Tag Archives: stress

Puis-je prendre votre commande?

Puis-je prendre votre commande? – Can I take your order?

In the nearly two weeks that I have been in Paris, I have eaten many local cuisines. Baguettes. Croissants. Cheese. Baguettes. Macarons. Pasta. Pizza. And yes, more Baguettes. Conveniently for me, I live right above Le Fils de Boulanger which means most mornings I get a croissant and apple juice on my way to class. For lunch, I usually stop in the first boulangerie that catches my attention and order a baguette sandwich. Dinner is usually a toss-up, meaning it could be anything from another sandwich from a nearby café, pizza from the nearest Italian restaurant, or a quick grab dinner from Franprix. While I do love the food that Paris has to offer, every now and then I have a craving for food from home, whether it’s a burger and fries, a tex-mex burrito, or a steak dinner on occasion. It wasn’t necessarily because I was sick of the pasta, cheese, or bread (especially since it would take a lot for me to get sick of bread), it felt more like I just wanted something that was familiar to me. Don’t get me wrong, France is a beautiful and amazing country with great food, it just sometimes feels exhausting being submerged in a culture that is not your own. From the language barrier to the different social norms to the different food experience, I realized that the reason that I was craving food from home wasn’t that I desperately wanted a McDonald’s cheeseburger, it was just that I wanted a moment of familiarity in an environment that is highly unfamiliar.

My go-to breakfast place, Le Fils de Boulanger, in the 15th Arrondissement

The few times that I have eaten American food since being abroad, I noticed that I became more relaxed than I was previously. This may be due to the fact while I am in a new environment abroad, I have a slight amount of natural stress that comes with being abroad, not to mention also taking classes for my major at the same time. This stress can cause changes within a person’s prefrontal cortex, specifically, stress can cause dendritic expansion into one’s orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which is involved in saliency of a reward or punishment (B. McEwen, 2012). Since a person’s saliency of reward is affected when the individual is stressed out, it is possible to see how a rewarding experience, such as eating familiar foods, may cause an increased pleasurable effect on emotion. Stress can also cause activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. When a person feels stressed, neurons in the hypothalamus release corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), which leads to the stimulation of the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol (M. Stephens and G. Wand, 2012). Additionally, another recent study determined that comfort food can dampen the activity of the HPA axis (A. Tomiyama et al., 2011). The HPA axis usually increases activity in stressful environments, meaning that by eating foods that are of a familiar comfort can decrease the activity of the HPA, leading to decrease in any feelings of stress. This finding makes my observation that after eating American food that is familiar to me, I feel more relaxed, makes biological sense as I am impacting the activity of my HPA axis.

Outline of the HPA axis and how it acts in regards to stress.

Back home in Alabama, I am rarely inclined to stop at a McDonald’s for lunch and only during exam weeks do I ever crave a 10-piece McNugget. So why would I choose to eat at one of the most popular fast food chains in the U.S. while spending only six weeks in Paris, France, surrounded by local restaurants that may only be experienced here? While eating this fast food isn’t necessarily an overly pleasurable memory back home, it certainly evokes familiar emotions that remind me of late night runs with friends to get food on the way back from studying in the library or to take back dinner for a movie night in my apartment. According to a study by B. Ford and M. Tamir, if there is any quality to a familiar emotion that makes it desirable, then the familiarity of those emotions would be positively associated with wanting to experience those emotions (2014). So looking back at me and my craving for familiar food, it now seems that one of the reasons I indulged in American food abroad is to elicit familiar emotions that would ease the stress of being in a new environment. Moral of the story: enjoy the food that Paris has to offer, but don’t feel guilty for eating foods that are still found at home, it’s just one way to have familiarity in an unfamiliar environment.

The multiple McDonald’s locations in Paris, France.

Works Cited:

Ford, B. Q., & Tamir, M. (2014). Preferring familiar emotions: as you want (and like) it?. Cognition & emotion28(2), 311–324. doi:10.1080/02699931.2013.823381

McEwen, B. S. (2012). Brain on stress: how the social environment gets under the skin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(Supplement 2), 17180-17185.

Stephens, M. A., & Wand, G. (2012). Stress and the HPA axis: role of glucocorticoids in alcohol dependence. Alcohol research : current reviews34(4), 468–483.

Tomiyama, A. J., Dallman, M. F., & Epel, E. S. (2011). Comfort food is comforting to those most stressed: evidence of the chronic stress response network in high stress women. Psychoneuroendocrinology36(10), 1513-1519.

