Working with 7th graders in a low-income, high-crime area of Palo Alto, CA, researchers led by 2000 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee, Victor Carrion, M.D., are trying to understand how children respond to daily stress, both emotionally and physiologically. They are working with the 7th graders to determine if focused breathing can lead to focused learning; if so, mindfulness practices and yoga may help treat or even prevent the long term impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on the developing brain.
Dr. Carrion is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Head of the Early Life Stress Research Program. In this current study, in addition to teaching mindfulness practices to help 7th graders relax and concentrate better, he and colleagues are also using functional brain imaging to measure the impact of stress on the brain. Dr. Carrion told Jeffrey Brown of the PBS Newshour that they are identifying how areas of the brain essential for learning can be impacted by stress. They believe that chronic stress, if not addressed and treated, can cause cognitive impairment and PTSD.
Children who have suffered trauma or chronic stress “learn to cope if we teach them,” Dr. Carrion told the Newshour. “If we don’t do anything, their PTSD is not going to go away. By adolescence for example, individuals may develop self-injurious behavior or they may develop substance abuse as a way of self-medicating. So if PTSD is not addressed, if avoided, it’s just going to get worse,” Dr. Carrion said.
Watch the March 3rd PBS Newshour Video Clip.