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However, if our emotions are blocked due to denial, repression, or trauma, then blood flow can become chronically constricted, depriving the frontal cortex, as well as other organs, of vital nourishment. This can leave you foggy and less alert, limited in your awareness and thus your ability to intervene into the conversation of your bodymind, to make decisions that change physiology or behavior. As a result, you may become stuck—unable to respond freshly to the world around you, repeating old patterns of behavior and feeling that are responses to an outdated knowledge base.
...stress increases with increased steroid production. Depressed people typically have high levels of these stress steroids. In fact, depressed people are in a chronic state of ACTH activation because of a disrupted feedback loop that fails to signal when there are sufficient levels of steroid in the blood. So the CRF-ACTH axis just keeps pumping out more and more steroids. Autopsies almost always show a tenfold higher level of CRF in the cerebrospinal fluid of those who killed themselves compared to those who died from other causes.
...happiness is what we feel when our biochemicals of emotion, the neuropeptides and their receptors, are open and flowing freely throughout the psychosomatic network, integrating and coordinating our systems, organs, and cells in a smooth and rhythmic movement. Health and happiness are often mentioned in the same breath, and maybe this is why: Physiology and emotions are inseparable. I believe that happiness is our natural state, that bliss is hardwired. Only when our systems get blocked, shut down, and disarrayed do we experience the mood disorders that add up to unhappiness in the extreme.
The concept of a network, stressing the interconnectedness of all systems of the organism, has a variety of paradigm-breaking implications. In the popular lexicon, these kinds of connections between body and brain have long been referred to as “the power of the mind over the body.” But in light of my research, that phrase does not describe accurately what is happening. Mind doesn’t dominate body, it becomes body—body and mind are one. I see the process of communication we have demonstrated, the flow of information throughout the whole organism, as evidence that the body is the actual outward manifestation, in physical space, of the mind.
When stress prevents the molecules of emotion from flowing freely where needed, the largely autonomic processes that are regulated by peptide flow, such as breathing, blood flow, immunity, digestion, and elimination, collapse down to a few simple feedback loops and upset the normal healing response. Meditation, by allowing long-buried thoughts and feelings to surface, is a way of getting the peptides flowing again, returning the body, and the emotions, to health.
The immune system was potentially capable of both sending information to the brain via immunopeptides and of receiving information from the brain via neuropeptides (which hooked up with receptors on the immune cell surfaces).
The superior colliculus in the midbrain, another nodal point of neuropeptide receptors, controls the muscles that direct the eyeball, and affects which images are permitted to fall on the retina and hence to be seen.
Emotions are constantly regulating what we experience as “reality.” The decision about what sensory information travels to your brain and what gets filtered out depends on what signals the receptors are receiving from the peptides. There is a plethora of elegant neurophysiological data suggesting that the nervous system is not capable of taking in everything, but can only scan the outer world for material that it is prepared to find by virtue of its wiring hookups, its own internal patterns, and its past experience.
There is no objective reality! In order for the brain not to be overwhelmed by the constant deluge of sensory input, some sort of filtering system must enable us to pay attention to what our bodymind deems the most important pieces of information and to ignore the others.
While chronic stress is bullying the hippocampus—pruning its dendrites, killing its neurons, and preventing neurogenesis—the amygdala is having a field day. The stress overload creates more connections in the amygdala, which keeps firing and calling for cortisol, even though there’s plenty of the hormone available, and the negative situation feeds on itself. The more the amygdala fires, the stronger it gets. Eventually the amygdala takes control of its partnership with the hippocampus, repressing the context—and thus the connection to reality—and branding the memory with fear. The stress becomes generalized, and the feeling becomes a free-floating sense of fear that morphs into anxiety. It’s as if everything is a stressor, and this colors perception and leads to even more stress.