Healthy connections in the human condition is the key to healthy functioning, emotional intelligence and overall positive wellbeing.
At Enhance Connections, we recognise and acknowledge that when it comes to the intricacies of the human body, it’s the connections that are important. But it’s the integration of the mind that creates the spark to make a life! Not just the natural functioning of the brain but the reasoning that our mind brings with it.
Purely from a physical point of view, it’s the interconnection between our fascial trains and the compartmented musculature contained within, even down to the muscle spindle at cellular level. Proprioceptors which are triggered by sensory and motor neural transmitters to and from the brain affect action, mobility, stabilization or even the manifestation of pain. Science continues to explore and have a more comprehensive understanding through evidence based research of these connections, which ultimately has beneficial health outcomes with these findings being incorporated into a positive preventative health regime.
Just as each moment of every day our homeostasis in the physical realm is dependent upon a system of constant feedback, so too in our emotional realm. The often subconscious yet constant exchange of emotion-based signals between our inherent feelings and the brain determines what chemicals are released into our bodies as a consequence of that emotional state. For instance, when we experience times of stress the body interprets this and sets into motion mechanisms to help us respond appropriately.
Situations stimulating an emotional response based around fear, anger and pain, are felt in bodily sensations and subsequently connects with the autonomic nervous system stimulating the brain to release the appropriate hormones, such as increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline in our bloodstreams. These stress hormones prepare us for a quick and powerful reaction to whatever is causing us this stress. The emotional mind/body connection has a reaction that includes redirecting the blood supply from the organs deep within our bodies to the places where it’s most needed in such times: the muscles, limbs, and extremities that we use to either confront the source of our stress or flee from it—this is our instinctive freeze-fight-or-flight response. The key here is that the stress response is designed to be temporary and brief. When it kicks in, our brain infuses our body with the chemistry needed to respond quickly and powerfully to the threat. It’s all about our survival.
As a result of this surge, it correspondingly shuts down the release of other chemicals that support important functions in our body. The release of vital chemicals that support functions of growth, immunity, and anti-aging is dramatically reduced during times of fight or flight. When we are placed under stress through any number of life experiences, the consequences of this stress can be found in headaches, back pain, neck and shoulder spasms, in fact a whole range of physical manifestations which in turn adds to and compounds the stress levels we are already enduring. If indeed the emotional trauma that we experience is severe or extended over long periods of time, even lifetimes, the illness or disease that we may suffer impact on us with the degree of severity that it can result in more complex, life threatening circumstances.
Clearly, we were never meant to live with constant stress as a way of life. Yet this is precisely the situation that many of us find ourselves experiencing today. The rise in stress related conditions, including heart disease and stroke, eating disorders, immune deficiencies, and some cancers, is less of a surprise when we take into account the relentless stress that many people experience in their daily lives. Even more so if we recognise how the human experience tries to self-medicate through addictive vices to numb the pain associated with the stress, this in turn has a multiplying effect that can be detrimental to our overall health and well-being.
Chemical Connections as a result of Chronic Stress
In a lesson entitled How Stress Affects your Brain from TedEd, Madhumita Murgia shows how chronic stress can affect brain size, its structure, and how it functions, right down to the level of your genes.
He describes how the stress response process engages with human systems and demonstrates how the effects of stress may filter right down to your brain’s DNA having detrimental generational impacts. You can view the lesson below or read the following transcript:
“Stress begins with something called the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis, a series of interactions between endocrine glands in the brain and on the kidney, which controls your body’s reaction to stress. When your brain detects a stressful situation, this axis is instantly activated and releases a hormone called cortisol, which primes your body for instant action. High levels of cortisol over long periods of time wreak havoc on your brain. Chronic stress increases the activity level and number of neural connections in the amygdala, your brain’s fear centre. As levels of cortisol rise, electric signals in your hippocampus – the part of the brain associated with learning, memories, and stress control, deteriorate.
The hippocampus also inhibits the activity of the HPA axis, so when it weakens, so does your ability to control your stress. That’s not all, though. Cortisol can literally cause your brain to shrink in size. Too much of it results in the loss of synaptic connections between neurons and the shrinking of your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that regulates behaviour like concentration, decision-making, judgement, and social interaction. It also leads to fewer new brain cells being made in the hippocampus. This means chronic stress might make it harder for you to learn and remember things, and also set the stage for more serious mental problems, like depression and eventually Alzheimer’s disease.
