I’m a family man. When I’m out of town doing seminars, I really miss them. To cope with this homesickness I’ll picture that everyone at the seminars is my family at the moment. I’ll start like this: “Hello! My name is Ulises. I’m from Utah. I have a beautiful wife and eight wonderful children and many grandkids. I miss them right now, so I’m going to make you my family for the next two hours. We are going to interact as if we’re a functional family. I’m going to talk about health and I’m going to put it the way it is. No beating around the bush, because I assume you want the honest truth.”
I’m going to do the same thing right now. I’m currently writing this from an airplane. As I’m writing I’m imagining that I’m writing to a family member. I decided to write on this subject hoping this information will provide better understanding and alleviate some of the mental and physical effects that strong emotions produce.
As we know, chronic stress activates the amygdala (a small section of the brain that controls emotions). Our response to this varies, depending on several factors such as expectations, frustrations, estimations etc. Other factors include: physical conditions, existing pain, lack of sleep, nutrition, events that haven’t been reconciled, dealing with the truth as we encounter our flaws, our ability to see and learn and correct our wrongs, dependency on others’ opinions of us, hidden agendas, lack of faith, distorted perceptions of ourselves and others, negative thoughts, superficial changes….and the list goes on. People can also be a factor. If we feel somebody is standing in the way of our happiness then that can easily bring about strong emotions. How we feel about God, spirituality and others factors also determine how we respond.
These responses can include anger, resentment, fear, anxiety and deep sadness. When emotions like these appear in our lives they leave a trail of pain and uneasiness. This can be followed by insomnia, forgetfulness, loneliness and physiological illness.
Right now, I’m going to focus on anger. This emotional response can be manifested in several ways. We can quietly build up anger inside, getting angrier and angrier over time. We can loudly proclaim our feelings. We can have a physical response that affects objects and people around us, such as throwing things to try and make a point. We can create an atmosphere that encourages others to feel the same way we are, spreading the anger like fire. However anger is manifested, anger can isolate us from others. It never leaves good feelings. Regardless of the way it’s presented in your life, it can do all kinds of damage. It can reduce your circle of friends. Family might stay away from you. It can affect your career, making you an unlikable employee and co-worker. You can even have a heart attack if you lose complete control.
When we give in to anger, a lot of cortisol and adrenaline is produced by the adrenals, feeding more stress. Like any other strong emotion, anger opens the door for more limbic control and less prefrontal cortex activity in the brain. This makes it harder for us to reason and come up with actual solutions to our problems. Under these circumstances, we become subject to our own point of view and are incapable of seeing other angles and points of view. The regions and circuitry of our brains that could be of help in these situations are blocked out due to the contorted vision that the anger is feeding us. Physical impacts include chronic pain, inflammation, breathing problems, blood pressure irregularities, clots and heart problems. This isn’t counting all the additional damage to the rest of the body due to excess stress hormones in the blood stream. These hormones travel through the body and touch all kinds of organ tissue, affecting their function.
Those of us who don’t express our anger usually keep it inside for fear of being seen and judged by others due to our behavior. We fear being attacked by others, so we just keep our mouths shut. But this just lets the blood boil. These unchecked feelings against family, friends, your boss, the traffic, a line in the supermarket, etc. will have the same effect over time as someone who openly shows their anger. Behind all automatic reactions to anger are thoughts that build circuitry made up of all the neurons carrying these thoughts. Every time you have a thought, regardless of how many times you’ve thought it before, a new neuron in your brain will save the information and connect to all the other neurons that share the same thought, strengthening this network of thoughts. The limbic system will eventually put these thoughts on autopilot. This doesn’t mean you’re not actually thinking; it means that you’re having the thoughts so fast you don’t even notice. Any of these thoughts could trigger anger: lack of confidence, fear, loneliness, feeling disrespected or unloved, feeling betrayed and feeling unhealthy. It’s important to remember that these thoughts aren’t real. It’s also important to know and understand that this happens whether or not you outwardly express anger. It happens anytime we yield to anger in our minds.
