustrate the paradox that "stress protects under acute conditions, but when activated chronically it can cause damage and accelerate disease." He illustrates this point by surveying some 50 years of lab research on how hormones and the immune system interact during temporary and chronic stress in people, animals and even tree shrews. In everyday terms, this syndrome is known as the "fight or flight response," but McEwen prefers the term "allostasis" for temporary stress and "allostatic" for chronic stress. Some of the studies are more intriguing than others (e.g., the chapter on voodoo death is infinitely more readable than discussions of immune function in distressed lab rats). A detailed appendix with charts of the endocrine and pituitary glands, as well as a bibliography with references to original journal studies make this a good pick for students entering the field of neuroscience, as well as scientists in other fields who are seeking to learn more. But laypeople who want to understand how stress affects the brain may be better off with Bill Moyers's less scientific but much more readable Healing and the Mind.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
The stress response, paradoxically, can both ensure our immediate survival and threaten long-term physical and mental well-being. These titles describe the mechanisms involved in responding to stress, but they take different tacks. Bremner (psychiatry and radiology, Emory Univ. Sch. of Medicine) focuses on traumatic stress-its effects on individuals and their ability to work and to relate to others. His premise is that "stress-induced brain damage underlies and is responsible for the development of a spectrum of trauma-related psychiatric disorders." Bremner offers a persuasive argument for revising the current diagnostic schema of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (which currently classifies numerous trauma as distinct conditions) to provide for one single spectrum of disorders, including both acute and chronic posttraumatic stress disorder and related conditions. Like McEwen, Bremner details the biological mechanisms of the stress response, focusing especially on the changes that occur within the brain. The author also touches briefly on Freudian psychotherapy, the use of medical scanning devices, the nature vs. nurture argument, the validity of delayed recall, etc. Despite some occasional repetitive and awkward constructions in his text, Bremner offers an interesting and valuable perspective on the subject of traumatic stress. His book will particularly interest professionals. McEwen (head, Neuroendocrinology Laboratory, Rockefeller Univ.) uses the term allostasis to denote the stress response in which maximum energy is delivered to those parts of the body that will be critical for self-protection. Allostatic load, on the other hand, describes a system that turns against itself. McEwen discusses in detail the processes by which stress affects the cardiovascular and immune systems as well as the brain. The brain, according to McEwen, can be "the target as well as the initiator of the stress response." This system, however, need not inevitably threaten us. Lifestyle changes, including proper diet, exercise, rest, and the development of positive coping skills, can make an enormous difference in our ability to minimize the effects of chronic stress. McEwen's book is skillfully written and will appeal to a wide readership.
Laurie Bartolini, Illinois State Lib., Springfield
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The stress response--fight or flee when confronting danger--has served humans well over the aeons, but under the multiple pressures of modern living it gets overworked. Chronic stress can cause health problems: cardiovascular diseases, disorders of the immune system, and afflictions of the mind "if normal feelings of distress and demoralization tilt towards clinical depression or anxiety." The message from McEwen, head of the Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at the Rockefeller University, is that one does not have to fall victim to stress. "We cannot, and should not, eliminate the fight-or-flight response, for it is a powerful, highly sophisticated response. But we will be able to find ways of keeping the stress resource in balance, so that it works for us and not against us." Better-targeted medications will help. But "the best way to deal with stress is by maintaining our physical and emotional health."

Editors of Scientific American

Personnel Psychology, October 2004
"The book is well written and, despite its technical treatment of the topic, interesting and enjoyable to read."

Nature Neuroscience, January 2003
"a story rich with historical anecdotes... the authors contribute to a growing and welcome 'neuroscience news you can use' genre."

Foreword Magazine, 2003
"The subject matter and writing are basic enough to be of interest to anyone interested in how to reduce stress."

Nature, January 2003
"...a fascinating read... the wealth of facts have been brilliantly summarized in an often entertaining manner..."

Book Description
There’s a whole new way to think about stress. Sure, some stress is inevitable, but being “stressed out” isn’t. In fact, we can learn to rechannel the powerful stress activators in our lives to make us even more effective.

