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Archive for the ‘Stress Response’ Category

Hypothalamic Dysfunction and Chronic Stress

Over the past 8 years, since 9/11 actually, I have noticed a marked increase in clients with hypothalamic dysfunction, indicating to me a global increase in chronic stress of epidemic proportion, especially in post 9/11 America where terrorism continues to threaten our lives, our liberty, and our pursuit of happiness. Little wonder our immune systems, shut down by a fermenting culture of fear, are failing us. 

I will speak to the cause of this dysfunction, as I see it, and the conditions that occasion it before continuing sharing excerpts from my book, SACRED ANATOMY.

(Before proceeding, I would direct you to read, or review, my previous post for an understanding of the normal function of the hypothalamus.)

CHRONIC STRESS

Chronic Stress is simply prolonged and unresolved stress.  Let me explain this from a physiological as well as a practical perspective and understanding of the way things work in our bodies. 

I will start with a simple example of chronic stress. Let’s say, just for entertainment, that you have wandered into a pasture and, when you look up, you notice that a big, black bull is charging at you from a distance, which gives you plenty of time to run and get out of harm’s way.  Only you, for some strange reason, freeze on the spot and can’t seem to get your legs moving. This is a classic example of the residual effects of chronic stress. Your fight or flight stress response is in a state of incoherence and dysfunction.  

Now let’s examine how this incoherence and dysfunction come about. As we saw in my previous post, every function in your body depends on the hypothalamus and its ability to receive information from your environment and convey that information to your body — as well as to YOU — and no, you are not your body but the One who lives in and through it.  Every cell also needs adrenal hormones (cortisone, adrenaline and noradrenalin) in order to perform its duties in a timely and effective manner. (See pictures below)

Now, our bodies obey our every command.  they respond to every thought entertained and imbued with spirit and feeling — feelings such as love, compassion and gratitude, as well as those of fear, resentment and worry — in other words, thoughts that WE give credence and energy to. Not the many and sundry thoughts that our net-like minds snare in the stream of thoughts passing through them from out of the mass consciousness we share with everyone else; only the ones that I pay attention to as being worthy of my time  and energy to entertain, and perhaps do something more overt with.

THE CAPTAIN OF YOUR SOUL 

The factual point I am making here is that YOU are responsible for your body’s every function —  yes, even its physiological functions, which cease the moment you vacate your body in death.  As the poet William Ernest Henley put it when he penned INVICTUS,

It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” 

(Note: The word “strait” means “exact” and not straight as the shortest distance between two points. We find this word used in the scriptural passage: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt 7:14).  In other words, exact, precise, with no deviation, no compromise. That’s the integrity inherent in Life’s way.  This saying of Jesus comes just after he articulates the ‘Golden Rule” to do unto others “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you.”)

THE PHYSIOLOGY OF THE STRESS REFLEX

Now back to my physiology lesson. As soon as you infuse a thought with fear, for example, your fight or flight reflex kicks in as the hypothalamus sends hormonal messages to your adrenal glands to produce and secrete adrenaline into the blood stream in order to empower your muscles to engage the environmental stress factor — real or imagined matters not.  If you act on the impulse to respond to the stress and DO something to resolve it, one way or another, then you will use up the adrenaline secreted for that event.  

On the other hand, if you do NOT actively respond to the urge to fight back and dispose of the stress factor, or take flight from it — the nemesis that stands in the way of your attainment of peace and security, or some more deeply threatened value in your life, such as the freedom to be yourself and respected in a dominated or abusive relationship — then the adrenaline stays circulating in your blood stream stimulating body cells into frantic and destructive activities, often to the point of exhaustion and chronic disease. Prolonged and mishandled stress is at the energetic root of all chronic diseases, most common of which is chronic fatigue. 

But more detrimental to health and homeostasis is the frustration and consequent shut-down of the hypothalamus due to the abundance of adrenaline in the body tissues, indicating that more is not needed to face the many other stresses that arises in life — along with continued failure to heed its messages and do something about the stress.  Eventually, the adrenal glands themselves shut down due to the lack of clear and coherent directives from the hypothalamus. You can’t even sleep at night for the amount of mental activity going on due to the abundance of cortisol in your brain just running thoughts and worries. You wake up in the morning as tired as or more tired than you were before you went to bed.  Chronic stress has literally taken away your health, as well as your life. 

