Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thoughts on Physical Disease and the Effects of Stress of Cultic Groups and Relationships

Our thoughts and emotions have a profound effect on our automatic body systems, and these systems are regulated and balanced in a steady state or “homeostasis” by the Autonomic Nervous System or “ANS.” This information from our thoughts and emotions informs the ANS, automatically preparing to help us adapt and survive. When we feel threatened or if we think about and anticipate circumstances, our mind stimulates the immediate release of certain neurotransmitters and/or “stress hormones” that are mediated by the ANS. Our neurotransmitter levels fluctuate to help our bodies respond, doing things like raising our heart rate so that we can pump plenty of blood and oxygen to our muscles in order to run from danger. Our pupils widen so we can take in more light and see more clearly. Our bowels can either become less active or more active, depending on our emotions and how the ANS responds to threat or information (like worrying about taking a test the next day). The ANS stimulates the adrenal glands to release both epinephrine to bathe the whole body in stimulation as well as cortisol (a natural steroid) which regulates inflammation and affects blood sugar, making more fuel immediately available for energy production. The system works quite well when we experience only limited episodes of periodic excitement and when we have the opportunity to discharge the energy that our body produces in response to this excitement.

Chronic stress is quite different, and it creates a high degree of ANS stimulation all the time. Some of these symptoms are more well known, contributing to problems like high blood pressure or irritable bowel syndrome, all due to the stimulation of these body systems by the ANS, a system informed by the mind and the emotions. Healthcare is now learning more and more about the “less immediate” effects of stress on body systems that are effected by this high degree of ongoing stimulation, particularly on the hormonal system. This includes high cortisol production and altered action of insulin, now a major problem in the US because of the dramatic rise in obesity, diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and immune system disorders like chronic fatigue (all of which are also aggravated and exacerbated by poor diet). Cortisol in high amounts alters how the body regulates sugars, insulin release, blood pressure, immune function, and inflammatory response. The release of too much cortisol on a continual basis results in diabetes, immune system disease, heart disease, arthritis, chronic pain syndromes, autoimmune diseases, headaches, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, female reproductive disorders and depression. We see effects of this kind of chronic stress in populations of people like children of parents that have certain personality disorders. For example, children of parents with Borderline Personality Disorder demonstrate high degrees of allergy, asthma, headaches/ migraines and irritable bowel syndrome, likely owing to the effects of chronic high levels of cortisol (Roth, Friedman & Kreger, 2003).

Researchers have identified a new field of study of “Heart Rate Variability” (HRV) as an indicator of the function of the ANS in order to identify those at high risk for later development of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes (diseases linked with high cortisol and stress). HRV measures certain subtle electrocardiogram findings and characteristics, evaluating the electrical impulses generated by electrical system in the heart. Certain groups of professionals with high degrees of daily stress manifest greater degrees of HRV, as do those who suffer with certain psychological problems including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and panic disorder. Based upon more than 30 years of the objective, rigorous scientific study of thought reform, we know that those who emerge from certain controlling relationships and spiritual abuse settings demonstrate high degrees of PTSD and other related psychological disorders such as anxiety and panic. Though no studies have focused on spiritual abuse victims and survivors directly, we can speculate that because of the overlap in findings between the psychological symptoms of spiritual abuse with those who experience documented high levels of chronic stress, PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders are also subject to a similar risk for the development of cortisol-related physical disease.

The Effects of Stress on the Body

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