stressors and health

December 9, 2013

In the human person, and other animals as well, the sources of stress are external and internal. We have been considering the external stressors which flow from our lifestyles and lived experiences. Some stress is actually useful and good for you. Take for instance, the stress of a deadline, this emotional pushing required to complete a task or prepare for an anticipated event. When we study for tests or have to work to accomplish a task this increases our level of anxiety and the associated stress response. The stress response is the same triggering of the sympathetic nervous system and its parallel release of epinephrine…but not to the degree of a major stressor or sufficient to produce illness. This form of stress would not be healthy if it were unremitting or unrelenting stress. However, the important part of this process is to see that even with an external stressor, like a deadline, the stress response is internal to us! It is our response to the deadline that is actually the stress response, NOT the deadline.

An example of an external stress over which we have no control, would be environmental stressors, chemicals, viruses, factors associated with living conditions. Generally speaking, we are unaware of these stressors, so we say we have little or no control over them. Nevertheless with greater awareness we can be cognizant of these stressors and take steps to limit or overcome them within certain abilities. Truthfully, where we live and those conditions are as much factors in our health as not. So when we think of living healthily, the suggestion is to begin limiting the external factors which contribute to our stress and impact our health.

Conversely, our internal responses to what we perceive as stress (perception is everything!!!) are more significant than the events themselves. In other words, the way we perceive what is stressful, and how we choose to respond to the stressors is as much a contributing factor to illness as it is to health. It is for this reason I work with integrative healthcare principles in couples and marriage therapy. Close living relationships succeed or fail based on our ability to perceive accurately and choose our responses rather than be compelled by habits which work against us. If the relationship is fraught with stressful events, or if we grew up in families where interactions were abusive or exceedingly stressful, then our learned responses are often unbalanced and contribute to the stress in the relationships we are trying to create.


June 14, 2013

If we begin to consider the impact of memory on our relationships we have to ask the question: “In part, how are memories triggered?” With my patients this answer is both simple and complex. What happens in the brain is neural pathways are formed which are strengthened or weakened with use or disuse, so repetitive actions or behaviors either strengthen for good or ill. If a neural pathway is not used it will weaken and some of those connections disappear. In the human body there are two primary chemicals released with skin touch, one of those is related to common B6. Without appropriate levels of B6, there can be defects in processing and transmitting sensory information. From the initial touch to transmission to the brain requires 0.01 seconds. That is important. What is more important is the heart beat responds to the same touch in 1.0 seconds and respiration responds in 4-5 seconds. This sensory information moves to the brain and back to heart and lungs in tiny amounts of time.
Let’s look at how this works in relationships. The beginning of all relationship starts in the uterine environment. Before we are born it is here we float, interact with our surrounding and develop responses to sensation through the skin. And then this sensitivity to skin stimulation persists after birth through our connections or lack of them with parents and persons within our environment. The simplest view of this has to do with touch. How we are touched, stroked, cuddled, or not shapes our brains and bodies. We know in the mind/body interconnection these two aspects are so woven together they are inseparable. This is part of how we understand attachment. If a parent cannot touch a child appropriately, that child will not learn emotional attachment to the parent which shapes all of adult attachments in later life. What is communicated through skin touch is attachment and intentionality. We learn a sensory response to the act of being touched, AND we learn to read the intention of the other through the quality of the touch. We learn emotional responses to touch based on our conscious and unconscious awareness of what the touch means.
So, in our parenting relationships if we touch, we must touch with clear intentionality because the response physiologically in the heart and lungs is less than 5 seconds. If we touch with anger, abuse, violence or compassion, love and support, the process is the same. There is a mind/ body effect where the brain receives the impulse and the body is responding just as the meaning is assessed. There are other factors at play here but this short pathway is the most common for understand the body response.
This becomes very important in the process of building adult relationships. Research indicates that male children are touched less than female children and that persists over their adolescence until they are infrequently touched except for sports, or fights, or male bonding play (punching each other’s arms and wrestling!) Then we expect them to become capable of tenderness, touching other than for sexual contact and parenting their children. If we become what we learn and experience then lack of touch is a serious matter. Link that to the cardiac and respiratory response times and it becomes obvious that on just a physiologic level there are serious consequences.
In babies, failure to thrive is linked to lack of touching and appropriate meaningful cradling; in the elderly there is a similar phenomena called “skin hunger” where the senior adult fails to thrive because of the lack of touch. The truth is ALL human beings need to be stroked, cuddled, touched with warmth, affection and liking. The need is present across the lifespan.
If you would like to ask a question about something in this article you can email that to: I cannot answer emails individually but will address the educational issues in the column. If you would like to visit our website
Or for an appointment for psychotherapy with me in San Antonio, you may call our main number 601-467-0041 to schedule the appointment.