You need a vacation! So you take one. But, you know, you take your fears and worries with you on vacation.  Without understanding why or how, you may find yourself frozen in place and unable to act quickly in an emergency, such as a vehicle crossing over the median of the highway and heading in your direction.  Or a child in distress in the swimming pool. The consequences of your inaction are potentially tragic and irreversible. You’ve got to “wake up and smell the roses,” as the saying goes. You’ve got to come fully into the present moment.

HELPFUL SOLUTIONS 

Physical exercise, especially walking, helps use up the adrenaline, as well as blood sugar, freeing up cellular receptor cites to receive more adrenaline and sugar-bearing insulin, which, if it remains too long in your circulatory system, will do damage to the arteries and trigger the production of cholesterol in the liver for damage control.  Walking also gives you a chance to process your thoughts and feelings and raise your perspective to see things as they actually are from a higher point of observation. We can only make changes in ourselves and in our worlds as we see and accept things exactly as they are.  It’s the only workable starting point.  

As for the hypothalamus, it needs to be reset to present-time awareness. That requires specific nutrients to support the physiology, along with restful sleep. It also requires spiritual practice of some kind, such as yoga and meditation, along with deep breathing and mindfulness. Energy work, such as Reiki to balance the Chakras, and Attunement to balance the endocrine system with the Chakra centers, especially when facilitated by intentional sound healing, offers potent and immediate return to inner peace and harmony, as well as disengagement of the fight or flight reflex, allowing time and space for the hypothalamus to reset to present-time awareness. We learned how the pleasure-induced neurohormone oxytocin disengages the fight or flight reflex in the previous post.  A little playtime, even a tasty treat, can do a lot for down-regulating stress. All things in moderation, of course. Just be kind to yourself.  

There is a nutritional protocol available to help in resetting the hypothalamus and endocrine system, which I’ve used in my service for many years with favorable, although limited, results. Limited in that honest internal work is needed as well in order to start facing the stresses in life with acceptance and resolve, even opening to embrace them as opportunities to grow spiritually. Developing a sense of right expectancy helps us to be patient with Life’s creative process so as not to spoil the perfect outcome. Remember, it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom of Heaven right here on earth.   

The instruction “In all things give thanks” is a wise and worthy guide to success in this area of handling stress creatively by redirecting aroused reactive energy.  One simply needs to remember it in the heat of the moment when overbearing circumstances tend to trigger the fight or flight reflex in your hypothalamus. Giving thanks may even interrupt the urge to react and take the negative charge out of your feelings. Love does have a way of dispelling fear and anxiety, as does patience and forgiveness, the gifts of Spirit.    

With so much release of wisdom and council, the coming week will surely hold many opportunities and challenges for walking my talk. And I say: “Bring it on!” These past few weeks have been very stressful. With the grace and mercy of Divine Providence, we have emerged victorious and blessed.  After all, life without stress is impossible.  Pressure is essential to growth in all phases of our development.  In the squeeze of circumstance, look up and you’ll go up. Looking down will only bring you down further.  So, look up!

Your comments are always welcome. If you would like to address any questions or concerns with me by email, please feel free to do so. I will return to the theme of this blog series, Sacred Anatomy, in my  next post.  Until then,

Be love. Be loved. 

Anthony 

Email: tpal70@gmail.com

Noradrenalin

Insulin (top) & Cortisone

 

Crystals of Adrenaline

 

 

 

 

 

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Sacred Anatomy: The Hypothalamus, Our Stress Response Center

(The ads inserted by Word Press into my blog are not endorsed by me. I apologize for their intrusion.)

HOMEOSTASIS AT ALL COSTS

As spiritual beings, our incarnation is not accomplished without a great deal of stress being placed upon these flesh bodies. They embody, after all, the Spirit of the Living God.  Angels, such as we are, incarnate to live and create at the lowest level of being, the physical plane, where we are met by challenging and often stressful conditions and events that require a clear and accurate line of communication with and feedback from our environment. 

The first means of communicating with the physical plane is the brain and central nervous system, the first organized system to develop in the embryo. Among its many roles, this system provides feedback information about the external terrain in the world around us—the earth.  The endocrine system provides a means for conveying creative commands and directives from the inner realm of spirit in the internal terrain—the heaven. The hypothalamus, together with the thalamus and the amygdala, play roles of mediation between these two communication systems and thereby between these two conjoined worlds, the inner world of spirit and the outer world of form.  It connects the endocrine system with the nervous system, mediating the ongoing management of stress, the process of maintaining homeostasis in the material world, a state of equilibrium between boundless creative power and extremely limiting physical boundaries.  The body is built, nonetheless, in a state of homeostasis.

