The Physiology and Psychology Stress, part 2
As a recap from our last blog addition our body is made up of many unique systems that helps our body to take care of itself. The brain sends different messages to different parts of our body in an effort to repair and heal our body. However, stress when not properly reconciled can lead to a variety of problems.
There is a stress physiology, where we have to consider all the different parts of the brain and body and their biochemical production, tissues, and the stress response that affects the body.
What happens when there is stress, assuming there is real danger happening? We’ve said earlier that high levels of cortisol and epinephrine are produced. These chemicals are made by the adrenals and some by the brain. As they flood the bloodstream, chemical changes take place in the body. Heart rate increases, lungs expand as more oxygen is needed. Muscle energy increases. The brain receives more energy as well. We focus on the problem at hand, and how to solve it. Minutes later, we come to a safe place; we escaped the lion or whatever the problem was, and the neocortex “turns the lever” back to regulation. The adrenals stop producing cortisol and epinephrine, and the whole body goes back to normal–repairing of the body continues, proper immune response is reactivated, digestion goes back to normal, appetite is restored, etc.
With chronic stress, this stress mechanism goes on and off throughout the entire day. We’re not really in constant danger, but the body acts as if we are. You didn’t get a good night’s sleep, you’re running late, your daughter is not ready for school. You try to get out of the house, and the car doesn’t start. Your daughter is pressing you to get her to school on time. There’s traffic. Your daughter says a few unpleasant things. At work, you have to sneak in because you’re late. Something goes wrong with your boss or your clients. Your husband texts you saying he can’t attend your son’s concert, so he won’t be able to pick him up. There’s no chicken for the dinner you’ve planned for. You go home, and your house is a mess. The kids are being crazy. Your husband arrives, and you have unresolved issues with him. Your body isn’t on time to go to bed. There are so many possibilities in a single day that can cause stress.
Let’s look at what happened here however. If there wasn’t chronic stress in your life, the stress mechanism would turn on, but turn off right away, allowing for normal amounts cortisol and epinephrine in the bloodstream. This won’t make you sick, but actually helps the brain and body to learn and prepare for future events. We learn to take your car to the mechanic (not to procrastinate it). This learning helps your planning, so you don’t face unpleasant surprises.
But under chronic stress, your brain neuron circuitry has created maps that look at most stressors as bad news, and there is no learning involved. You recycle this into old thoughts with more thoughts that turn your amygdalia on and throws some emotional sense into your conscience. You feel anger or resentment, anxiety or fear. This sets the tone to continue turning this stress mechanism on for a long period of time. You start feeling guilty about your daughter, upset with yourself, and negative thoughts keep piling up. Then, your brain tricks you because of this chronic stress; it starts feeling like someone else’s fault. If your daughter didn’t do this or that, you wouldn’t be miserable. The traffic makes you irritated. You look at everyone else’s mistakes. This stress keeps promoting hormone production in excess. Your body becomes exhausted, and stamina–which is needed to confront the next learning opportunity–is not there. This is a biochemical activity where neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, made by the brain, are involved. They are exhausted because of the damaged areas of the brain that normally produce these chemicals. Chronic stress produces toxicity in the brain, and with time damages certain regions. In this, we set ourselves up for depression.
Let’s discuss the psychological part of this. Feeling like we need to put up an image or front with all those I’m facing is a very damaging way to think. The problem isn’t trying to play by society’s rules, but that you haven’t reconciled events throughout the day. You’re home now. Your husband says something, and it gets misinterpreted. At work, your boss looks serious, and is interpreted as a criticism of your work. All of this promotes feelings of insecurity, victimization, low self-esteem. At this point, you believe no one understands you, and the world is a bad place to live.
On the other hand, the brain gets affected due to all these stress mechanisms being turned on throughout the day. The pineal gland, which helps you sleep, also gets sick.
Back to the sympathetic nervous system–this system starts in the brain and is projected through specific nerves in the spine that does a great job of activating heart rate, lung expansion, digestive system, immune system and other organs. We said earlier that everything that goes up has to go down. the parasympathetic nervous system is what brings everything back down after coming up. This system can be affected when there is chronic stress. Other problems can arise, with a rollercoaster of stress activation through our days.
The stress response is not just a tightly regulated response to chemical and anatomic mechanisms; personal connections play a role as well. For example, when a child gets scared and their stress response is activated they go to their mother for help, and they feel safe again and the stress mechanism goes down. Most people with chronic stress disconnect themselves from their loved ones, inhibiting personal communication. Because of fears in the relationships, communication becomes superficial.
More emotional aspects of these issues: Problems of disconnection and lack of stamina make it difficult for many people to deal with and reconcile past events, causing life to be very stressful because different outlets are essential for healing. For example, it is crucial that we are able to communicate with loved ones. We need hugs from family and friends, intimacy with spouses. Like the example we mentioned with the little child, physiological stress is regulated by the proximity of a trusted, loved one. Many animals even do this; pack animals stick together and play with one another, groom each other. This contact changes them psychologically and lessens their stress.
Another healthy outlet, of course, is exercise. There are many physical benefits, but there’s also BDNF–a chemical factor created by ganglial cells that acts like fertilizer for neurons and axons in the brain. This chemicals is essential for good brain function. However, if you are stressing out the whole time you’re exercising this effect can’t take place. This is due to the brain requiring some dopamine to feel motivation and produce this BDNF. Constant stress exhausts you of dopamine. Phytotherapi has solutions to help fix the physiological damage created by chronic stress. We use phytochemicals from different plants that help to alleviate the overactivity of the amygdala, as well as a plan that includes techniques to help our clients and patients work through all challenges. We also go over an important area to cover, and that is control. Now, we don’t talk about control the way many people often do. You can listen to a motivating speech or seminar and feel a sense of self-empowerment, and different people describe control in different ways, but the way we describe it is different. If you think you have control over the environment, and tomorrow things go wrong in your plans, this can be an emotional blow to you. True control has to be based on firm principals, not determined by external circumstances. Peace and happiness can’t be determined by what others think of you, by popularity or power or wealth. In fact, relying on these things have proven to bring more stress, anxiety and depression. “Control” has to be a matter of healthy neocortex and limbic communication. As we walk you through this process, you will come to find real control, not defined by willpower or exterior forces.