In the brain, neuron cells have a point of connection. This is a synaptic connection, or rather a connection between neurons that create a network of neurons with the same information. This connection produces a long-term potentiation, leaving the effect of painful memories. This effect is created by chronic stress. Neurons between these synaptic points have to be perfectly synchronized. In the process a series of chemical interchanges take place. Receptors in the brain interact with calcium, allowing ions to enter the neurons. As this chemical process continues due to the strong emotions caused by false or negative thoughts, the receptors will recruit new glutamate receptors. This increases sensitivity in the connection point of the neurons, creating the long-term potentiation. Proteins are created, making these changes persist.
One very clear scientific fact is that when we live with anger, there’s a shortage of telomerase in our cells. This results in our cells aging faster, causing damage to our bodies. The structure of our brains get damaged, altering our ability to make moral judgments. This can lead to aversion in some cases. Another effect of anger is hyperactivity of the amygdala. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that helps regulate anger and aggression. With high levels of stress, there are lower levels of serotonin. There’s also a deficiency of cerebro-spinal fluid. Continuous anger and aggressive behavior can change the brain in a way that alters serotonin production by the brain. This leads to even more anger and aggressiveness. Stressful events influence neuroendocrines and neurotransmitters causing changes to the frontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus. This affects production of dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, corticotropin and even cytokines (immune-response chemicals). Chronic stress disturbs the production of these chemicals, creating imbalance. This can increase our vulnerability to depression and immune system problems.
Anger is the result of many unresolved issues, be it unspoken and/or misunderstood. Physical and emotional abuse, if not dealt with, can leave a great deal of frustration. These memories affect our behavior with others. The only good part about these chemical changes is that they can help you when in real danger. You can think clearly and sharply to protect yourself and loved ones. Otherwise, this causes nothing but a havoc of emotional and physical damage. The good news is that the brain can repair itself from this circuitry. When the brain is able to see clearly, we’re able to make out potential adversaries. The brain can then be flexible and can actually change its natural attitudes, compromising itself to resolve any problems.
Here are some tips I’ve seen mitigate anger and help calm down this strong emotion: Breathe deeply. Take some time to calm down before you deal with the issue in question. Listen to some calming music. Never face a challenge without fuel. An empty stomach doesn’t mix well with confrontation. Without food, the brain won’t have enough energy for the cortex to function and help with the situation. Use the Phytotherapi stress protocol that includes good nutrition for your brain.
We ought to remember that sleep is so incredibly important for the brain. A full seven to eight hours of deep and rested sleep constitute a base for the right circuit connections. If you think that only getting five to six hours of sleep a day will turn out okay for you over time, you’re kidding yourself. Sleep is critical. This is when the brain does a lot of work including calculations, detoxify the body, reparation, creating new routes, solving problems and of course connecting to 600 trillion other cells in our bodies to assure that all of this reparation, healing, detoxification and regeneration is happening properly. I think most of us have had the experience of being in an ugly mood after neglecting sleep. This happens because of a disorder due to all the excess toxins and lack of repair that the body was not able to clear up during sleep. Of course, you can recuperate from this after a couple of good nights’ rest, but it’s better not to have to deal with it at all.
Another thing the brain critically needs is nutrition. The brain needs all of the right nutrients just like the rest of your body. This includes plenty of water and healthy fats. The brain needs some trace minerals that cannot be missed in our daily lives. We should avoid chemicals and synthetics that may be found in animal fat and refined sugars. These culprits affect proper brain functioning.
Under the circumstances where nutrition, sleep and stress are not well-managed, neurotransmitter and noradrenaline levels in the hippocampus become unnaturally low. These are important in order to mediate the stress in the body and help brain function, along with dopamine and serotonin in the right levels. These are all vital for correct mental activity. All regions of the brain have their respective circuitry built by thoughts and experiences where emotions, reasoning, intellect, hearing, taste, smell, etc. are encrypted and then bundled into files. New connections are happening constantly, allowing for brain plasticity. Brain plasticity provides us the ability to learn and grow. This circuitry also intertwines to make us more creative in life. If our brains are balanced correctly with neuroendocrine and neurotransmitters, all new information and experiences (even difficult ones) will create a platform of progression, joy and wisdom. This is what our brains have been designed for. All regions of the brain are critical and important. Chronic stress affects this incredibly well-designed and amazing network of neurons. Disruption due to stress can affect our mood, build up anger and create confusion, making it very difficult to see how these unpleasant experiences can be a tool for growth. At Phytotherapi, we have helped thousands by giving them the tools to take their lives back. It’s a great experience and very fulfilling seeing that happen.