Mental Wellness Task Force Lunch and Learn Series

The Mental Wellness Task Force kicks-off its brown bag lunch and learn series in the spring 2015 semester with three programs by Dr. Bruce Rabin, Medical Director of the UPMC Healthy Lifestyle Program. Learn more about Dr. Rabin.

The Mental Wellness Task Force is part of the UPMC Healthy Lifestyle Program.  Please come to any or all of these sessions to learn about the effects of stress on physical and mental health and techniques that you can use to alleviate stress. Helpful informational handouts from this series of programs are available on the Task Force’s Resources page.

Session 1: The Effect of Stress Hormones on Physical Health

Title: The Effect of Stress Hormones on Physical Health: Behaviors that reduce the response of the brain to stress
When: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 from 12:00 - 1:00 - COMPLETED
Where: Kurtzman Room – William Pitt Union
Length: 50 minutes

Understanding and Managing Stress for Better Mental and Physical Health (Printable PDF)

What Stress Does to Your Body (Printable PDF)

Stress Coping Guidelines (Printable PDF)

Stress Effects On the Heart and Brain (Printable PDF)

Wellness Presentation (Printable PDF)

Program Outline:

  • What happens in the brain when the brain perceives something stress
    • Activation of stress reactive brain areas
  • Changes in hormone concentrations are caused by activation of the stress reactive brain areas and are responsible for the health effects caused by stress
  • Developing effective ways to cope with stress means that when the brain perceives something as stress there will be less of an elevation of stress hormones.
  • Often, the amount of stress hormone releases is affected by early life experiences that sensitize and enhance the response of the brain to stress and increase the risk of disease
    • Abuse
      • emotional - recurrent threats, humiliation
      • physical - beating, not spanking
      • contact sexual abuse
    • Household dysfunction
      • mother treated violently
      • household member was alcoholic or drug user
      • household member was imprisoned
      • household member was chronically depressed, suicidal, mentally ill or in psychiatric hospital
      • not raised by both biological parents
    • Neglect
      • physical
      • emotional
  • Present of the effect of stress hormone elevation on physical health
    • Blood pressure elevation
    • Atherosclerotic heart disease
    • Immune function
      • Decreased resistance to infection
      • More difficulty managing of autoimmune disease
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    • More difficulty managing diabetes
    • Cancer risk
  • Present the behaviors that reduce the response of the brain to stress and help to keep the concentration of stress hormones low. These are behaviors that each person should use
    • Having a social support system that you enjoy. Loneliness will increase the risk of physical and mental health disease development
    • Being high in optimism
    • Having a sense of humor
    • Being physically fit
    • Being high in Religiosity or Spirituality

Session 2: The Effect of Stress Hormones on the Brain

Title: The Effect of Stress Hormones on the Brain
When: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 from 12:00 - 1:00 - COMPLETED
Where: Kurtzman Room – William Pitt Union
Length: 50 minutes
Handout: Effect of Stress Hormones on the Brain (PDF)

Program Outline:

  • Effect of stress hormones on mental health
    • Focusing and thinking clearly are reduced when stress hormones are elevated
    • Depression (this is not meant to be comprehensive but rather focusing on new information and also explaining that there are multiple causations of depression.
    • The information is meant to motivate engagement in non-pharmacological approaches to manage depression and decrease the likelihood of developing feelings of depression)
      • Discuss Major, Moderate, Minor and that the discussion is focusing on
      • Moderate and Minor Depression
      • Discuss predisposing effect of early life abuse and associated alterations of the control of cortisol
      • Discuss toxic effect of cortisol on hippocampal neurons and that the
      • Hippocampus (area of the brain associated with depression) often has a smaller volume in depression
      • Alteration of cortisol may be one mechanism associated with the development of depression
      • Discuss the increase in the concentration of cytokines in blood caused by inflammation and stress (explain what a cytokine is)
      • Discuss how cytokines get to the brain
  • Discuss association of depression with medical illness where there is immune system activation (infection, autoimmune disease) as an example of how cytokines associated with the stress response induce depression. Depression has similarities with how one feels when they have a viral infection (tiredness, loss of appetite, depression).  Psychological stress can cause release of the same factors that a viral infection cause to be released into the blood stream with the same results (tiredness, loss of appetite, depression).
  • Discuss how cytokines change function of the brain and increase clinical depression by changing neurotransmitter signaling (reduced ability to experience pleasure,  norexia, impaired sleep, reduced activity)
    • Discuss effect of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication on reducing depression by reducing inflammation
    • Discuss that cytokines are a factor in a subset of patients as depression has more than 1 etiology (we don’t know how many)
  • Memory is affected by stress hormones

Session 3: Stress Buffering Techniques

Title: Stress Buffering Techniques
When: Wednesday, March 4, 2015 from 12:00 - 1:00
Where: Kurtzman Room – William Pitt Union
Length: 50 minutes
Handout: Coping with Chronic Stress (PDF)

Program Outline:

  • Techniques that reduce the effect of stress hormones on mental and physical health
    • Acute stress buffers
      • Deep breathing - demonstrate
      • Humor - explain
      • Chanting - explain
    • Chronic stress
      • Guided Imagery - play
      • Expressive writing - explain
      • Simple meditation - demonstrate
  • Repeat the importance of the following to reduce risk of depression in many individuals, keep the immune system functioning well, reduce the risks of atherosclerotic heart disease, and enhance the quality of life during the aging process
  • Social interaction
  • Physical fitness including Yoga