Image 1 – Le Fils de Boulanger, taken from tripadvisor.com

Image 2 – HPA axis (2017), taken from https://everfit.co.nz/articles/hpa-axis-dysfunction

Image 3 – screenshot of google maps

So You Think You Can Dance: Paris Edition

A hip-hop dance battle wasn’t on my list of places to go or things to do in Paris. But after watching my first live hip-hop dance performance, I can say that I don’t regret it one bit. As a dancer myself, I admire watching dance performances because I’ve been in their footsteps. However, the dance I do, which is called raas, a classical Indian dance where we spin dandiya sticks, is drastically different from hip-hop. Or so I thought…

Our team dancing at one of the competitions we attended.

The hip-hop battle, called Onze Bouge, which translates to 11 moves, took place at Place Léon Blum on a Saturday night. When we got there, the dance battles already started, and we squeezed into the crowd to watch. Right next to the speakers, I felt my heart pounding but watching the dancers reminded me of when I was on stage, dancing in front of hundreds. However, even with the stress of competing in front of others, I always thought of dancing as a stress reliever. Interestingly, there has been research conducted on the role of dance reducing some types of stress. In one study, researchers looked at how dance or movement training (DMT) in older adults influenced their cortisol, a well-known stress hormone. They found that the DMT group compared to the control group, the adults that didn’t do any DMT, had lower cortisol post training. (Vrinceanu et al 2019)

Another similar study had the same group, DMT, but the researchers studied the effect of dance and movement on declining cognitive abilities and depressive symptoms. The sample of older adults was randomly organized into DMT, exercise, or control groups. The main findings were that DMT significantly decreased depression, loneliness, and negative mood while improving daily functioning and cortisol levels. These findings suggest that dance can be a therapy for older adults to improve daily functioning in aspects where depression and stress might impact them. (Ho et al. 2018) I, for one, know that I definitely feel my mood lighten and my stress levels subside after dance practice.

Dancers’ brains were also active when watching other dance performances more than non-dancers’ brains. A study states that dancers’ brains did differ in function and structure, but only in areas where the dancers’ used their brains more. Their results showed that dancers themselves had activated an area of the brain called an action observation network (AON) more than non-dancers when viewing dance. The AON is a network of brain regions that are involved in motor and sensory skills. (Burzynska et al 2017)

The areas of the brain that were active in dancers watching other dancers perform.

Other than the connection between the brain and dance, another fascinating characteristic I noticed that overlapped between the battle and my experience with raas competitions was the judging. Some of the stress, or at least the stress I experience, comes from this aspect of competing. However, I tend to notice that the judges tend to usually pick the teams with the most elaborate steps or at least the steps that look externally impressive, which intuitively makes sense. And there’s science behind it to prove this. A study looked at hip hop dance and how expert vs. non-expert dancers’ range of motion influenced the judges’ scores. The researchers found that the range of motion of the dancer’s body was highly correlated to a higher judging score, stating that scores are usually based on outwardly appealing elements. The (Sato et al. 2016)

A young hip-hop dancer performing a move that requires a high range of motion.

Based on all these research studies on dance’s impact on people’s bodies, brains, and how it influences the judges, I was surprised to find that dance has been a popular topic in a lot of science research! As a dancer and someone who loves watching dance performances, I was intrigued by all the science on how dancing impacts your brain and body. France is a center for all things artistic from dance to paintings to architecture. Getting to watch dance in Paris was unexpected but rewarding because I got to experience a taste of hip-hop in France. However, I learned that, for me, dance is universal, and whether it’s in Paris or Atlanta, dance has its appeal all around the world.


Vrinceanu T, Esmail A, Berryman N, Predovan D, Vu TTM, Villalpando JM, Pruessner JC, Bherer L. (2019) Dance your stress away: comparing the effect of dance/movement training to aerobic exercise training on the cortisol awakening response in healthy older adults. Stress. :1-9.

Ho RTH, Fong TCT, Chan WC, Kwan JSK, Chiu PKC, Yau JCY, Lam LCW. (2018) Psychophysiological effects of Dance Movement Therapy and physical exercise on older adults with mild dementia: A randomized controlled trial. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci.

Sato N, Nunome H, Ikegami Y. (2016) Key motion characteristics of side-step movements in hip-hop dance and their effect on the evaluation by judges. Sports Biomech. 15(2):116-27.

Burzynska, A. Z., Finc, K., Taylor, B. K., Knecht, A. M., & Kramer, A. F. (2017). The Dancing Brain: Structural and Functional Signatures of Expert Dance Training. Frontiers in human neuroscience11, 566. (2nd image from figure within article)

Watson, Galadriel. “Dancing Hones Your Body, But What Does It Do to Your Brain?” Dance Magazine, Dance Magazine, 30 Jan. 2018, www.dancemagazine.com/dancers-brains-2523641417.html.

First and last images were taken by me