Stress: The secret of cold-blooded people: why ‘losing your nerves’ is not in your vocabulary? | Good Life

A doctor facing an emergency room crowded with patients after hours on call. A policeman before the disturbances caused in a soccer match. A military man protecting a fishing boat in pirate waters. A pilot who must land a plane with a mechanical failure with hundreds of lives in his hands. A firefighter armed with a hose in front of a burning building. They are very different jobs, but they have something in common: situations with high levels of stress before which most of the mortals would succumb. They, however, face them with the cold blood, bravery, and integrity of a superhero. “They could be considered special people,” says the stress psychologist Lourdes Luceno. The equation that turns them into what combines personality, training and genetics.

“This type of persons they have what psychologists call a stress-resistant personality“explains Luceno, who investigates how police professionals and medical personnel react to certain circumstances. It is not that they do not feel or suffer the pressure of what is happening around them. Their bodies also activate the same mechanism that helps them react. before the environment: in stressful situations, they release adrenaline and cortisol, which put the brain in alert mode, increase the heart rate and tighten the muscles, among other responses. But, unlike most people, they do not succumb to negative stress , “What happens when you are overwhelmed by things that you must do and you do not have enough resources to face them”, clarifies the expert psychologist in anxiety and stress at the Human Area Center of Madrid Cristina Wood.

Control, commitment and sense of humor

The personality of cold-blooded people is defined by Three key factors: control, commitment, and challenge. “They think they have control over what happens. They are professionals who are highly committed to their work, who usually choose it by vocation. Finally, when a different situation arises, they do not consider it a problem, but rather a challenge that must be overcome. they sink before the difficulties, but they take them as an apprenticeship “, clarifies Luceno. Although not everything is in character, training is essential. They must train to perfect these characteristics and be able to face certain situations without paralyzing. “With the help of psychologists they learn basic problem solving techniques, proper time management, social skills, to eliminate negative thoughts and rumination [dar vueltas a la misma idea durante mucho tiempo], to know how to organize, lead and support, “says Luceno.

Relaxation is also essential to keep your mind cool and act resilient in extreme situations. How this state is achieved is something that science has done on numerous occasions. Practicing meditation regularly seems to be one of the ways — as determined some studies– but not the only one. Music is another one of them. Listening to it regulates the hormonal response of stress, preventing it from paralyzing us, according to a research from the University of London. And laughter: learning to see different situations with humor helps a lot, according to a work in which the behaviors of firefighters with symptoms of post-traumatic and occupational stress were analyzed. Those capable of having a good laugh while dealing with their problems tended to experience fewer negative effects in stressful situations. And it is that laughter has chemical effects on our body, it releases hormones such as endorphin, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, which help us relax and give us a feeling of well-being. Sport also has similar effects on the hormonal response.

Cold blood comes from the factory

It might seem that by training, listening to a lot of music and laughing a lot, we could all be able to get the cold blood of these professionals, but no. A part of its power is written in its DNA. In the same way that it determines the color of our eyes, skin and hair, it also seems to define the way in which we respond to stress. Even though the studies carried out in this regard are only in animals, science suggests that some of our genes They have the job of producing and regulating a molecule called Neuropeptide Y (NPY), which could be a kind of switch to stress resilience. Its operation is not yet fully understood, but it has been observed that when faced with stress, its production shoots up in some of the animals studied, helping them to respond more quickly.

But education also has a huge influence, says Wood: “They tend to have had a childhood without great trauma,” and the reactions of their parents “they learn by observation to make the same responses to situations of uncertainty and stress. Support for them is essential from childhood and when they carry out their work, “essential to face very stressful situations like the current one,” says Luceno, who adds that “they need both their peers and the outsider.”

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Autoantibodies can also act as body antidepressants

If the immune system attacks your body, it can often have devastating consequences: autoantibodies bind to the structures of the body, triggering functional disorders. Glutamate receptors, a neurotransmitter, can also become the target of autoantibodies. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in Göttingen investigated the circumstances under which autoantibodies are formed for a particular glutamate receptor – known as the NMDA receptor – and their effects in the brain. The researchers found that the level of these autoantibodies in the blood can vary greatly over a person’s life – regardless of health conditions – and increases with age. Chronic stress can, however, increase the concentration of these autoantibodies in the blood even in the early years of life. According to the researchers, when antibodies are able to enter the brain to act on NMDA receptors, people suffer from less depression and anxiety. These autoantibodies clearly act as the body’s antidepressants.

Glutamate receptors are located in the membrane of nerve cells and bind to glutamate, a neurotransmitter. The NMDA receptor is a type of receptor essential for learning and memory. Up to 20 percent of the population has antibodies to this receptor in the blood.

Usually, the blood-brain barrier prevents these antibodies from passing through the blood to the brain. Only if this barrier is damaged can the antibodies have a greater effect. If antibodies bind to NMDA receptors in the brain, they are removed from the nerve cell membrane (“internalized”). This stops reporting to nearby cells. If inflammation is present in the brain, for example due to a viral infection, the presence of these autoantibodies can lead to a so-called “anti-NMDAR encephalitis”: a disease brought to the attention of the public from the 2016 movie “Brain on Fire “. The effect of these NMDA receptor autoantibodies can typically influence the symptoms of the underlying encephalitis, contributing to epileptic seizures, impaired movement, psychosis and loss of cognitive function.

Autoantibody levels increase with age

In a new study, Hannelore Ehrenreich and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Göttingen found that the concentration of these autoantibodies in the blood of mice and humans can fluctuate considerably over time. However, the level increases with age, as the body is continuously exposed to factors that stimulate the immune system and, with it, the production of autoantibodies. One of these factors is stress. According to the researchers, chronically stressed mice show a higher level of NMDA receptor autoantibodies in the blood than their non-stressed components.

Ehrenreich and his team also analyzed the concentration of antibodies in the blood of young migrants. “People who are subjected to severe stress in their lives are more likely to carry NMDA receptor autoantibodies in the blood, even at a young age,” says Ehrenreich. These are like a time bomb in the body. “If an infection or some other factor appears that weakens the blood brain barrier, autoantibodies enter the brain and can cause epileptic seizures or other neurological disorders,” says Ehrenreich. A good example would be Knut, Berlin’s famous polar bear.

Positive effect of antibodies

However, the researchers’ recent study indicated for the first time that autoantibodies can also play a positive role in the brain. Mice with a more permeable blood-brain barrier and NMDA receptor autoantibodies in the brain were significantly more mobile and less depressed during periods of chronic stress than their conspecifics with an intact blood-brain barrier. An analysis of a large patient database revealed that people with NMDA autoantibodies and a permeable blood brain barrier also suffered significantly less depression and anxiety.

The autoantibody NMDA obviously has a role in the brain similar to ketamine, an antidepressant that also acts on NMDA receptors.

The effect of these autoantibodies – which contribute to the symptoms of an encephalitis or inhibit depression – is evidently determined not only by their level in the brain, but also by any underlying conditions, in particular the presence or absence of inflammation “.

Hannelore Ehrenreich, Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine