man stressed with laptop

How your stressful thoughts affect your immunity and what to do about it

Monica Durigon explores how we can combat stressful thoughts. She is a qualified nutritional therapist and member of BANT (British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine). You can view the original post here.

I have written on the topic of immunity before. Still, I feel compelled to do it again as the current Corona Virus infection has reached pandemic proportion, and new research and data are emerging daily.

We receive constant updates on vaccines developments, the number of infections and deaths, government debates about the best strategies for containment and endless reminders of the symptoms and actions to take to prevent and cope with the virus.

We are constantly reminded that the most effective way to avoid infections is by washing our hands with soap ( often and thoroughly), avoid touching our face ( where the virus can gain access to our mucosal cavities and enter our body ) and social distancing and isolation.  This is valid and standard advice applicable to any viral and bacterial infections.

How can we support our natural immunity?

What has been mostly missing from big media is information on how we can support our natural immunity. There is no cure for this virus; however, we can influence the way our immune system responds to it and as a result, possibly alleviate its presenting symptoms and support a quicker recovery.

I would like to highlight the importance of recognising and remembering that the level of impact of this virus, is different amongst the population. Currently we know that the elderly and people with pre-existing health issues are at risk of severe health consequences. These individuals should do their best to avoid their exposure to infection by immediately considering social distancing and discuss the course of actions with their medical team. You can find more information on who is considered at higher risk here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults

The constant bombardment from the media with the statistic of infections and death, criticisms to the government interventions, stories about European isolation and discrimination, doomed opinions from experts and far too many non-experts … pointless polemics …are enough to drive a sense of worrying and anxiety even in the most relaxed and zen-minded of us.

We all understand from a logical perspective that, worrying does not change the situation…and, in this current situation, worrying is not only pointless but plainly counter-productive for our health because of its effects at the biological level.

There is a whole relative new science, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI)  which studies the complex communication between the brain and the immune system and their implications for health.

However, there has been minimal discussion about the effects that stress, fear and anxiety can have on the immune system. The psychological stress that many amongst us are experiencing at the moment induces the same release of chemicals in our body that other type of stressors would.

Negative thoughts and worries about what has happened and what might happen in the future produce a physical change in the body.  I recond that it is essential to be aware of this, to understand how this happens and to adopt behaviours which can modify these adverse biological outcomes.

In straightforward terms:

1) You worry- feel stressed, anxious, powerless, fearful …

2) In response, your brain releases the hormones CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone), ACTH (  adrenocorticotropin hormone ) and ß-endorphin

3) These hormones travel to your adrenal glands and initiate the release of cortisol and catecholamines ( adrenaline and noradrenaline).

This “communication route”, called the HPA axis ( Hypothalamus- pituitary-adrenal axis ),  produces the “fight or flight” response.

How the cascade of hormones involved in this axis can affect the immune response

Cortisol and the catecholamines can directly suppress the actions of some immune cells, ( T lymphocytes and macrophages) which produce and release cytokines ( chemical messengers ) such as interleukin -2, interferon-Y, interleukin 12( and many more). These molecules are pro-inflammatory, and some of them pyrogenic ( which means they induce a fever) and are needed to fight viruses. Elevated levels of cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenalin, suppress the production of these pro-inflammatory cytokines and the immune responses to viruses are compromised.

What can you do to decrease your worrying thoughts and maintain a calm and rational mindset in the current situation?

To help you stay calm and rational in this current situation, consider including in your daily routines, some rituals or activities which enable your nervous system to have a break and reset. Yoga, breathing exercises and medication are effective and proven methods to recalibrate your stress response. I use an online platform called Gaia https://www.gaia.com to practice yoga at home, and I find the following apps helpful to maintain my meditation practice: Headspace https://www.headspace.com and Insight Timer https://insighttimer.com.

A simple exercise such as deep belly breathing for few minutes can reduce your stress response and bring you back into a parasympathetic response (the rest and digest mode of the nervous system vs the fight or flight mode).

You can use these tools whenever you need to check out of your head during the day, but I also recommend that you make them part of your day in a more structured way. Add them to your routines, perhaps the easiest way to have them to follow a well-established habit such as brushing your teeth in the am and pm. All you need is a few minutes per day to reap some benefits.

Another tool that I found extremely helpful in keeping in the zen area is a daily gratitude practice. I would recommend that in the evening you close your day by listing a few events, small gestures, acts of kindness that happened in your day. Gratitude is the mother of all good feelings, and God knows we need them now, and we need to remind our self of the kindness and beauty that is still present in our life.

What supplements can we take?

From a nutrients point of view, I found that L-theanine is a helpful supplement to relax. If taken in the evening to facilitate relaxation before going to beds, L-theanine and lemon balm combined are even more useful. L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in high concentration in green tea and can modulate inhibitory neurotransmitters, selective serotonin, and dopamine (your happy and calming hormones) to bring about anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) and calming effects. L-theanine can also improve cognition and attention, perhaps due to changes in alpha brain wave activity. Research shows that an effective dosage is between 200 to 400mg per day.

Another nutrient which might be used to decrease anxiety is magnesium. Research has demonstrated that magnesium attenuates the psychological response to stress by modulating the release of ACTH ( in the brain) and cortisol ( from the adrenal glands). It has a relaxing effect on the musculoskeletal system as well and improves cardiovascular function by reducing high blood pressure which goes hand in hand with anxiety and elevated stress.  5,6,7

You can add some powdered magnesium to a cup of well-stewed chamomile tea for even more calming and soothing feelings. Avoid magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate formulas as they are less bioavailable. Choose a bisglycinate or mixed formula. I use a variety of magnesium supplements ( not at the same time ):  High Potency Magnesium by Viridian ( 1 x day ); MAG365, natural flavouring formula  ( 1 heaped teaspoon mixed in hot water or chamomile) or a  complete formula called MegaMag Calmeze which includes amino acids ( L glutamine, L theanine and L taurine ), vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6and vitamin C, nutrients which have been proved to help modulating the stress response. Be aware that if you have impaired kidneys function, you should not take more than 350mg of magnesium per day.

From a general nutritional perspective maintaining balanced blood sugar levels is essential for having stable moods.  Constant spikes and drops of glucose in the blood due to a diet rich in refined carbohydrates ( and perhaps also under-optimal in terms of proteins, fats and essential nutrients)  lead to irritability, cravings, dips in energy and initiate a stress response.

Adrenaline and cortisol are some of the hormones that help maintain blood sugar levels. They, along with glucagon are called “stress” or “gluco-counter-regulatory” hormones – which means they make the blood sugar rise. Elevated cortisol secretions, as previously explained, will interfere with the immune response and long term high amount of glucose in the blood leads to insulin resistance, the step which precedes the development of diabetes type 2.

I have explained in detail how to maintain a healthy blood sugar level by implementing a low glycemic diet in my previous blogs. Click here for explanations and practical advice.

Finally, I just wanted to conclude this blog by offering you a song which I find soothing and deeply relaxing for the body and the mind. I first heard it in one of my yoga classes a month ago, and it has become my regular soundtrack while I get ready to go to sleep. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.

“In dreams “by Jay Jagdeesh

Wishing you the best of health and vitality.

Why AI Needs To Support School Leavers Entering The Workplace

Previously, Cognisess has blogged regarding the future of AI of our workplace. This week we shift back to the present. Currently, AI has established a firm presence in the workplace – it has the capacity to troubleshoot issues the workforce will encounter in the future. Below we discuss how AI can support school leavers.

The Skills Gap

“We have observed a skills gap between students transitioning from education into the workplace. Cognisess can play a key role in identifying this gap to support students, educationalists and employers alike” Comments Chris Butt, CEO of Cognisess. The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants discovered eight out of ten British school leavers lack essential business skills, and 90% of those surveyed also reported a rise in workload from skills shortages. This issue will increase as more young people join the workforce. 90% of jobs will require digital skills by 2025, but only 40% of EU citizens will possess this skill. Businesses need to address this gap to take pressure off skilled workers and distribute the work evenly amongst employees.

Cognisess believes school leavers need to be supported better and AI technologies will unquestionably be part of any solution. Our solutions like Cognisess Learn or Cognisess Apprenticeship can identify individuals core skills, whilst supporting their transition into the workforce and discovering their best fit for an organisation’s role and culture.

Apprenticeships

Cognisess believes one way to tackle the skills gap is through apprenticeships. Managers are able to tailor their apprentice’s training to the skills they require. Apprenticeships are on the increase, a survey by CBI predicts almost half of businesses are increasing their intake of apprentices within the next 12 months. Cognisess identified this opportunity early on and created Cognisess Apprentice to aid companies in matching young people’s’ talent to their skills gaps.products predictive people analytics cognisess pro Apprentice

Cognisess Apprentice allows you to recruit apprentices, assessing their skillset prior to the apprenticeship offer. During their training it also provides a tool to monitor and support them, as a manager you can send appraisal surveys and re-assign assessments to track their improvement.

Cognisess Apprentice enables the school leaver to concretely identify their attributes, informing what they can bring to a company. A school leaver may be aware of subjects they are strong in, but won’t be familiar with their attributes – for example, like how emotionally intelligent they are. Possessing an awareness of their strengths will give them a boost in confidence – which will be beneficial in a new environment. Remaining on one platform from the recruitment stage to the end of their apprenticeship creates a continuity for school leavers and employers, which is important when integrating into a new environment.

Could this all be solved earlier?