Hamlet spoke of “suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” These days we simply use the word “stress” to describe that feeling. And if you ask 10 random people if they feel stressed, chances are that at least 9 will reply with a resounding, “Yes!” Indeed, the very way we use the word implies that we are its victims—as in, “I’m under so much stress” or “I’m completely stressed out.” There’s now a better way to look at this picture, a way to move from victim to victor. The first step is to look to the science behind it all because in the science lies a whole new message about stress. Science allows us to understand what the stress response is and why our bodies react the way they do. Like all living creatures, we’re mapped to respond instinctually in certain ways, and generally for good reasons. We know, for example, that in times of emergency, we effortlessly shift into a different biological mode. Based on our perception of the crisis, our brains initiate the “stress response” or the “flight-or-fight reaction.” Our attention becomes keenly focused. Our heart and lungs accelerate to ready us for action. Our glands mobilize extra energy resources and summon the immune system to battle stations. This whole process is Nature’s way of empowering us to respond swiftly, sometimes dramatically, to sudden events, while remaining mentally alert and physically prepared to meet a challenge.

But what if the crisis situation does not present us with a foe to be fought? Or if fleeing is not the answer? Too often in modern times, the situations that bring on the stress response require neither the fight nor flight response for which our bodies are genetically programmed. The stress response is nevertheless likely to kick in—just as it’s programmed to do—even though it cannot help speed us toward a resolution. Deprived of its natural successful result, the very system that’s designed to protect us begins to cause wear and tear on our bodies—actually bringing on illnesses as diverse and severe as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, ulcers, and increased susceptibility to colds and infections.

The good news is that there are definite things that we can do to prevent this process from ultimately taking this wrong turn. New research in brain functioning allows us to understand the reactions our bodies have to various stressful circumstances. That knowledge is power—the power to harness the energy stored within us and to channel it in positive ways. The End of Stress as We Know It leads us to a new appreciation of the mind–body connection so that we learn how to reduce stress and increase our overall sense of health and well-being—and even turn aside the slings and arrows of life. Co-published with the Dana Press.

Book Info
(Joseph Henry Press) Rockefeller Univ., New York City, NY. Consumer text presents research on the relationship between brain function and stress function and describes stress as a natural, necessary function. Also shows how stress can bring on illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, ulcers and increase susceptibility. Softcover.

From the Inside Flap
"You think you know what stress is, but not like you will after you've read The End of Stress as We Know It. Bruce McEwen, arguably the world's most renowned expert on the biology of stress, tells you everything you need to know, including ways of dealing with stress. It's very informative, and a great read." -- Joseph LeDoux, Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science, NYU, and author of Synaptic Self and The Emotional Brain

"Famed stress researcher Bruce McEwen draws on a vast amount of research (much of it his own) to explain in everyday language everything you need to know in order to make your life less stressful. Most encouraging are his suggestions for transforming unavoidable stresses into challenges, and his finding that 'a healthy attitude can confer a high degree of protection and resilience, despite one’s circumstances.'" -- Richard Restak, M.D., author of Secret Life of the Brain and Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot

"This is a rare and delightful kind of book. It is serious science, the psychology and biology of stress, explained by a leading neuroscientist. But it is also engaging and accessible, and it reads like a novel. If one wants to explore the legitimate science of this area, and also understand it, this is the book to read." -- Larry R. Squire, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurosciences, and Psychology at the University of California, San Diego, and Career Research Scientist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Diego

"Bruce McEwen's book tells us how thoughts and emotions get into the body to influence health. This outstanding scholar gives us a grand tour of the world of stress, based on the author’s groundbreaking research; he tells us what stress does to us and how we can keep ourselves from being stressed out. An outstanding volume by a premier researcher, he is articulate and entertaining. Highly recommended!" -- Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., and Ronald Glaser, Ph.D., Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research Ohio, State University College of Medicine

About the Author
Bruce McEwen, Ph.D., is a professor and Head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University in New York City. He is a pioneer in tracking the specific ways in which the brain influences the glands and the immune system and has appeared on major network programs in the United States, England, France, and Japan to discuss brain science and stress. McEwen lives in New York City.

Elizabeth Norton Lasley is a science writer with a specialization in neuroscience. Formerly a senior editor at The Dana Press, her freelance articles have appeared in numerous publications including Science. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter.



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