Health tips — August 2014

New studies highlight the impact stressful environments can have on your mental health, as well as the importance of stress relief in coping with allergies.

Avoid second-hand strife

Stress can be highly contagious, to the point that merely observing someone in a stressful situation can change our physiology, a German study suggests. Researchers tested 211 subjects and found that 30% showed increased production of the stress hormone cortisol while viewing others struggling with math problems through a one-way mirror, while 24% had a similar boost in cortisol by watching a video of the experiment. Even TV programs depicting the suffering of others can transmit that stress to viewers, says Veronika Engert, one of the study’s authors. Something to keep in mind before binge watching The Walking Dead.

Nothing to sneeze at

If your seasonal allergies seem out of control, stress may be to blame. In a study conducted by The Ohio State University and published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, allergy sufferers with more than one flare-up in symptoms not only reported higher levels of stress compared with those without symptoms during the study period, but a number also had flare-ups within a few days of experiencing increased daily stress. "While alleviating stress won’t cure allergies, it may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms," says allergist Amber Patterson, lead author of the study.