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What despair does to the physical body...

I was curious the other day. In my own personal life, I’ve started to actually see the drawbacks of what physical stress and despair was doing to my health. Indifference, and apathy towards my life, and a feeling of being personally convinced that in this doomed world I have no power to fight getting dragged down by it.

As someone who has trained many clients in physical fitness and wellness, I knew all along that thinking positive couldn’t be anything but beneficial to the physical body. No different than when feelings of elation produces endorphins and intense exercise releases chemicals similar to anti anxiety medications that induce your neurochemistry back to a more homeostatic state [1]. But it’s not until a person becomes their own human lab rat in a desperate race to fight for their health and sanity that these facts start being put to the test. Sadly, almost nothing in the current state of the world motivates me to want to soar during any given day like I used to. Sometimes I mistake this with the idea of getting old.

Rather, most of the time, I will admit that in the hard boiled town where I currently reside in right now, with its massive heroin problem, its economic hardship, and its existential elephants in the room within so many areas of the suburbs, life feels more like a challenge [which is not always a good thing]. And on days [when tired], life feels like an unending stream of dystopian values that I’m swimming against. A lot of times, I’ve come to realize it’s not even our fault we feel despair. Against forces outside of our own, some injustice occurs, people let us down, circumstances don’t hold, and current technology has forced us into a state of anxiety. Truth is, I can sympathize with so many of my friends when they feel despair: seeing how so many issues, so many social mores gone askew makes them want to crawl up on a ball and die, the concept of having anxiety in your mind easily starts becoming your commonplace state of consciousness. To not have it would be like going against the grain of the reality we perceive all around us.

But here’s the tragedy: nature continues with or without our understanding how to approach consciousness: how to snap out of this spell. It was in this state that the other day, I had to wonder. I simply typed in the key words, always suspecting what I was going to discover: ‘What does despair do to your physical body?’

When the mind is in doubt, and it convinces you to trudge on brutally through the muck of stress that society brings upon us, always turn to tested empirical methods of experimentation to reinforce your knowledge of what is truth and what you need to strive for. According to a brilliant article written by one Dr. Emily Kane that I stumble onto about this matter [2], she says:

“[Your] thoughts greatly affect your body, but you are the ONLY person who can make positive changes in your own mental outlook”

That fact is inspiring for so many reasons, and scary for so many reasons. But if we were to suppose that life is only really just a matter of chemistry (and therefore, we can emit emotions altogether, since they ultimately shouldn’t mean anything), according to research, emotions of hopelessness and despair physically trigger neuropeptides like cortisol and adrenaline which are immune-suppressive. This (ironically) reduces blood flow to the brain and vital organs when stressed. It’s amazing how a positive attitude helps generate endorphins and enkephalins which increase blood flow and improve resistance to pathogens. If you think about it, this is surreal on so many levels.

  1. For one thing, if WE (albeit even if it’s difficult and frightening) have the ability to control our emotions (despite the chemical imbalances), then the secret to everyday life is to really dwell on keeping a positive attitude, no matter how much friction there is in our intellectual reasoning (especially after we experience trauma).

  2. This would mean that the more we hold onto negative experiences/traumas, albeit maybe not even our fault that they happened, the more we’re robbing ourselves of the present potential of neuro-chemical homeostasis we could have for that day. If we reason that food is chemically healthy for our body, it would almost make sense that such spiritual attitudes and practices serve as spiritual food for the soul.

  3. We can recover from traumas when we realize that we may not know everything that justifies the reasoning as to why we become afraid of something in the first place.

  4. We may start to realize that even without drugs, we may unconsciously become addicted to these chemicals, and remembering that our existence is a state of duality between conscious self and the physical mechanics of the universe; if these chemicals don’t align with physical reality all the time, they may start to work against us (especially if they are more dysfunctional than functional such as in depression and irrational fears).

Dr. Kane’s article then went on to explain how if we are feeling too much despair, Adrenaline starts to kick in physically in a way that may work against us:

“The central nervous system (brain and nerves) is divided loosely into two domains: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is better known as the “flight or fight” response and is driven mostly by the biochemical adrenaline. Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is an extremely potent chemical that severely, if very temporarily, curtails blood flow. For example, a surgeon will numb an area before cutting with a pain killer (like lidocaine for example) but also injects epinephrine because then the cut blood vessels hardly bleed at all. Adrenaline can save your life if you need to run away from danger fast, but the body can’t really tell what degree of danger you’re facing. Therefore the sympathetic nervous system kicks in with stimulation from everyday stressors such as getting the kids to school, getting to work on time, meeting a professional deadline, following through on a favor for a friend. And, most importantly, you get into the “fight or flight” mode, unnecessarily, whenever you engage in negative self-talk, despair, hopelessness, or refusing to see options. Adrenaline is very speedy; it will wear you down, and age you prematurely.

So, be wise about how often you choose to get yourself all worked up. Hope, and serenity, and positive thinking which includes loving self-acceptance, all produce a parasympathetic nervous state. In contrast to “fight or flight”, the parasympathetic system is sometimes called the “feed and breed” response. Digestion, lactation, relaxation are examples of parasympathetic activities. The main neuropeptide in this system is acetylcholine, which is partly derived from your health food store supplement lecithin.”

The wisdom of this kind of research helps reinforce why even otherwise healthy people can be brought down by stress – admittedly, this is me, and it’s something I still struggle to work on. But she’s absolutely right. Adrenaline imbalance is a terrible thing to suffer from, your mind starts to play tricks on you, and I can say at least for me, most of these maladies come from a trigger thought in my mind – that may not even be rational --- that brings about much stress and anxiety. I suppose the only thing we can do is remember to trigger-switch our receptors to feel despair so we recognize that anxiety doesn’t amplify in our brains – that and we finally become proactive enough to plug in the holes in our sinking ship. Dr. Kane goes on to give her readership the following advice:

“ Even better, look at yourself in the eyes daily, using a private mirror, and radiate love at yourself. Simply BEAM the love back in. This simple meditation not only enhances production of acetylcholine and endorphins, it will garner you positive attention from your family, co-workers and community friends and neighbors. Nobody really wants to spend too much time with a whiner! When you feel alone, afraid or upset, start with loving yourself as genuinely as possible. Focus on your assets; forgive your imperfections. Be willing to experience the power of positive thinking it will help keep you young and happy. Better than the alternative.”

Why couldn’t they give me this kind of education when I paid for school? Check the link [2] below for Dr. Kane’s full article.

[1] By the way, read ‘Spark’ by John J. Ratey, if you haven’t yet. One of the best books that puts the doubt of what exercise really does for our wellbeing once and for all without your own mind trying to rationalize against its benefits:


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