Google: Chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body, for research that ties right into my last post, Right state of peaceful mind. Notice how the lightening bolt in the graphic (right) points to the brain, and from there down through the rest of the body. The article puts it this way: “The effect of stress starts in the brain and extends, through the action of hormones, to reach all corners of the body. Scientists define emotional stress as a negative reaction to a perceived threat or other problem”.
It is not the brain, however!
Most animals have a brain, but don’t experience this type of stress. The stories (e.g., narratives, assumptions, beliefs, myths, judgments, biases, expectations, etc.) that we haul around in out brain’s thoughts are the real culprit… not the brain per se. (See Science Proves Buddha Right!)
Truth be told, even the brain’s thoughts don’t have a mind of their own. Deep-seated emotional instinct is the true driving force here. Life’s prime directive is survival, and in the wild, maximizing comfort and security is the healthy natural way to go for any animal. For us, this survival instinct also drives thought with the underlying objective to enhance comfort and security.
This emotional drive colors the stories upon which thoughts dwell and then result in outcomes that are often out of balance and unhealthy. Ironically, these outcomes can easily turn out to threaten survival. Put simply, emotion focuses thought on its current need or fear, which hinders thought from considering downstream consequences that may threaten survival. Suicide is an abnormal individual example, and climate change is one for which we’re all responsible.
Indeed, civilization’s underlying raison d’être has been to maximize human comfort and security from the start. Of course, we’re not going to turn the clock back and live as our ancestral hunter-gatherers did. I mean, who would ever give up modern dentistry? However, I’m sure we’d benefit by being more aware of the unintended consequences of relentlessly chasing comfort and security. Balance is an essential quality of nature… a natural constant. Mess with it, and nature will compensate in unintended and regrettable ways. Yes indeed, as chapter 16 cautions, Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
The Mess that is Stress
The Science News article on stress research points out various cultural, environmental, and biological factors that play a role in stress. The only aspect I have any chance to influence is the role my thought and especially its stories play in all this. Here now are a few pithy quotes from the article:
Tumors need a network of blood vessels to grow, and stress helps. These images show greater density of vessels (red) in breast cancer tissue in stressed mice (bottom) than in mice with cancer but no stress (top). Stressed mice also made more norepinephrine, which induced immune macrophage cells to release compounds promoting tumor vessel growth.
Changing cell behavior
A century ago, Harvard’s Walter Bradford Cannon introduced the concept of “fight or flight” to summarize the two best options prehistoric people faced upon running into trouble. But only recently has research revealed the microscopic fallout of having stress hormones switched on day after day.
Stress reactions start in the brain, the master interpreter of events occurring around us. A stressed brain trips excessive release of epinephrine and norepinephrine plus the stress hormone cortisol. Like all hormones, these molecules exert their effects by binding to receptor proteins in and on cells, changing the cells’ behavior. The hiker fleeing the bear does so because receptors by the millions are suddenly telling cells to kick into gear. The pulse rate quickens. That’s also how epinephrine helps resuscitate a person in cardiac arrest.
But an everyday, steady release of stress hormones trips other switches throughout the body in a drumbeat that steadily poisons the system — spreading biological changes like wildfire.
Google: Tai Chi, Cellular Inflammation JNCI for research on how Tai Chi can help with stress. Here is the background and the conclusion of one randomized controlled trial:
Background: Mind–body therapies such as Tai Chi are widely used by breast cancer survivors, yet effects on inflammation are not known. This study hypothesized that Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) would reduce systemic, cellular, and genomic markers of inflammation as compared with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
Conclusion: Among breast cancer survivors with insomnia, 3 months of Tai Chi reduced cellular inflammatory responses, and reduced expression of genes encoding proinflammatory mediators. Given the link between inflammation and cancer, these findings provide an evidence-based molecular framework to understand the potential salutary effects of Tai Chi on cancer survivorship.