(Note how the brain stem in this diagram is funnel-shaped as it inserts itself into the hypothalamus, where it downloads information gathered by way of the outer senses and sent up the spinal chord via nerve fibers and spinal fluid.)

Few medical writers have captured both the spirit and function of the endocrine system as a sacred vessel for the administration of life’s fierce and volatile creativity as has Dr. Robert Becker. In fascinating research published in his book, The Body Electric, Dr. Becker speaks of this area of the floor of the brain with high regard, reflecting Dr. Hans Selye’s research into the stress response mechanism in the physical body:

The hypothalamus, a nexus of fibers linking the emotional centers, the pituitary gland, the pleasure center, and the autonomic nervous system, is the single most important part of the brain for homeostasis and is a crucial link in the stress response.

Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, Clinical Professor of Surgery at Yale University, where he also teaches medical history and “bioethics,” writes about the relationship between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. His books—the acclaimed best-selling How We Die and, more recently, The Wisdom of the Body—are an inspiring search within the interior life of our bodies for the biologically elusive quality of life that defines us and a journey through the body’s magical “tumultuous” terrain of chemistry-driven physiology that constantly seeks homeostasis at all costs.  Ironically, such dynamic balance is achieved by means of the “turbulence of chemistry, the seeming chaos of tissue, the volatile responsiveness of cells” upon which tempests the stability of health rides. 

Almost poetically and certainly with profound depth of understanding, Dr. Nuland elaborates on how our bodies care for themselves and “how we have transcended mere survival . . . and . . . made use of our unique biology to travel the long road from the creature Homo to the human being.” He speaks here about the action of “signaling molecules” in the brain, ordinary neurons (neurosecretory cells) that function like endocrine cells and produce “neurohormones” called “neuropeptides.” Some sixty of them are to be found in the human brain, including endorphins that work like morphine for pain and calm us even to a state of euphoria.  He writes:

Not uncommonly, a neurohormone’s action is to make an endocrine gland secrete. Accordingly, the neurosecretory cell allows direct communication between the endocrine and nervous systems.  A stimulus reaching a neuron can thus be converted into an action caused by a hormone.

The relationship between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland is particularly important in this regard, especially because the hypothalamus is involved with autonomic regulation and the states of the emotions, and it does contain certain neurons that secrete neurohormones.   The interaction of the two structures is facilitated by their anatomic one-on-top-of-the-other juxtaposition at the base of the brain.  So closely integrated is their functioning that they have together been called the neuroendocrine control center….

The relationship among the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal has been formalized in the writings of medical researchers by calling it the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA. Reciprocal relationships among these three structures have been shown to influence the body’s response to stress and the secretion of certain neurohormones that affect the immune system. This is one of the fields of research under the general heading of psychoneuro-immunology, and it has shed considerable light on possible ways in which the brain and even conscious thought may play a role in immune response . . . .

The back, or posterior, part of the pituitary is actually composed not of endocrine cells, but largely of glial tissue and nerve fibers coming down from neurosecretory cells in the hypothalamus.  The axons of these cells extend down into the posterior pituitary, carrying the neurohormones oxytocin [a lactation and uterus-contraction hormone produced in the hypothalamus and stored in the posterior pituitary gland, as well as a disengaging hormone for the fight or flight reflex returning the body to a state of calm and coordination] and vasopresin [the hormone that sets off the fight or flight reflex and acts as an antidiuretic]…. A great deal of the behavior and response of the body’s 75 trillion cells is determined by signaling molecules, whether carried afar by the bloodstream or active locally.  In complex and complementary ways, such chemical substances work in coordination with the wondrous array of responses within the nervous system, all with the aim of maintaining that dynamism of constancy, that exuberance of seeking, which is the substance of human life…. The result of the interactions of electrical and chemical messages is that every part of the body is able to know what every other part needs and is doing.” (p. 347)  

A vibrant community is to be found within these temples on the microcosmic level of cellular activity, a community that is reflected in the macrocosm of the natural world we inhabit where all things are connected by vibrational cords.  Dr. Jacob Liberman, in his book  Light Medicine of the Future, summarizes the essential nature and function of the Pineal Body as a powerful and focal hormonal gland along with the coordinating function of the hypothalamus:

