Recent studies indicate that stress and emotions can be ‘contagious’. Whether this has lasting consequences for the brain, is not known. Sounds peculiar but true.
In a new study in Nature Neuroscience, Jaideep Bains, PhD, and his team at the Cumming School of Medicine’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), at the University of Calgary have discovered that stress transmitted from others can change the brain in the same way as a real stress does.
The Bains research team studied the effects of stress in pairs of male or female mice. They removed one mouse from each pair and exposed it to a mild stress before returning it to its partner. They then examined the responses of a specific population of cells, specifically CRH neurons which control the brain’s response to stress, in each mouse, which revealed that networks in the brains of both the stressed mouse and naïve partner were altered in the same way.
Next, the team used optogenetic approaches to engineer these neurons so that they could either turn them on or off with light. When the team silenced these neurons during stress, they prevented changes in the brain that would normally take place after stress. When they silenced the neurons in the partner during its interaction with a stressed individual, the stress did not transfer to the partner. Remarkably, when they activated these neurons using light in one mouse, even in the absence of stress, the brain of the mouse receiving light and that of the partner were changed just as they would be after a real stress.
Therefore to safeguard oneself as well as your partner, from the negative effects of stress. Neurologists suggest the people struggling from stress to practice mindful exercises. These deep breathing exercises gradually turns off the neurons controlling brain’s responses to stress. And one such effective and recommended practice is Nitaai Breathing. There is a scientific analysis on how Nitaai Breathing works.
There’s a section of our brains that’s s called the medial prefrontal cortex. This is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from the bodily sensation and fear centers of the brain to the medial prefrontal cortex are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong reaction in this area; making you feel scared and under attack.
When we try to stabilize our breathing by Nitaai Breathing, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don’t react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up the medial prefrontal cortex, part of our brain.
As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what’s known as our Assessment Center (the part of our brains known for reasoning) and our bodily sensation and fear centers. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally. And over and above that, we get an optimistic outlook towards dealing with challenging situations due to the positive sound of Nitaai that we reverberate.