The effects of stress may filter right down to your brain’s DNA. An experiment showed that the amount of nurturing a mother rat provides its newborn baby plays a part in determining how that baby responds to stress later in life. The pups of nurturing mums turned out less sensitive to stress because their brains developed more cortisol receptors, which stick to cortisol and dampen the stress response. The pups of negligent mums had the opposite outcome, and so became more sensitive to stress throughout life. These are considered epigenetic changes, meaning that they effect which genes are expressed without directly changing the genetic code. These changes can be reversed if the mums are swapped. But there’s a surprising result. The epigenetic changes caused by one single mother rat were passed down to many generations of rats after her. In other words, the results of these actions were inheritable.
It’s not all bad news, though – there are many ways to reverse what cortisol does to your stressed brain. The most powerful weapons are exercise, meditation and an awareness of not only these physical connections but the mind/body connection. These involve breathing deeply and being aware and bringing focus to your surroundings, interactions with others and yourself. These activities decrease your stress and increase the size of the hippocampus, thereby improving your memory.”
As we’ve learned, it’s not just the physical and biochemical connections but the simultaneously intimate and emotional connection of our heart and mind. The mind/body connection is an essential constituent in order to have healthy functioning and positive wellbeing, which ultimately lays a path for an enhanced spiritual connection.
The World Health Organisation has defined health as follows:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Health is a process of becoming, experienced by the individual. It is a person’s unfolding as they co-create patterns of relating with people and environments, not a person’s adapting or coping. Health is a person’s lived experiences, arising out of a synthesis of values – or to be authentic with one’s self.
The human condition can learn to move from merely coping with life’s challenges to have the freedom of living a much fuller life. Actively living our ethics through our relationships is also the modelling that our children need and addresses the generational gift that we can give, to them and ourselves!
The Key to Personal Resilience is Emotional Intelligence
When we feel a sense of well-being, the level of stress hormones in our bodies decrease, while the life-affirming chemistry of a powerful immune system with anti-aging properties increase. The shift between the stress response and a feeling of well-being can often happen quite quickly.
Studies documented by the Institute of HeartMath (IHM), a pioneering research organisation based in California, have shown that cortisol levels can decrease as much as 23 percent, and levels of DHEA, a life-affirming precursor to other vital hormones in the body, can increase 100 percent if we spend as little as three minutes using focused techniques designed to produce such responses. You can view the study here:
(The Impact of a New Emotional Self-Management Program on Stress, Emotions, Heart Rate Variability, DHEA and Cortisol)
The techniques that are found to have such benefits upon our health are the same ones that create the resilience in our hearts. This is the key to personal resilience in life. The quality of our emotions determines the signals our hearts send to our brains.
Psychology Today says, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.”
Emotional intelligence possess the following skills: awareness of our own feeling state, along with being able to identify the emotions of others; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to activities like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to regulate emotions, including the ability to control our own emotions, and the ability to empathy for another person.
To live mindfully with emotional intelligence is to feel more competent. Competency and confidence in our ability to think, ability to cope with the basic troubles that arise in our personal lives or in our careers – it allows for life to work better. The more solid our self-esteem, the more disposed we are to form nourishing rather than toxic relationships.
The value lies not merely in the fact that it allows us to feel better but that it allows us to live better – to respond to challenges and opportunities more resourcefully and more appropriately. With mind/body congruency in our life, the more resilient and better equipped we are to pick ourselves up after a fall; the more energy we have to begin anew.
“If our self esteem is low, we feel powerless and we become aware of the lack in our lives. As we find ourselves more confident on the recovery road we begin to find value and power within and abundance all around us.”
Pia Mellody, therapist, lecturer and author. Director of The Meadows Arizona, USA
Emotional Tools for Life
Massage therapy is an effective tool in reconnecting and a means to address many of the conditions that result from stress, chronic or acute, and has both increased psychological and physical benefits.
In addition to massage solutions, Enhance Connections has developed a series of workshops that focus specifically on mind/body connections to build emotional intelligence. Tools 4 Life is an experiential workshop offering resources in navigating the future by understanding the past so that the participant can live more authentically in the present. The tools are simple, direct and fulfilling. You can learn more about what the workshops offer in a further article entitled Resources for Healthy and Authentic Living.
It is in connecting with our feelings and our true selves at the critical time of life’s transition and periods of acute and chronic stress that enables us to seek the answers and address matters with more clarity in a healthy way. Tools 4 Life assists in learning to move from just merely coping with life’s challenges to having the freedom of living a much fuller life.
It can be seen that for the human condition to perform at its optimum best, it relies on an integrated multifaceted and intrinsic series of connections. Enhance Connections provides solutions to assist you enhance your own connections in order to facilitate healthy functioning, emotional intelligence and overall positive wellbeing.