Ideally, this issue should be solved before young people leaves education. Cognisess Learn can help schools and colleges identify students emotional and cognitive skills. Cognisess Learn grants young people the opportunity to receive the relevant support in their skill gaps. Students also gain a better understanding of their skills, so they can outline what is required to increase their employability. Additionally, Cambridge University researchers discovered why a group of 550 children are struggling in school through AI. The algorithm measured each student’s cognitive skills including their listening, problem solving and vocabulary abilities. The results uncovered learning difficulties that were previously undiagnosed in participants. In the future, Cognisess hopes AI in schools will be seen as the norm in order to address student skill gaps well before and prior to employment.

AI will greatly assist in developing a the next generation of our skilled workforce. Young people are the future workforce, so it is essential they are equipped with the skills to operate within it. Cognisess’ software can directly support this development by re-skilling young people today for a more productive tomorrow.

Contact us to schedule a demo of Cognisess Apprentice or Learn – the most advanced People Analytics and Assessments Platform on the market today.

Apprenticeship Levy: Selecting the right apprentice with Cognisess

In April 2017 the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy will begin, with all companies with a total pay bill of over £3million having to give 0.5% of this to the Government to fund apprenticeships.

With more young apprentices being hired, often with little or no previous work experience, Cognisess provides a way to select those most likely to succeed.

As an organisation hiring young apprentices, it’s easy to worry about the risks. Without prior work experience or a good knowledge of the work they would like to do, some young people may be more likely to leave a job. However, the benefits of finding the right young people who will fit the culture of your company and develop quickly are significant.

Skills Training UK – an employability provider – states that 92% of employers who take on apprentices believe that apprenticeships lead to a more motivated and satisfied workforce*. Hiring an apprentice who works their way up the ranks of your organisation means they know your business inside out.

By analysing cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, behaviour, core skills and personality, Cognisess Deep Learn™ helps to match the right people with the right roles for their unique talents and skillset.

Apprenticeships are a great way of addressing skills shortages, and we can help to identify those who will flourish.

Get in touch with us at support@cognisess.com to find out more about how we can help you to recruit the best apprentices for your business.

How do we know our assessments are reliable? A comparison with CANTAB

As part of its Global Cognitive Empathy Study (GCES), the Cognisess Research team, led by Chief Scientific Officer Dr Boris Altemeyer, has been conducting research with a number of UK Universities and Colleges to further confirm the reliability of Cognisess’ assessments by comparing them with the clinically approved CANTAB assessments.

We all want to find the perfect job – a job that captures our full attention and gives us an environment where our values align with our actions. But the perfect job is hard to find. Choice, rather than being an advantage, is one of the biggest obstacles between the ever-elusive perfect job and us.

We can use self-reflection to point us in the right direction, turning inward to think about our passions, what we are good at and what we would like to be good at. A huge number of different factors could be the reason why we’re currently in a particular career. Whether this career is right for us often depends on no more than luck. Clearly then, the right sort of help is needed to allow us to find right job.

Cognisess provides that help and with our assessments you can see just how well you fit certain roles. Our tools highlight what makes you a unique individual, ranging from your personality – how you react in certain situations and to other people – to your general mental ability. However we are only as accurate as our tools, so to further improve these, at the beginning of this year we began an exciting new research project.

What are CANTAB assessments?

In neuropsychological testing, CANTAB assessments (from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery) are one of the most extensively validated tools, with more than 30 years of research investigating their reliability and validity. We are now in the process of comparing how participants perform in the gold standard CANTAB assessments, versus how they perform in our own.

How can we prove the reliability of what we measure?

CANTAB and Cognisess assessments both evaluate cognitive and emotion recognition performance. If a participant performs well in CANTAB, they should perform well in Cognisess. In statistical terms, this is known as convergent validity, or construct validity. Researchers typically determine construct validity by answering a simple question, does the assessment measure what it claims to measure?

Anyone can take part in our research project and to ensure that we collect data that is representative, we are conducting the project with an eclectic group of participants. Those taking part range from college and MBA students to CEOs and other individuals in full time employment, and we are working with Bath College, Bath Spa University, the University of Bath and the University of Exeter to achieve this.

Focussing on our users

The project also allows us to gather valuable user feedback on the Cognisess assessments. In the realm of research, fun and assessments are not typically synonyms. When assessments are designed for recruitment, this further reduces the likelihood that individuals going through the process will enjoy what they are doing. Yet it has become apparent that users really enjoy using the Cognisess system and playing our assessments.

Peter Wills, 18, from Bath College said, “My favourite games were ColourSwitch and MatriX, although I swear that sometimes there was no X to find in MatriX. I really liked comparing my results with my friends and that got me to play the games again, so that I could get a better score.”

Our assessments are short and to the point – which is very popular with our users. As Bath Spa Art Student, Sanket Shrestha said, “I was surprised about how much fun I ended up having and it didn’t feel like a drag.”

By comparing our assessments against the CANTAB battery, we can ensure that neither the brevity nor entertainment of our own assessments detracts from their reliability. We’re seeking to make our assessments as good as they can be without impacting on any of the important aspects of our system that appeal to our users.

If you would like to learn more about the study then get in touch with us at support@cognisess.com.