In Oriental medicine, the daily patterns of individuals are associated with the level of health they maintain.  Imbalanced responses to specific rhythms, seasons, and their associated cycles are related to specific kinds of physical and emotional problems.  Harmony within our life processes is related to the level of communion between our bodies and the environment. Can we experience fluid integration of our own minds/bodies/emotions without creating that same level of harmony in our relationships with nature, or vice versa?  Isn’t our internal integration a mirror of our integration with all life (people, animals, nature, work, etc.)?  Perhaps, literally and symbolically, our longevity may be related to our ability to integrate and synchronize ourselves with the planetary and solar-stellar energies that surround us.  The pineal gland and its interdependence with the rest of the body hold the key to the mysteries of our aging as well as our agelessness.

In summary, light enters the eyes not only to serve vision, but to go directly to the body’s biological clock within the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls the nervous and endocrine systems whose combined effects regulate all biological functions in humans.  In addition, the hypothalamus controls most of the body’s regulatory functions by monitoring light-related information and sending it to the pineal, which then uses this information to cue other organs about light conditions in the environment.  In other words, the hypothalamus acts as a puppet master who, quietly and out of sight, controls most of the functions that keep the body in balance.

All the body’s systems relate to each other in a constant state of flux, with the hypothalamus at the center.  The hypothalamus interfaces between mind and body, coordinating our constant state affecting our consciousness, and thereby controlling our constant state of preparedness. This critical maintenance of body harmony is effected by synchronizing the body’s vital functions with the environmental conditions, or, as some people say, “becoming one with the universe.” (p. 34)

Thus is life in the body maintained by internal combustion of powerful hormonal and chemical interactions, fiercely but accurately conveying spirit through flesh. Our house of being is a burning bush, much like the one Moses experienced when he rose in his spirit to meet his destiny, stressful as it no doubt was. This is the only way to meet the stress of life, even in the face of certain death.  He did not just see a burning bush. He was himself the burning bush that was not consumed.  

 I am reminded of that powerful scene from Philadelphia where Andrew Becket (Tom Hanks) and Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) are listening to an exhilarating aria sung by Maria Callas as Madelena in Umberto Giardano’s opera, Andrea Chanier, as she watches the family home burning after her mother had died saving her.  It’s a climatic piece in the film where the two are preparing for their final day in court when Andy will testify on his own behalf against his former employer who he contends terminated his association with the firm when it was learned he was an active homosexual with AIDS. Andy pours his heart out, filled as it is with deep love for life amid bitter sorrow for what is transpiring in his defenseless body,  translating with tearful anguish as Maria Callas sings with the fullness of her enormous voice from the depth of her passionate soul: “Look!” he utters through his tears, “The place that cradled me is burning!  . . . I bring sorrow to those who love me . . . It is during this sorrow that love came to me as a voice filled with ardor . . . It said: ‘Live still!  I am life! ….I am divine!  I am oblivion!  I am the God that comes down from the heavens to the earth and makes of the earth a heaven.  I am love!  I am love!’”  

This scene always splits my heart open to its core longing to fully and freely reveal my Self to my world, to let love manifest in all of its beauty and unconditional generosity, all of its non-judgmental acceptance, without consuming this flesh.  As things are now, it will be consumed in the end, even though all that is in me says it could be otherwise — and one day shall be.       

Hormonal chemistry brings the fire of love into the body-temple. Thus is it cleansed, made new and lifted to its true vibratory level as the Cathedral of our Milky Way Galaxy is reordered by cosmic forces.  These forces are at work within Gaia, with whom we share an inseparable bond.  What happens within Gaia happens within us, and what happens within us happens within Gaia.  We are one with our Earth Mother, and through her with the Cosmos.  We breathe the same breath of life. We are one with our Father, the Great Spirit Creator Gaia embodies, along with the entire solar entity. We may well honor this Father and this Mother that our days may be long upon the land which the LORD our God has given us, recalling the promise of Moses’s seventh commandment. 🔯

(Excerpted from SACRED ANATOMY— where Spirit and flesh dance in the fires of creation, and adapted for this blog post.)

I will continue sharing excerpts from SACRED ANATOMY in this blog series.  Until then,

Be Love. Be Loved

Anthony

For information about my books, see my website

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