Neurology in stress and health

Grant me the serenity to accept the things i can’t change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Throughout our lives, we find ourselves in situations that lead us to experience negative thoughts and feelings, and in some cases, leading to health problems. In times like these, we can feel powerless to change things and feel at the mercy of the environment in which we find ourselves or the people who surround us.

Quite often, we believe we can’t do anything about our life situation, whether that is in the case of health issues, relationship issues, work life or anything else. However, from my own personal experience I have learnt that we hold much more power to influence our lives than many of us ever realise. This all comes down to the area of psycho-neuro-immunology – how the thoughts we think (i.e. the psychology we use) influences our neurological health, and subsequently immune function and ability to recover and heal.

Neurology and health
Just like the quality of the soil determines the health and vitality of an ecosystem, the health of our neurology lays the foundation for our physical, social, emotional and psychological health.

And just like the health of the soil is enriched by both internal and external components – from the sun’s rays; the rain’s hydration and the food of plants and creatures; our neurological health is nourished by a whole range of environmental and personal factors. From the food we eat and the exercise we do, to the thoughts we create, and the social connections and communities we build.

When the soil’s ecosystem is at its strongest, you see nature flourish – there is improved nutrient cycling; increased water filtration and availability; improved physical support and structure amongst other things. Our neurological health is the same. When we support our neurology with more useful thought patterns and a healthy way of life through diet, exercise etc we provide the foundations for a body that is functioning well – it processes everything as it should and everything runs smoothly.

When our neurology is ‘off kilter’, this can have a profound effect on health. We have around 60,000 thoughts a day and when you think that every thought creates a physical feeling, this has huge implications for our overall health. When we change our thoughts, we change our neurology and this directly impacts our physical, psychological and emotional health.

Neurology and stress
We’re all aware of the link between stress and ill-health. The reason why stress is so detrimental to health is because, when we are feeling stressed, our bodies go into what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.

This is a function of the nervous system and it serves a very specific purpose – it gives us the resources we need to deal with stress by either fighting it to overcome it or fleeing to escape it. In doing so, we put a hold on any bodily functions that are not considered necessary in that moment i.e. we focus our energies on being alert and having the physical energy to escape or deal with the threat at the expense of other functions such as cognitive and digestive function.

It is essentially a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived threat. We were equipped with this response as a primitive survival tool which was critical in survival during the caveman days.

If we were to see a tiger, we would need to react instantly to ensure any chance of survival – by either fleeing that threat or standing up to it and fighting. Nowadays, we don’t really need to rely on this too heavily but sometimes it gets a little overzealous and we can find ourselves pumping out the stress response for no apparent reason.

When we produce this stress response time and time again, we are training our bodies in the physiological reaction that ensues which is not so useful in the long run. When the body goes through repeated periods of stress, it can get stuck producing that stress response time and time again and all of sudden it has become an automated and unconscious process. And we don’t even realise it’s going on in the background because we’re not aware of it.

The good thing about this is that if our brains are skilled enough to create such a long-lasting response pattern, they are skilled enough to create a different response when given the right information.

NLP is very effective in helping people to resolve issues that they are stuck with. It targets those unconscious processes that are going on in the background using new thought patterns to breakthrough the old neural pathways and build more useful pathways.

The mind-body connection
In the context of stress, studies have shown that when you remember good memories your response to stress changes. You have a much smaller spike in cortisol and are able to deal with pain better. It might be no surprise then that experienced meditators have improved autoimmune function. So we have more power than we realise to proactively change our health for the better.

Another interesting example of the mind-body connection can be taken from a study where researchers got two groups of people to focus on lifting a weight with their little finger. One group was instructed to lift the weight with their little finger whilst the other group was instructed to imagine they were lifting the weight with their little finger. In this group – no physical activity was involved. By the end of the study, they measured muscle mass and found that both groups had developed muscles mass in their little finger. This really does demonstrate the power of mind body interaction and how, just by changing the way you use your mind, you can create change you might never even thought possible.

Further information
If you’d like to know more about the neurology of pain, there are a couple of simple explanations from Phil Parker on YouTube, which you can find here:

The neurology of pain 1

The neurology of pain 2