A topic that has always fascinated me – and that is largely why I decided to become a Health Coach and why I enjoy this profession so much – is the incredible ability of our body to heal itself by itself, given the optimal conditions.
How so? Let me explain: Our body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that can fight cancer cells, delay aging, kill infectious agents, repair tissues, etc., and these natural self-repair mechanisms of the body are under the influence of our Nervous System. The Nervous System has two operating systems: the Sympathetic Nervous System, also known as “fight or flight response” and which Walter Cannon of Harvard called “stress response”. And the other operating system is the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which Herbert Benson of Harvard called “relaxation response”.
For the natural self-repair mechanisms of the body to be activated, it is necessary that the body is in “relaxation response” (Parasympathetic Nervous System), since when the body is in “stress response” (Sympathetic Nervous System), these natural self-repair mechanisms are deactivated.
Let’s see how it works: The amygdala is a complex almond-shaped structure located in the limbic system of the brain and is responsible for activating either the stress response or the relaxation response in our body in order to ensure our survival. Although located inside the brain, the function of the amygdala is not like the brain’s -intelligent, rational and thinking- its main function is rather to integrate the emotions with the corresponding response patterns, as well as to assess the emotional meaning of our experiences. For this reason, our amygdala will interpret as a threat to our survival anything that causes us stress, whether it be a real experience like finding ourselves in the middle of the jungle in front of a tiger ready to eat us, or an imaginary experience caused by emotions or thoughts like “I don´t have money!”, “I feel lonely!”, “I will not finish this report on time!”, etc. Therefore, any physical or emotional state – real or imaginary – that causes us stress, whether it be a tiger chasing us or emotions such as fear, resentment, sadness, pessimism, loneliness, anxiety, etc., will be interpreted in the same way by our amygdala, that is, as a threat to our survival and therefore it will cause it to activate the stress response.
The stress response is a chemical reaction in our body that aims to prepare it to respond quickly to the apparent threat (ie. A tiger is chasing me! I will not finish the report on time!, I feel alone!). This reaction consists of increasing the production of neuropsin, the protein responsible for causing the chemical chain reaction throughout the body, secreting adrenaline and cortisol, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, accelerating the breath and increasing sugar levels in the blood, causing the immune system (our defenses) to go numb to save immunological resources and reducing the production of serotonin and endorphins, all this in order to prepare the body to a state of alert in case of being attacked.
Up to here it’s all good, we now know that in the face of any attack our body has a super-efficient mechanism that will prepare us to survive. But what happens when the apparent threat is not real, but is caused by emotional states and thoughts? This is where everything gets complicated: The chemical reaction is the same, but instead of being activated punctually to the face a real threat (a tiger chasing us), this response becomes chronic and is prolonged throughout the time that we hold emotions or thoughts that generate us stress such as fear, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, pessimism, etc. Now, imagine the impact in our body to be subjected to this reaction for such long periods of time: Segregation of adrenaline and cortisol, elevation of the heartbeat, contraction of muscles, numbness of the immune system, decrease in endorphins and serotonin, constant elevation of blood sugar, etc… It is literally poison for our body!
Maintaining emotional states and thoughts that generate chronic stress has devastating consequences on our body, both physically -headache, muscle tension, fatigue, sleep disturbances, hormonal imbalance- and on a psychological level -anxiety, irritability, demotivation and even depression.
At the opposite pole of the stress response is the relaxation response (Parasympathetic Nervous System). Its main function is to cause or maintain a body state of rest or relaxation after an effort, repair and reduce stress, perform important functions such as digestion and sexual intercourse. The relaxation response is activated by positive experiences such as practicing yoga, meditating, sleeping, having sex, etc., as well as by thoughts, beliefs and positive feelings such as love, relaxation, peace, hope, optimism, acceptance, etc. like “I’m enough”, “I feel loved”, “Everything will be fine”, “I love life”, “I feel grateful and at peace”, etc. The relaxation response relaxes the muscles, decreases the heart rate, releases health-inducing relaxation hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide and endorphins, so we can rest and heal.
This is how our thoughts, beliefs and feelings that originate in our mind literally affect the chemistry and physiology of our body. Hence the importance of learning how to manage our emotions and thoughts in order to help our body be in a state of relaxation necessary to activate the natural self-repair mechanisms. Some tips to help us with this, are: Practicing yoga, meditating, respecting our hours of sleep (7 to 9 hours), surrounding ourselves with people who love and support us, practicing journaling, maintain an attitude of gratitude and optimism for what it is, and In some cases it is even advisable to seek psychological help, coaching, to help us better manage our emotional states.
Given the optimal conditions, this is, reducing states of stress and increasing states of relaxation in our life, we can give our body the opportunity to do what it does best: Heal itself. And you, have you experienced something similar in your own body? Tell me your experience in the comments below!
With all my love,