Lets start off with viruses and bacteria from our last post. Most viruses and bacteria reproduce only as much, as to become a burden, if our immune system is compromised in some way. Genetics and aging have certainly the effect on the body which could foster disease. We can not deny the fact, that mental and emotional stress are also factors that will contribute to the environment in which viruses and bacteria will either strive or be dormant.
Stress will produce biochemical outcomes that manifest in chronic disease states, such as cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, we can not alter our age, (more on studies on exercise and the "reversal" on aging in future chapters) or our genetics. What we can do to promote health versus disease is to use the potent instruments of our mind in our favor.
The body and mind communicate to each other. These transmittals result in biochemical and physiological changes that certainly influence both health and disease. In the following posts I will describe the pathways by which mind and body interact. I will also explore that fact that perceived stress has grave implications on health and life expectancy. We will take a look at the short term effects of stress on minor ailments such as viral infections. Let me point out, that if the immune system is already severely compromised, (AIDS, frail elderly etc.) minor illnesses could have portentous effects on life.
The contrary of stress is Eustress, (positive stress) and I will explore the negating effects eustress has on negative stressors.
Below is an example of an event that influences the body through mind-body communication. This example will help me to illustrate in coming posts the body systems involved in the mind-body dialog and the pathways which allow such communication.
The Fear Response (1)
Theresa was rock climbing in an area that was indigenous to rattlesnakes. She was careful to wear protective leg gear so she would be safe while she climbed to the top of the bluff. She reached a particularly precarious part of the climb with only one good handhold left, and she was very tired. With as much force as possible, Theresa jammed her fingers into the rock crevice and prepared to swing herself up to the top. At that moment, she heard a rattling sound. In an instant, she was gripped with fear.
In a split second, the thought of being bitten several times, the fear of pain, a picture of her hand swelling, and the fear of an agonizing death all raced through Theresa's mind and body. Her heart began to pound; she began to pant and sweat profusely. Her body stiffened as her gaze froze on a shadow in the crevice. Her thoughts focused, as a laser, on her predicament.
"Don't let go!" a voice screamed in her head. She thought she might survive a snake bite, but never a 2000-foot fall. With all her will, Theresa strengthened her finger grip on the crevice and with tremendous effort swung herself to the top of the bluff. She ripped off her climbing glove and checked for signs of a bite. Her hand was unblemished. Safe, her bodily responses slowly began to return to a more normal state.
A few minutes later, the climber just behind Theresa pulled herself onto the bluff. "Did you encounter the rattler?" Theresa asked. "Oh, no you mean this?" the climber responded. He reached into his shirt and pulled out a chain with snake rattles attached to the end. Shaking the rattles, he said, "This is my good luck charm."
This real life event is an example of how the mind communicates with the body, altering physiologic responses in the process. The physiologic responses to fear are obvious to all of us- a pounding heart, an increased breathing rate, a stiff body, sweating, and laser like attention. The biochemical responses are less obvious.
In retelling the story, I can in great detail explain the biochemical changes taking place in Theresa's climb.
Next: Mind-Body Pathways
1.Freeman L. Complementary & Alternative Medicine: A Research Based Approach. Mosby. St. Louis Missouri. (2004) pages:5-6