The Big Picture

Psychosocial Stress and the Biochemical State

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You probably already know that your cognitive and emotional states affect your physical health and the way your body functions (e.g., psychosocial stress can have a negative impact on heart health). But did you know that the converse is also true? Chemicals taken in from your environment as well as produced within your cells affect your central nervous system (CNS) function in a way that produces various psychological states. In other words, the correlation between the biochemical state within the body and the function of the CNS is a two-way street. Each one affects the other, and vice versa. When working toward improved overall health and well-being, be sure to keep this relationship in mind.

If you’re embarking on a journey toward overall health and well-being, it’s important to realize that psychosocial stress and the biochemical state are interrelated and interconnected in many ways.

Examples of the Correlation between the Chemical and the Psychological

Some common examples of this relationship that are often taken for granted are being cranky when hungry, groggy when tired, air-brained after finishing a workout, and anxious when over-caffeinated or withdrawing from nicotine. PMS and postpartum depression are also examples which are often interpreted as “normal” responses by a sexist medical community. Another good example is hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism (a.k.a. underactive thyroid) results in a downshift of global metabolism, which alters the nutrient-handling and metabolic byproducts—commonly leading to tiredness and depression (psychological symptoms) as well as constipation and weight gain (physical symptoms).

Any chemical state which results in impaired metabolism (especially directly within the CNS), or a lack of required nutrients for metabolism, will have a similar negative impact on your mental and emotional well-being.

Check out my previous post for more insights on The Relationship between Mood and Metabolism.

What Are the Implications of the Relationship between Psychosocial Stress and the Biochemical State?

One exciting implication of the interconnectedness between the psychosocial and the biochemical is the development of a newer, more well-rounded approach to psychotherapy. Dr. C. Robert Cloninger, prominent psycho-biologist of Washington University School of Medicine, has shown the correlation of environment, biochemical state, psychosocial well-being, and physical well-being. He has carefully demonstrated the separation from inheritance and is widely recognized in the international community as a pioneer in creating a holistic, client-centered approach to mental health therapy.

The important thing to realize is that it is impossible to isolate any one of my five categories of stress—mental, nutritional, emotional, physical, and toxic—because they’re all interconnected. An individual with an overwhelming (i.e., stressful) level of challenge in any one category will be unable to handle the other four categories in the same way as their peers. Therefore, any intervention must take all five areas into account.

The Problem with Isolated Treatment Approaches

The problem is, when someone is mentally and emotionally disturbed, they are unable to handle nutrition, physical activity, and toxic exposure. Yet without the nutritional and physical foundation or the ability to detoxify, the brain and spirit cannot process the information and therefore cannot handle psychosocial stress. This becomes a limiting paradox with a complex solution required to unwind the self-perpetuating and progressive syndrome of disoriented system behaviors within the unwell individual seeking balance and well-being.

So What’s the Solution?

We must find a way to bring motivation to the participant, and this can only be done if confidence and comfort can be brought to them. The only solution I have found reliable is by viewing all the aspects of our lifestyle as integrated, and yet by starting with action items in the area which the individual views as the most interesting and hopeful. By always looking for the relationships between your mental, physical, emotional, nutritional, and toxic challenges in every area of your life, you will begin attaching the motivating desire, hope, and interest needed to achieve the ultimate desired outcome. If you can begin to orient yourself within the process of healing in a way that shelters your sensitivities from the environmental pressures in an integrated way, you will be well on your way along the path to health and well-being.

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