How can Your Mind Produce Physical Symptoms?
It is worth spending a little time understanding the way your body works. It is much easier to deal with your problems if you understand exactly what is going on.
We know that nerves transmit and receive messages. Our nervous system controls the functions of our entire body.
Take the simple example of standing. Your muscles have a certain tension in them. If that tension was not there, you would collapse in a heap like a puppet with its strings cut. Messages go from the muscles to show the weight which the individual muscles are bearing, and messages go back to the muscles to maintain or alter the tension necessary to bear that weight. There is a constant interchange of messages like this that we are not aware of. The system is automatic. If it goes out of balance, you could get too much tension. Eventually, you would realize it. It would be uncomfortable. It could cause pain or tremor.
Similarly, there are many other functions of the nervous system of which we are not aware. What makes our pupils dilate or contract? What regulates the heart? What closes off the blood vessels of our skin when we are cold? What makes the muscles of the bowel work more quickly to give as diarrhea?
These functions are controlled by the automatic part of the nervous system. It is aptly called the autonomic nervous system and without which we could do nothing. Normally, it behaves very well and we are not aware of its actions. In times of stress, we become all too aware of its workings, and people with anxiety states may know its actions all the time.
The autonomic nervous system doesn’t only work through the nerves in the body. It can work by causing special glands to secrete chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals have actions that are like those produced by nervous impulses, except that their effects are felt over the entire body and not in one isolated part.
The most important of these chemicals is adrenalin. It is the body’s immediate answer to stress. It prepares the complete body for action. In the right situation, its release is vital. It released if it in the wrong or inappropriate situation, it can have uncomfortable effects.
Here are some of the actions of adrenalin on different organs. You may be familiar with some of them.
Heart: Adrenalin makes the heart beat faster and more strongly
Blood vessels: Arteries have muscles in their walls. This controls the amount of blood flowing through them. Adrenalin makes the arteries in the skin contract, directing the blood to other more important places, such as muscles.
Eyes: The muscles in the eye relax and the pupils dilate to facilitate ‘far’ vision.
Muscles: Adrenalin makes all the big muscles in the body become tense.
The digestive system: a muscle coat lined The bowel. The muscles in this lining contract in sequence, pushing the contents of the gut through. Adrenalin makes these muscles contract more quickly, speeding up the transport of the bowel contents and in this way causing diarrhea.
The lungs: The bronchioles, those tubes which carry air into the lungs, have a muscular lining. They dilate to allow more air to enter. The rate at which we breathe speeds up as well.
The pancreas: Insulin production is speeded up. It makes the sugar available to the muscles to fuel sudden action.
Sweat glands: Adrenalin makes your sweat gland operate.
You can see that one hormone has many effects. All of them are essential if you are in danger. It means that you can act quickly. What happens if the adrenalin is produced in just small excess all the time or if it is produced in large amounts at inappropriate times? You can work out from the list of the actions of adrenalin just what the effects might be, and how the individual might feel.
Adrenalin does not act uniformly. It can cause some of its effects without others. This is because the organ is having different receptors, which make them respond in particular ways to the secretion of adrenalin. In some ways, not as yet well understood, adrenalin can cause one muscle to contract more than another. This is why we get a contraction of the muscles of one side of the neck only. Muscles in contraction cause pain, in this case, a headache.
It is not important to remember all these details about the way your body works. It is certainly not essential for treatment, but if you understand what is happening to your body you may begin to appreciate why treatment is so difficult. If your anxiety state can be reduced to a group of physical symptoms brought on by the secretion of adrenalin, why can’t it be cured by taking a pill? It is a good question, but unfortunately, there is no pill, which will stop the action of adrenalin.
To understand why you remember that an anxiety state is a mixture of a physical and a psychological state. The adrenal glands are under the direct control of the nervous system. In fact, they are a part of the nervous system. We are talking about an imbalance rather than a disease. It is a subtle condition, which is difficult to treat medically.
There is no known medication that will control the secretions of the adrenal gland. The glands themselves are tiny and not amenable to surgery. Adrenal is essential to life, but it is produced in small quantities, too small to measure. It is a very potent substance indeed.
In an anxiety state, there is nothing wrong with the adrenal gland. The problem is with the way the entire nervous system reacts. Again, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the nervous system. The basic fault is a psychological one. It is your psyche that has taught your nervous system to overreact. There is no point in starting to treat the adrenal gland. It is only doing its job. Likewise, the nervous system is only doing what it has learned to do. Effective treatment must start with our minds.
What we have is a psychological state with physical manifestation. We must treat the whole thing together. There is no other way to proceed.