May 2013

June 14, 2013

This is the first in a series of articles related to Women’s (men and children are included!) Health. While many approach natural healthcare from the standpoint of making changes to what we do and take into our bodies, my starting place is really different. I wrote a journal article on this about ten years ago, and my experience in these past years has confirmed what I “know” to be true.

Before we can do primary prevention (change to a wellness model) with any patient, that person must be willing to change not their behaviors, but their minds. Well…duh….is the usual response to this! However, this is not what it sounds like it is.

In order to change we must actually understand, MIND, and how the brain works. This is the field of neuroscience and it is linked to another field called genomics. I believe we cannot change what we do not understand. So for this first article I thought laying out the foundation for how we come to whole health it would be useful for us to understand what is going on in the brain.

We are wired for certain things, our brain works in certain ways that it is programmed for when we were in the womb. How that hard wiring works is in part dependant upon genes inherited from our foreparents and environmental factors. In some ways the brain works like this: If you think about how a thermostat works, a feedback loop, then you have a decent image of the process. In thermostats, there is a mechanism that responds to changes in the room temperature (too hot, too cool) which causes the thermostat to react turning the heat or air condition on or off to regulate the room temperature. This is simple enough.

So, in the body, we have a similar system. It is like a parallel processing system or train tracks going from one destination to another ( from the brain to the external environment) and another parallel set returning to the starting point (from outside the body back to the brain). For simplicities sake, let’s think of the brain as something carried around by the body, the purpose of the body would be to carry information from the surroundings to keep the brain aware of what is going on. So far this is easy.

When we understanding the feedback loop in a thermostat, we understand movement of electricity in the process. It takes electricity to turn things on and off even though the sensors may not require electricity to run they need some impulse to communicate with the thermostat. The same is true for the human body. The communication process is, in part, electrical and in part other chemicals (hormonal). If we think about the five senses, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling we can see that the information comes in from a variety of places in the body, is communicated to the brain and then stored in the brain in places where it can be recalled. So, if you smell something, that information is transferred to the brain, sorted and stored by the sensory focus and by everything else going on at the location of the scent. This is the really important part! The process is not just heat and cool or smelling, it becomes more complex. It is everything in the room associated with the room, and all the other sensory information, sight, sound, touch, taste, and the internal state of the person/body experiencing the smell or the temperature change. We never experience any thing separated from the entire surroundings in which it occurs. Usually, we are unaware of all this but the body/brain does not discriminate. So in the brain billions of cells transmit electrical charges linked to information and communicate with each other, storing information all over the brain about every single event the body/sensory parts experience. Think about everything going on right where you are this moment as you read.

Herein is the problem. If you are in a situation were something awful is happening to you as a child or as an adult, and that information is embedded with all the other sensory information happening at the same time, then that information will be connected to all the other experiences associated with the awful experience as well. For example, if an abuse happened when you were a child, every bit of sensory information surrounding you at the time is stored with the abuse. Then when there is something in the environment that happens again, acting as a trigger, all of that associated material becomes activated again.
This is part of the issue with vivid dreams, all of the information becomes real again in dreams and we re-live the experience within the dream of nightmare.

In order for us to learn a different way of being and taking care of ourselves (and understanding why we start and stop taking care of ourselves) we must have an understanding of what has happened and how it changed our brains. Then we have to re-program the brains system. This is the basis of changing our behavior and ultimately our minds.

If you would like to ask a question about something in this article you can email that to: I cannot answer emails individually but will address the educational issues in the column. If you would like to visit our website
Or for an appointment for psychotherapy with me in San Antonio, you may call our main number 601-467-0041 to schedule the appointment.

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