Man is a perceiving, thinking, emotional, memory, judgmental, decision-making human animal. Briefly, within our brain structure [About 2% of our body weight], and within the limbic system, we find the Hippocampus [memories]. The left hippocampus is associated with verbal language oriented memories, while the right hippocampus is associated with non-verbal memories. Also within the limbic system, we have the Amygdala, which produces the emotional states of [Happiness, fear, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise] and assigns these to factual memories. Unfortunately, producing negative emotional memories are associated with chronic stress, anxiety, and depression disorders. When experiencing stress, the brain releases the hormone cortisol with its negative effects. Within the brains roughly 3 pound weight, exists the cerebral cortex [Which is the most complex object in the universe]. The cerebral cortex is associated with higher cognitive functions and sometimes called executive functions. Within the left and right hemispheres, language is often found in the left hemisphere with most people. The importance and the relationship of emotions, hormones and language cannot be overstated.
Let’s face it, an infant is born helpless, dependent, unable to locomote, feed itself, anxious, and unable to survive very long when left to its own devices. These qualities set the stage for man’s developmental vulnerabilities in coping with the seemingly, at times, hostile world. In other words, our perceptions, memories and emotions are supposed to help us, protect us to be able to survive [From all the physical and social stressors-dangers] that exist in our world.
The infant develops, acquiring various needs that accompany and affect his unfolding in his psychological environment. The infant, child, adolescent has to deal with his family dynamics , social and academic hazards of schooling, economic, political, and religious socialization while developing a sense of self and independence. Don’t forget that such hormones as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone accompany him or her in developing gender or sexual identity. To say, there is enormous pressure, and other stressors experienced during these turbulent years is an understatement.
Then, during the adult years, man for instance, gets bombarded 24-7 by government’s political entertainment actors on radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, etc. Our 2016 presidential race unfortunately has already begun. We’re told typically about the dangers [49% indicated that they worry about another terror attack while 22% said they’re not sure in a recent poll in the 8-2- 15 New York Times] that are present in our world over and over. We are sometimes told that military bombing and military boots on the ground are necessary to solve the terrorist problem in existence. I would guess that hearing over and over about bombings, beheadings, drone strike killings, and that negotiating a bad deal or not negotiating are stress producers and not stress reducers. Don’t forget about the bad economy, climate change and water shortage as well. And with stress, we realize the hormone cortisol is produced to help us deal with this induced danger. To demonstrate, how fragile we are in the release of cortisol and its negative effect on decision-making behavior, I point to research conducted by the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research at the University of Zürich found in the 8-23-15 edition of The New York Times.
These researchers picked 51 young men [That claimed they were trying to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle] to study the relationship between stress and eating behavior. The experimental group of men were subjected to soaking their hands in a bowl of icy water for as long as they could. This was a test, known to induce mild psychological and physiological stress- the release of the hormone cortisol. Then all the men [The experimental and control group] rated different kinds of food on a computer screen based on taste and healthfulness. After that variable was completed, the next variable was a brain scanning machine that measured their responses comparing one of two healthful foods pairings.
The research findings were as follows: 1. The mild stress group with their higher levels of cortisol chose unhealthier, but tasty foods compared to the control group. 2. The higher the cortisone level, the greater attraction to rich, tasty unhealthy foods. 3. These cortisol driven men displayed more activity in the part of the brain associated with the enjoyment of tasty foods. They had fewer neural messages in the part of the brain that affects long-range planning. Long-range planning [Separates us from animals] and is an executive function located in the cerebral cortex. In essence, a mildly induced stressor amplified the perceived flavor of unhealthy foods. It also negatively affected man’s rational ability to consider healthy foods. One could surmise that self-control is negatively affected as well.
If a mild stressor, for a very limited time, affects brain chemistry that significantly, you probably can or can’t imagine the degree of brain chemistry variability and its accompanying damage to our fragile brain. Just think about typical every day interpersonal relationships, work or non- work environments, navigating with clenched knuckles-road rage in congested traffic as a few of our constant stressors. Not only does this occur, but it is without the side effects of prescribed medications, GMO additives, alcohol and smoking addictions. Is there any surprise as to why we have serious health issues in our country? I think not. It’s obvious that it’s inevitable.
Some strategies to cope with the many stressors in our world. As a psychologist, I would consider psychotherapy. 1. Some clinicians operate under a theoretical orientation and believe that our thinking gets us into trouble. One significant way to more effectively deal with the relationship of emotions, thinking and behavior is to challenge our cognitive ideas. They believe that emotions affects our thinking and our thinking affects our emotions. 2. Other clinicians operate under an eclectic theoretical orientation that encompasses Freudian, Humanistic, Cognitive-Behavioral and Behavioristic principles. These principles help with understanding underlying dynamics, so that the individual can better understand motivation. 3. Self-help ideas of Mindfulness, Yoga, and Hypnotherapy can be learned from others, and then applied personally. 4. Other strategies to be considered, include: Exercise, Nutritious, Eating, Spirituality, and Finding Meaning during your health and life span. No one said it’s easy. Too many people exhibit erroneous, self-defeating beliefs and behaviors. Just look at the statistics regarding health, illness, death and disease during lifespan.